Archive for July, 2015

Mullar Omar dead

31/07/2015

Taliban leader Mullah Omar died two years ago in Pakistan, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s security services says. Abdul Hassib Seddiqi told the BBC’s Afghan Service that Mullah Omar had died of health problems at a hospital in Pakistan. Afghanistan’s government says information on his death is “credible”. The latest reports of Mullah Omar’s death are being taken more seriously than previous such reports. The Taliban are expected to issue a statement soon. Sources at the Taliban’s two main councils in Quetta and Peshawar in Pakistan told the BBC they were in intensive talks to agree on a replacement for Mullah Omar”.

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Fix Iraq to end ISIS?

31/07/2015

An excellent piece makes the point that the defeat of ISIS will not heal the problems of Iraq.

It opens “it would have been difficult for the world to imagine large chunks of Iraq falling into the hands of the Islamic State. But the group’s presence — through the fall of Mosul, its expansion into Syria’s civil war, and its claiming responsibility for attacks around the world — has all but become the singular representation of Muslim radicalism, even though it has only commanded the world’s attention for just over a year. The circumstances that incubate this kind of ideological radicalization, however, are much older than the Islamic State — and they will almost surely outlast it. Unless the Iraqi government, with the help of the international community, is able to engage in legitimate state development and governance in the region, militant extremism will continue to rush in and fill the resulting social and political vacuums”.

Crucailly he writes that “The U.S.-led military campaign — despite some successes — has struggled to push the group back. To actually help Iraq defeat the Islamic State, however, the United States needs to diversify its approach. Fighting the kind of radicalisation epitomised by the Islamic State means addressing the base problem: the lack of legitimate governance structures that provide citizens with opportunities for prosperity. Iraq cannot achieve this level of legitimacy without help and investment in the country’s economic and social infrastructure. If the United States wants Iraq to overcome this challenge, it needs to help Iraqis rebuild an inclusive governance model as well as educational and economic opportunities in a way that benefits all constituents — or face the possibility of groups violently fracturing off to tend to the needs that their government cannot”.

The author is certainly correct to note the need for Iraq to provide better economic and social conditions but the implication is that ISIS are coming from Iraq. Of course it is true that some Iraqi’s are joining ISIS but many are coming from Libya, Tunisia, parts of Europe and elsewhere in the Middle East.

He correctly notes that “Weak states like Iraq function as petri dishes for extremism. The Islamic State has been able to draw recruits from local and international civilian populations at least in part because they are able portray themselves as upholders of righteousness when cast alongside the corrupt, authoritarian governments. The states’ lack of legitimacy drives people into the arms of extremist ideology”.

He adds that “the simple reality is that the situation in Iraq has grown dire for many civilians, and the Islamic State has continually been able to exploit the sectarian cracks that have crept across the country. Sunni Muslims have been dealing with social and political marginalisation since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which paved the way for the Shiite majority to acquire political control. In more recent years, indiscriminate violence by Iraqi military forces became a prime reason for local civilians to turn to the Islamic State, according to Iraq-based journalist Mohammed al-Dulaimy. The military strategy against the terrorist group has included the elevation of anti-Islamic State militant groups in the area — a security-centered approach that has led to unhelpful cycles of regional and local violence. Regional conflicts have divided into local conflicts, and more and more civilian communities are being militarized. The collapse of the Iraqi Army last summer in several key battles has led such militias, many with Iranian, Kurdish, or Turkish backing, to fill the security vacuum, which introduced an extra dimension of sectarian complication”.

He goes on to make the point that “Counterbalancing the forces that seem to be destabilizing and reorienting the Middle East demands a comprehensive strategy that bolsters institutions of education and social security, which can improve the economic inequality and lack of upward mobility in much of the region. This, however, needs to be done in a way that is suitably tailored to the characteristics of each country. So far, the proposed approach of cross-sectarian nation states adheres too much to secular Western social standards, which are often impractical and unpalatable for the region’s populations”.

He concludes “Western nations must reconsider their priorities in a way that helps restore regional legitimacy to states and protects people during conflict while enhancing their quality of life in peacetime. This means pouring more resources into areas like educational and economic development, all done in a way that bolsters inclusive and peaceful coexistence in a diverse society. Investment in inclusive governance and development will go a long way in terms of building a government’s legitimacy, which has long been a problem for the Middle East. New leaders must also embody this new legitimacy by voicing a willingness from the state to address issues like human rights and economic inequality. Without these strategies to complement a military plan, it will be impossible to prevent further violence from animating the region for a long time to come. A Middle East with even more sectarian violence than exists today is the kind of nightmare scenario that the world should do everything to prevent”.

Under NATO cover, Turkey bombs PKK

31/07/2015

Turkish jets launched their heaviest assault on Kurdish militants in northern Iraq overnight since air strikes began last week, hours after President Tayyip Erdogan said a peace process had become impossible. The strikes hit six Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets including shelters, depots and caves, a statement from Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s office said. A senior official told Reuters it was the biggest assault since the campaign started. Turkey launched near-simultaneous strikes against PKK camps in Iraq and Islamic State fighters in Syria last Friday, in what Davutoglu has called a “synchronized fight against terror”. The NATO member also opened up its air bases to the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, joining the front-line in the battle against the jihadists after years of reluctance. NATO gave Turkey its full political support on Tuesday. But Turkey’s assaults on the PKK have so far been far heavier than its strikes against Islamic State, fuelling suspicions that its real agenda is keeping Kurdish political and territorial ambitions in check, something the government denies”.

Clinton, raising the right issues

31/07/2015

Daniel Altman argues that Hillary Clinton is asking the right questions in her main economic speech, “Hillary Clinton gave arguably the first 21st-century economic stump speech in American presidential politics. Issues that had been festering for years, hidden behind a veil of partisan language and confusion, were finally called by their names. Deep problems with the way the economy works, not just the results it produces, were addressed at long last”.

Altman points out that “She said that inequality in America was largely a phenomenon of globalization and technological change, exacerbated by the erosion of workers’ bargaining power. She accused a culture of short-termism of ruining American businesses and fiscal policy by making long-term investments impossible — and pointed out that social investments by companies needn’t be just charity. She pledged to bring together public and private capital to renew the nation’s infrastructure. She proposed giving companies tax credits for training workers and also lamented the millions of talented Americans being left on the sidelines of the labour market because of inequality. She warned about the lack of oversight and accumulation of systemic risks in the shadow banking industry, and she said corporate criminals had to be held personally responsible for their misdeeds rather than being shielded by their employers”.

However, Altman fairly notes that Clinton missed some significant issues during her speech, “The first was an acknowledgment of the place of the United States in the global economic order. The American economy is not a closed system, so policies aimed at changing the behaviour of its businesses and households can have unintended effects. For example, several of the proposals Clinton mentioned as solutions to the problem of stagnant wages — restoring unionization, raising the minimum wage, cracking down on the classification of regular workers as contractors — might just encourage firms to move more jobs abroad. She also said she wanted to prevent American multinationals from keeping their profits overseas, but that might only push them to move their headquarters out of the United States”.

He correctly notes that “Actual mentions of international economic policy were few and far between, too. Though Clinton identified immigration as an engine of economic growth, she offered only a quick applause line on trade and nothing on the global financial system, not even easy targets like rigged interest rates or tax shelters for American companies. Perhaps more on these topics would have been heavy lifting for a lay audience, but it’s worth reminding any audience — particularly given the economy’s reactions to tumult in Greece and China — that the United States does not make economic policy in a vacuum”.

Altman makes the interesting point that “Also absent from Clinton’s speech was a consistent underpinning of economic logic. For instance, one of her few new proposals for increasing wages despite labour’s dwindling bargaining power was to foster profit-sharing by firms. Though this sounds like an overdue redistribution of income from shareholders to workers, it is in fact an extremely dangerous proposal for workers. Replacing steady salaries with pay that rises and falls with a company’s fortunes adds risk that many workers can’t afford, especially when they’re already living close to the limits of their budgets. Moreover, tying an individual worker’s pay to the entire company’s profits doesn’t necessarily create an incentive to perform, unless that worker is a top executive. Again, it was a case of right question, wrong answer”.

It may be that Altman simply misunderstands Clinton and that the profit sharing is in addition to the regular salaries of workers. If this is the case it would do even more to boost Clinton’s credentials in this important area. If Clinton proposes to replace a regular wage with profit sharing then it would as Altman argues, be a dangerous and unfair policy.

He goes on to mention that “Clinton also came close to some economic contradictions. She disdainfully referred to arbitrary targets for growth — an obvious jab at the Republicans’ growth numbers arms race — though it was obvious she, too, thought the economy could grow much faster. And she excoriated Jeb Bush, a leading Republican candidate for president, for suggesting that Americans needed to work longer hours, but she also said that more women needed to enter the workforce; in both decisions, there is an element of choice as well as the constraints of family and other obligations”.

He ends correctly noting that “Clinton was short on solutions. Instead, she exhorted the public to join with her and do its part to meet the challenges. It’s true that crowdsourcing is a big deal in the 21st century, but she may have to pull a bit more weight herself”.

Second round of Afghan-Taliban talks

31/07/2015

China is likely to host a second round of peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban representatives next week, an Afghan official said on Friday, raising hopes for progress toward a political settlement to end years of bloodshed. China is increasingly worried about insurgency in the region spilling over into its territory and has been playing a role to broker a peace deal between Kabul and the Taliban insurgents. “The second round of talks is most probably going to be held in Urumqi in China on July 30,” said Ismail Qasimyar, a senior member of Afghan High Peace Council. Urumqi is the capital of China’s far-west Xinjiang region. Beijing says it faces its own radical Islamist insurrection there, members of which it believes get shelter and training from Taliban and other militants along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border”.

Iran after the deal, still a terrorist state

29/07/2015

A relevant piece notes how to keep Iran’s “feet to the fire” on the recently agreed nuclear deal, “The negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program have finally produced an agreement. Yet a critical paradox remains lying at the heart of the deal — a paradox still to be addressed by U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration. While the nuclear issue and Iran’s support of terrorism are ostensibly distinct, they are in fact implicitly linked. On the one hand, U.S. officials have made clear that the deal is focused squarely on nuclear issues and is not part of a grand bargain to modify destabilising Iranian behaviour in the Middle East. But at the core of the nuclear negotiations is major sanctions relief for Tehran, which will provide it with sufficient resources to dramatically expand its destabilizing role in the region”.

The writer goes on to make the point that “With sanctions relief tied to the fulfillment of its major obligations in the agreement, Iran would — within as little as six to 12 months — have access to what are now frozen bank accounts that total anywhere from $100 billion to $150 billion in sanctioned oil revenues. This does not even count economic gains accrued to Iran through reintegration into the global financial system or future oil revenue”.

Yet, the very nature of any deal is that there must be some compromise. There is no way that Iran would even bother coming to the table if there were not some inducements for it. The fact that so much money was out of Iran’s hands is a testament to the sanctions.

He makes the fair point that “Senior administration officials have argued that Iran has an interest in putting the money toward Iran’s ballooning civilian-infrastructure and domestic needs. This argument is predicated upon the notion that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ran his 2013 election campaign on lifting the economic sanctions and improving regular Iranians’ livelihoods. With parliamentary elections in February 2016, the argument goes, he stands to gain politically by putting the money into raising Iranians’ standard of living. There is only one problem: Iran is not a democracy. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who holds vastly more political power than Rouhani, is likely to financially compensate the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to win its acquiescence on the nuclear deal”.

While Iran is not a democracy the surge in popularity of Dr Rouhani and Dr Zarif could mean that the Supreme Leader is weaker and is more amenable given their recent success and popularity. This is not a certainty but the Supreme Leader would be foolish to ignore them completely.

He goes on to make the point that “It is the IRGC that seeks to destabilize the Middle East by propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime in Damascus and furthering Iranian objectives in Iraq or Yemen. If this deal is signed, it will have new funds to do so. Even if a large majority of the Iranian financial windfall goes to invigorate the moribund domestic economy, a relatively small slice of the $100 billion to $150 billion can go a long way in ramping up what the IRGC is already doing in destabilizing the Middle East”.

This is where President Obama’s “policy” needs to be clear. Either the policy is to remove Assad, in which case there is no need to bomb Syrian positions or else it is to “support” Assad as the only person able to keep Syria together. If the latter is the policy then Iranian support for Hezbollah should, in theory at least, be welcome. If the propping up of Assad is the policy, and there is no certainty that it is, then apart from some US-Saudi issues that stem from this decision larger Iranian involvement should be “welcome”.

He adds that “The Obama administration, for its part, has pledged that it will act to counter this windfall to some of the Middle East’s most dangerous groups. “Make no mistake; deal or no deal, we will continue to use all our available tools, including sanctions, to counter Iran’s menacing behaviour,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in April. “Iran knows that our host of sanctions focused on its support for terrorism and its violations of human rights are not, and have never been, up for discussion. The Treasury Department’s designations of Iranian-backed terrorist groups … will persist, giving us a powerful tool to go after Iran’s attempts to fund terror.” This statement provides the foundation for one tangible action the Obama administration could take to demonstrate — both to its allies in the region and to leaders in Tehran — that it will continue to counter Iran’s menacing behaviours. It should conduct a review of all existing U.S. sanctions on Iranian entities for their weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation and prepare a list of those that should remain in place because the designated entity is involved not only in proliferation but also in Iran’s other “menacing” behaviours”.

He makes the point that “In rare cases, an Iranian entity was designated under more than one authority. IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani, for instance, was designated under WMD proliferation (2007), human rights abuses (2011), and support for terrorism (2011). But in the vast majority of cases, the person or entity was designated only once — under the WMD proliferation authority, which enjoyed significantly more support from European and other allies than designations under terrorism or other authorities. This means that a host of entities engaged in illicit Iranian activities beyond WMD proliferation — but that were designated solely under authorities targeting Iran’s proliferation activities — would in all likelihood be delisted under the Iran nuclear deal. This applies to Iranian banks, most of which were designated under WMD proliferation authorities but which financed a broad range of illicit conduct. But it doesn’t stop there. Consider the June 2011 designation of Tidewater Middle East Co., an Iranian company engaged in marine and port operations in Iran. Tidewater was blacklisted under Executive Order 13382 — an authority aimed at “freezing the assets of proliferators of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their supporters,” as the Treasury Department put it. But according to that same Treasury Department designation, the Iranian government “repeatedly used Tidewater-managed ports to export arms or related materiel in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.” Or consider the case of Iran Air, also designated under Executive Order 13382″.

He concludes, “The Treasury Department has long hewed to the famous maxim: Follow the money. In February 2010, it designated several subsidiary companies owned or controlled by the IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbia construction company. Profits from the financial activities of these IRGC-linked companies, the department noted, “are available to support the full range of the IRGC’s illicit activities, including WMD proliferation and support for terrorism.” Following the conclusion of the nuclear deal, the basis for sanctions due to WMD proliferation may be gone — but a number of Iranian concerns will remain just as guilty of supporting terrorism as before and should continue to be sanctioned”.

He ends “This is not a ruse to reimplement the full sanctions architecture in the event of a nuclear deal, but rather a targeted means of addressing those Iranian illicit activities that would remain. This would apply to unilateral U.S. sanctions, but European countries could also be encouraged to follow suit, strengthening international pressure against Iran’s illicit activity beyond the nuclear portfolio. Iran would still gain access to the $100 billion to $150 billion held in offshore frozen accounts, but not those held in U.S. banks, which must adhere to the administration’s executive orders.  Such a step is also a crucial way for Obama to make good on his promise of countering Tehran’s regional ambitions”.

 

Saudi Arabia backs the Iran deal?

29/07/2015

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said Thursday the Iran nuclear deal appears to have the provisions needed to curtail Iran’s ability to obtain a nuclear weapon in what were the most favourable remarks yet from the kingdom on the recent agreement. Saudi officials had expressed skepticism over the U.S.-led deal struck earlier this month between six world powers and Iran, Saudi’s regional rival. But Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters the kingdom has been reassured by Washington while consultations continue about the deal, which he said stipulates effective inspections, including of military sites, and the possibility of snap-back sanctions if Iran violates the agreement. “We are currently in talks with the American government regarding these details, but it (the deal) generally seems to have achieved these objectives,” said al-Jubeir, who visited Washington in mid-July”.

IMF refuses to participate

29/07/2015

A article in the New York Times reports that the IMF has told the EU that the recently “agreed” deal with Greece will not work, “It reads like a dry, 1,184-word memorandum about fiscal projections. But the International Monetary Fund’s memo on Greek debt sustainability, explaining why the I.M.F. cannot participate in a new bailout program unless other European countries agree to huge debt relief for Greece, has provided the “Emperor Has No Clothes” moment of the Greek crisis, one that may finally force eurozone members to either move closer to fiscal union or break up”.

The report notes that “The I.M.F. memo amounts to an admission that the eurozone cannot work in its current form. It lays out three options for achieving Greek debt sustainability, all of which are tantamount to a fiscal union, an arrangement through which wealthier countries would make payments to support the Greek economy. Not coincidentally, this is the solution many economists have been telling European officials is the only way to save the euro — and which northern European countries have been resisting because it is so costly. The three options laid out by the I.M.F. would have different operations, but they share an important feature: They involve other European countries giving Greece money without expecting to get it back. These transfers would be additional to the approximately 86 billion euros in new loans contemplated in Monday’s deal. “Wait a minute,” you might say. “The I.M.F. isn’t calling for a fiscal union; it’s calling for debt relief.” But once a debt relief program becomes big enough, this becomes a distinction without a difference; they’re both about other eurozone countries giving Greece money”.

The author mentions that the first option is “one of the debt relief options proposed by the I.M.F. is “explicit annual transfers to the Greek budget,” that is, direct payments from other governments to Greece, which it could use to make its debt payments. This, obviously, is a fiscal union. A second option is extending the grace period, during which Greece would be relieved of the obligation to make interest or principal payments on its debt to European countries, through the year 2053. That’s not a typo. Under this plan, Greece would make no more debt payments until Justin Bieber is 59 years old. This is a fiscal union by another name, since those lengthy and favorable credit terms would save the Greeks money at the expense of Greece’s creditors, most of which now are other European governments or the I.M.F. The third option floated by the I.M.F., a cancellation of a portion of Greece’s debts, has been fiercely resisted by the German government, even though this is the option that least obviously constitutes a continuing fiscal union”.

However in her infinite wisdom Merkel has ruled out any debt forgiveness and at the same time demanded Greece pay all of its debts, despite the insanity of what it has to pay and the lack of economic sense in what Merkel proposes. This has led many to conclude that Merkel, far from being incompentent or financially illiterate desires to force Greece out of the Eurozone.

The piece goes on to mention that “Unfortunately, however, this is not Greece’s first bailout rodeo. Previous bailouts have had to be revised and enlarged, and as the I.M.F. notes in the section of its memo about “considerable downside risk,” that could happen again. The plans for Greece to regain solvency rely on fast economic growth and sharp rises in labor productivity that outperform the rest of Europe — something that cannot be guaranteed. They also rely on the country’s running a large primary surplus for an extended period — that is, collecting much more in taxes than it spends on government services, which typically does not prove popular with the voting public. In other words, Europeans would have good reason to fear that a debt haircut given to Greece today would not be the last”.

The article concludes “The memo makes clear what the real cost to Europe of continued eurozone membership for Greece is: If European governments want to keep Greece in, they’re going to have to put up a lot of money in one non-loan form or another, money they will give Greece that they never get back. Of course, the main alternative to a deal is a Greek exit from the euro, which would also be costly to European holders of existing Greek debt, who could expect to be repaid in devalued drachmas, if at all. That is a reason for European governments to be willing to pay the price prescribed by the I.M.F. to make a Greek deal work”.

Iran, trading with Europe

29/07/2015

Iran on Thursday outlined plans to rebuild its main industries and trade relationships following a nuclear agreement with world powers, saying it was targeting oil and gas projects worth $185 billion (£118.6 billion) by 2020. Iran’s Minister of Industry, Mines and Trade Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh said the Islamic Republic would focus on its oil and gas, metals and car industries with an eye to exporting to Europe after sanctions have been lifted, rather than simply importing Western technology. “We are looking for a two-way trade as well as cooperation in development, design and engineering,” Nematzadeh told a conference in Vienna. “We are no longer interested in a unidirectional importation of goods and machinery from Europe,” he said. The United Nations Security Council on Monday endorsed a deal to end years of economic sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear programme”.

“Beijing is scrambling to control the chaos”

29/07/2015

A report notes the ongoing collapse of the Chinese stock market and how whatever safety net is too late to save it, “China’s stock-market bubble has burst, and Beijing is scrambling to control the chaos. It’s better to stop bubbles from forming in the first place, but Beijing failed to act — perhaps because the rising markets were a rare bright spot in a period of relative economic malaise. Now, with millions of fortunes already destroyed, continuing to do nothing might be the best approach. But that hasn’t stopped the government from diving in. The crash in Chinese share prices is a symptom of a market that is serving new strata of society as it develops, just like the American bourses during the dotcom boom”.

He makes the point that it was supply and demand rather than the fundamentals of the companies that were driving up prices, “even though the last bubble and crash occurred less than a decade ago. In 2008, the Shanghai market plunged spectacularly after increasing its value five times over in the previous two years. Once the global financial crisis subsided, however, it didn’t take long for investors to pour their money back in. And in recent months, they bet that prices in the Shanghai marketand others — would continue to climb indefinitely, borrowing billions to trade on the margin. One problem is that these are not the same investors as in 2008. For the past several years, China has been the world’s primary growth market for online trading accounts. Tens of millions of people have bought stocks for the first time and discovered the wonders of margin trading. Many are members of China’s burgeoning middle class, but that doesn’t mean they’re sophisticated investors; the majority may not even have finished high school. Now, with the markets down roughly 30 percent, their heavily leveraged positions have started to crumble”.

Pointedly he writes that “The government is understandably concerned, as more than three trillion dollars in wealth on paper, which didn’t even exist last spring, has already disappeared. But it’s not taking the right steps to salvage the situation — nor does it necessarily have to take any steps at all. So far, Beijing has placed a moratorium on initial public offerings, apparently in the belief that doing so will discourage churn (and thus more selling) in the markets. In reality, the move just protects existing investors — and the bloated companies they own — at the expense of businesses raising money to expand their operations. The Chinese government is also putting together a stabilization fund, including contributions from 21 brokerage firms, to prop up blue-chip shares”.

Interestingly he argues that “it’s not even obvious that the markets are still substantially overvalued, so none of these measures may even be necessary. On the Shanghai market, price-to-earning ratios have come down from a peak in the forties (for the median share) to the upper teens, which is somewhat elevated but not crazy for an emerging economy in East Asia. In Shenzhen, the ratio was around 45 at the time of this writing. But given the higher concentration of manufacturers on the southerly exchange, this higher figure could signify lower earnings for exporters — possibly a temporary phenomenon — as well as inflated prices. If shares are nearing prices that reflect the underlying values of the companies, rather than frothy demand for stocks, then doing something may be more dangerous than doing nothing. Beijing is setting a risky precedent by acting as a backstop not just for financial stability but also for the market capitalization of publicly traded companies. In the future, with no incentive for caution, investors may adopt even riskier behavior than the kind that has landed them in their current multi-trillion-dollar hole“.

This was seen spectularly in the Eurozone, Ireland and the UK had huge liabilities and yet where brought into the public balance sheet. The real lesson was Iceland who refused to prop up the banks and let them go bust only protecting the money of people over investors. The result was enormous pain for Icelanders in the short term but long term benefits.

Turkey sides with America against ISIS

29/07/2015

Turkey has agreed to let the United States use Turkish soil to launch air attacks against the Islamic State, signaling a major shift in policy on the part of the once-reluctant American ally, U.S. officials said Thursday. The decision to allow U.S. warplanes to use the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey is one element in a broad cooperation plan first broached nine months ago. Additional elements — including expanding U.S. airstrikes into the western part of the border area and using Turkish military ground spotters to guide them — are being discussed and finalized. Turkey had resisted being drawn too deeply into the war against the Islamic State because of concerns about the direction of the Obama administration’s Syria policy”.

Iran’s paltry military spending?

27/07/2015

An interesting piece argues that after the nuclear deal the Iranian military will not be as powerful as many seem to argue.

It begins, “You’d be forgiven for thinking that Iran, unshackled from economic sanctions, would have free rein to domineer its vulnerable Persian Gulf Arab neighbours and cause trouble for Israel. As the fearful refrain goes, if an Iran restrained by crippling sanctions has managed to assert its influence over four Arab capitals — those of Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen — what will an Iran freed from sanctions and a global arms embargo do? As noted Iran hawk Ray Takeyh recently wrote, “the most important legacy of the prospective agreement [may be that it] enable[d] the Islamic Republic’s imperial surge.” This same line has been pushed so hard that it has become accepted fact in Washington. The problem is, the line isn’t true. But, nonetheless, it is threatening to upend a lasting nuclear deal with Iran. As the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 countries head down to the wire in Vienna, the issue has arisen in the question of whether the arms embargo imposed on Iran as part of the U.N. Security Council resolutions would be maintained following a nuclear deal”.

The author argues that “The United States and its European partners say yes; Russia, China, and Iran say no. The timing is troubling to say the least. Just as solutions have been found to constrain and roll back elements of Iran’s nuclear program, this issue — one that’s outside the scope of the nuclear talks — is now taking on such exaggerated importance that it threatens to undo the serious progress of the past 18 months”.

He goes on to mention that “no one imagined back in 2010 that a conventional arms embargo — part of what was otherwise a U.N. Security Council resolution focused squarely on Iran’s nuclear-proliferation activities — would rear its ugly head in quite this manner. The Russian and Iranian position is that the Security Council resolutions rested on the understanding that the arms embargo would be lifted once concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program were resolved. Provided that a deal is reached on Iran’s nuclear program, Russia and Iran thus argue, the arms embargo loses its legal justification. The current U.S. position, however, may be less interested in maintaining coherence with past policy than it is with ensuring that it mitigates regional allies’ concern as much as possible as part of a nuclear deal with Iran”.

He makes the valid point that the Obama administration “fears that undoing the arms embargo on Iran would be a step too far for some of the United States’ key regional allies, all of which — but particularly Saudi Arabia — threaten to undermine the administration’s case for a nuclear deal should they perceive their interests to dictate in favour of doing so. The problem is that the exaggerated tales, now running rampant in Washington, of Iranian regional ascendancy in the wake of a nuclear deal don’t jibe with reality. Far from being a hegemonic power, able to domineer and subdue its regional rivals with impunity, Iran has a regional position that remains untenable, all while its regional rivals procure weapons systems that make themselves increasingly invulnerable. Indeed, sober assessment shows that — both quantitatively and qualitatively — Iran’s regional rivals are well positioned not just to counter a “rising” Iran but to compete with it as well. Moreover, this has been true for some time. According to an April report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), interrogating the relevant “data make[s] a conclusive case that the Arab Gulf states have … an overwhelming advantage of Iran in both military spending and access to modern arms.” Quantitatively, Iran’s military expenditures have sunk far below those of its Gulf rivals. In 2014, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), more than 25 percent of Saudi government spending was devoted to beefing up its military assets — expenditures that totaled more than $80 billion. Along with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which spent nearly $23 billion, the two Gulf Arab countries comprise well over half the $173 billion in military expenditures spent by all Middle Eastern countries that year”.

Importantly he writes that “Iran’s military expenditures failed to measure up. During 2014, Iran’s military spending was about $15 billion, which comprised about 9 percent of total military spending in the Middle East. That’s a mere fraction of Saudi military spending and about two-thirds of the UAE’s. The Gulf Cooperation Council states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — outspend Iran on arms by a factor of 13. This imbalance is also not merely a current phenomenon. In fact, according to SIPRI’s database, even prior to the arms embargo on Iran, which went into effect in 2010, Saudi Arabia’s military expenditures in the past two decades consistently doubled or tripled the amounts Iran was outlaying to its own military. The new trend, then, is not that Saudi spending has overtaken that of Iran (which has historically been the case during the era of the Islamic Republic), but rather that Saudi military spending has skyrocketed since 2005 to the point where it now dwarfs that of its regional rival”.

He adds another layer to this analysis noting that “As one CSIS report notes, “The Arab Gulf states have acquired and are acquiring some of the most advanced and effective weapons in the world. Iran has essentially been forced to live in the past, often relying on systems originally delivered at the time of the Shah.” Saudi spending is used to procure the most modern weapons systems, while Iran is left with beleaguered and aging weapons systems ill-suited for state conflict. For the Gulf Arab countries, this includes some of the most modern American military hardware”.

He goes on to reinforce the point that “While it does retain the region’s largest stockpile of ballistic missiles, expert opinion remains that Iran has been less than successful in doing so, leaving it in the disadvantageous position of being both outspent and outarmed by its regional adversaries. Based on the trend lines, too, this situation is unlikely to change even in the wake of a nuclear deal. Indeed, a look at SIPRI’s accounting of the Islamic Republic’s past military spending shows that its expenditures have consistently been within 3 percent of its GDP. As much as sanctions have at times been cited as the reason for Iran’s paltry outlays to its military, the fact is that Iran’s military spending has moderately risen — not decreased — during the sanctions era. This can be chalked up to the fact that Iran’s security crises were exacerbated as a result of the ongoing nuclear dispute, not ameliorated by it. Following a deal, the incentive structure for Iran does not thus tilt in favour of increased military spending, but decreased spending”.

He concludes “Whether ill-informed or with malign intent, talking heads in Washington are portraying what is ultimately a false picture of the regional balance of power. Finishing the negotiations has proved tougher than many had predicted, with diplomats blowing through a third deadline this past week. The issue of the arms embargo on Iran is one of the few remaining sticking points — and it’s a tricky one because Russia has officially broken with the P5+1 and called for the embargo to be lifted. The entire nuclear deal could fall on this one single issue. That’s why it’s so essential to correct this common but false wisdom and adopt a more sober view of what the region might look like the day after a nuclear deal. It’s not just a matter of missiles — it’s a matter of war and peace”.

The key issue with the article is that while Iran’s military spending is low, the concern is not state to state warfare but the non-state actors that Iran is so prone to use such as Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.

Chinese market collapse continues

27/07/2015

Shares in mainland China have recorded their biggest one-day fall for more than eight years following a sell-off towards the end of the trading day. The Shanghai Composite closed down 8.5% at 3,725.56 after more weak economic data raised concerns about the health of world’s second largest economy. Profit at China’s industrial firms dropped 0.3% in June from a year ago. That followed data on Friday indicating that factory activity in July saw its worse performance for 15 months”.

The realist case for gay marriage

27/07/2015

An interesting article by Dr Stephen Walt argues that realists should celebrate the recent gay marriage decision by the US Supreme Court, the “SCOTUS decision on gay marriage is one of them. For starters, the decision is consistent with the defining feature of American democracy: its emphasis on individual freedom and personal choice. As the court made clear, if consenting adults are not free to fall in love with whomever they are drawn to and to express that love openly in the institution of marriage, then they are being denied the full rights that other citizens enjoy and they are not in fact truly free. Today’s decision eliminated this obvious contradiction between our ideals and our practices, and it should be celebrated for that reason alone”.

Walt goes on to make the point “Second, along with U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to permit gay Americans to serve openly in the armed forces, the decision is a blow in favour of fairness and efficiency. Prejudice and bigotry are bad in and of themselves, but they also impede the optimal use of human resources. When gay people could not serve openly in the military, our country was denied the talents that these patriotic individuals could have brought to important national security tasks. Similarly, when gay Americans could not marry or live together openly without fearing persecution, and when companies discriminated against gay employees, it meant that our society could not reap the full benefits of their unfettered participation. Whenever we remove another plank of prejudice, we help the best people rise as far as their abilities can take them, and all of us benefit as a result”.

Walt argues that the “decision is also a tribute to the power of America’s oft maligned democratic institutions and the ability of reasoned discourse to triumph over ancient stigmas. Gay marriage did not come about by accident or just because two gay people decided to file a lawsuit a few years ago. It came about because courageous writers like Andrew Sullivan wrote powerfully in its favour, because an array of people — both gay and straight — organised to carry these arguments forward, and because more and more gay people came out and the straight world learned to relish their friendship and see them as equals. Once these things happened, the contradiction between our values and our laws — and the obvious injustice of the latter — was increasingly apparent. The American political system does not change direction quickly or easily, but it is open to reasoned discourse and responsive to changing sentiments. Even a Supreme Court dominated by conservatives could not fail to see that the ground had shifted, and today’s decision reflects that welcome reality”.

He concludes “establishing gay marriage as a fundamental right removes one of the practices that has separated the United States from many of its democratic partners (the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Argentina, Iceland, Portugal, Denmark, Brazil, England, Wales, France, New Zealand, Uruguay, Luxembourg, Scotland, and Finland). It will increase pressure on some other countries to follow suit, especially within Western Europe. At the same time, it is likely to broaden the gulf between states where homosexuality is becoming a nonissue and those where it is still persecuted and even same-sex unions are illegal. For gay people around the world, the struggle is far from over”.

Another attempt at closing Gitmo

27/07/2015

The White House is close to bringing Congress another plan for closing the prison for terrorism detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a campaign pledge that President Barack Obama hasn’t given up on, his spokesman said Wednesday. “There has got to be a better way for us to spend taxpayer dollars than to spend more than $100 million a year operating a prison that only has, I think now, 116 inmates,” press secretary Josh Earnest said. “There also has to be a better way for us to protect our national security interests than to deliver on a silver platter a particularly effective recruiting tool for terrorists, which is to continue the operation of that prison.” Under a defense policy bill passed by the Senate, lawmakers would consider the White House plan and decide whether to ease restrictions that make it harder for Obama to transfer detainees out of the prison at the U.S. naval base in an effort to close it. The House version of the legislation doesn’t contain that provision, however, and it may not survive when lawmakers finish negotiating a compromise version of the entire bill”.

Benedict, still making waves

27/07/2015

Damian Thompson writes about Benedict XVI, “One of the finest speeches Benedict XVI ever delivered was about sacred music. It is a small masterpiece, in which Benedict recalls his first encounter with Mozart in the liturgy. ‘When the first notes of the Coronation Mass sounded, Heaven virtually opened and the presence of the Lord was experienced very profoundly,’ he said”.

Thompson goes on to mention that “Benedict robustly defended the performance of the work of great composers at Mass, which he insisted was necessary for the fulfilment of the Second Vatican Council’s wish that ‘the patrimony of sacred music [is] preserved and developed with great care’. Then he asked: what is music? He identified three places from which it flowed. First, the experience of love, opening ‘a new grandeur and breadth of reality’ that inspires music. Second, ‘the experience of sadness, death, sorrow and the abysses of existence’. These open ‘in an opposite direction, new dimensions of reality that can no longer find answers in discourses alone’. Third, the encounter with the divine. ‘I find it moving to observe how, in the Psalms, singing is no longer enough for men — an appeal is made to all the instruments: reawakened is the hidden music of creation, its mysterious language.’ You can find footage of part of this speech online. It shows Benedict in his prime, speaking with light fluency, dressed in papal robes and appearing thoroughly relaxed in the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo”.

He goes on to write “When Benedict suddenly vacated the chair of Peter in February 2013, he announced that he would live out his days in silence in the Vatican monastery of Mater Ecclesiae. If that was a promise, he has never quite kept to it. Last year, the Pope Emeritus slapped down his old adversary Cardinal Walter Kasper, a left-wing German theologian, for suggesting that, when he was still Professor Ratzinger, he supported communion for divorced and remarried Catholics — Kasper’s pet cause. He has warned the Church against ‘any wavering from the Truth’. He has welcomed news that the Ordinariate — the body he set up for ex-Anglicans, disgracefully sidelined by the English bishops — now worships in the former Bavarian embassy chapel in Soho. And he told traditionalists that the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass ‘now lives in full peace in the Church, even among the young, with celebration by great cardinals’. Most of these interventions can be interpreted as implicit criticism of Pope Francis”.

He adds that “The ‘wavering from the Truth’ comment was directed at Kasper, a mentor to Francis whose radical ideas provoked fury at last October’s Synod on the Family. (Significantly, the Vatican tried to keep Benedict’s words from reaching the press.) The Ordinariate letter is unlikely to have bothered the Pope, but the message to Latin Mass supporters will have annoyed him. When Benedict praised ‘great cardinals’, he had in mind the arch-conservative Raymond Burke — whom Francis sacked as head of the Vatican’s legal tribunal”.

Thompson unfairly exaggerates that Kasper is a mentor to Francis. The current pontiff has spoken favourably about some Cardinal Kasper’s theology but at the same time Francis has done little to push for Cardinal Kasper’s proposal of allowing those who are divorced civilly to receive Communion. Therefore to say that Kasper is a mentor and to imply that Francis supports him is somewhat disingenuous.

Thompson makes the valid point “Benedict’s reflections on music are, on the face of it, uncontroversial. But they are the first he has delivered in public — looking rejuvenated. Moreover, in citing Vatican II to defend liturgical high art, he was reviving the ‘hermeneutic of continuity’, the great theme of his pontificate. Benedict views Vatican II as an enrichment of tradition. Francis sees it as a ‘new beginning’ and accuses its critics of ‘wanting to tame the Holy Spirit’. He has rejected the hermeneutic of continuity”.

He ends “Liberal Catholics will dismiss Benedict’s comments as the embittered musings of a disappointed 88-year-old and point instead to the million-strong crowd Francis drew in Ecuador this week. They overlook something obvious to visitors to many British parishes: younger clergy and worshippers in the West tend to be natural Benedictines, not Franciscans. My own parish is not ‘traditionalist’ but its liturgy has become more solemn, the music more classical and a crucifix has appeared on the altar: a trademark of the hermeneutic of continuity because the priest symbolically faces east, as once he did literally. Joseph Ratzinger is not the Pope. But by calling himself ‘Benedict XVI’, dressing in white and keeping the word ‘pope’ in his title, he reminds us that he is a living successor to St Peter. Quite what authority that bestows on him is a mystery. But clearly he feels entitled to reach out discreetly to members of the faithful distressed by the dismantling of his legacy. To these Catholics, Benedict is saying, in language far more eloquent than the crowd-pleasing paragraphs of Francis’s encyclical on the environment: my vision is not dead. And nor am I”.

“Raising new questions about Tehran’s commitment to the terms”

27/07/2015

Iran can deny nuclear inspectors access to its military sites under the terms of the agreement worked out this month in Vienna, the country’s foreign minister said this week, raising new questions about Tehran’s commitment to the terms of the agreement. Appearing before the conservative-dominated parliament to sell the nuclear deal, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran’s negotiating team had held fast in the bargaining to the leadership’s pledge not to allow such inspections. Iran had made access to military sites a “red line,” he said, and had “fully achieved” those terms in the bargaining. He also told lawmakers that Iran had not committed to allowing inspection of military sites in the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action”.

ISIS in Libya

25/07/2015

A report notes the rise of ISIS in Libya, “The international community is rightly worried about the spread of the Islamic State and its ideology. The fact that IS forces have even managed to take hold in Libya, so far afield from the group’s original strongholds in Syria and Iraq, has been a source of considerable anxiety. Yet over the past two weeks IS forces in Libya have suffered a shattering defeat — and the outside world has barely paid attention. The lack of coverage undoubtedly reflects the lack of reliable news media on the ground. But it could also have something to do with the fact that the news isn’t entirely good. As it turns out, an IS defeat doesn’t necessarily mean that the good guys are winning”.

The article mentions that “On June 9, fighting broke out in the eastern city of Derna between IS fighters and the forces of the Mujahideen Shura Council (DMSC), a militia linked to Al Qaeda. The clashes broke out after IS militants killed one of DMSC’s leaders. In one day, the DMSC fighters rose up and expelled IS from the city, forcing them to retreat to their hideouts in the remote Green Mountains. These developments are important for several reasons. First, the city witnessed something of a popular uprising against the Islamic State. Unarmed people, angered by the alien and repressive practices IS has implemented in the city since it seized power last year, took to the streets in protest. As was perhaps to be expected, given the group’s zero tolerance for peaceful opposition, IS fighters opened fire on the crowd, killing at least seven and wounding more than 30. According to my own conversations with sources in Derna, the ensuing confrontations lasted for several days. In the end the DMSC effectively joined forces with the Libyan National Army, which is loyal to the internationally recognized Libyan government”.

The article notes that “For now, the clear winners in this tragic episode are the people of Derna. Some of the policies imposed by IS throughout the last year have been revoked and a sense of normalcy is returning to the city. Banks are reopening, local radio stations are back on air, cigarettes shops are opening doors again, and young people are blasting loud music as they drive around the city. Over the last few days in Tobruk, I spoke with a number of displaced families from Derna, and they all told me that they’re eagerly planning to go home. All these are positive and welcome developments. Even so, the picture is not quite as rosy as it might seem. Derna still faces serious obstacles on the way to a sustainable peace. The first problem is that it remains under the control of yet another Islamist militia. Despite enjoying support from the local population in its fight against the Islamic State”.

Interestingly it add “It’s worth noting that the DMSC allowed IS to flourish in the city under their watch, and only decided to confront them when the other militants attacked their leaders. Nor did the DMSC do anything to stop the Islamic State’s terror tactics, which included public executions, the beheading of activists, and even the crucifixion of a local family. The DMSC have already started taking steps to consolidate their rule by announcing their intention to form a local authority that will run the city’s affairs”.

Worryingly the report goes on to note “then there’s the looming possibility of IS retaliation. In February, Islamic State forces carried out suicide bombings in the town of Qubba, not far from Derna, that killed more than 45 people in response to joint Egyptian-Libyan airstrikes against IS positions in Derna. It’s above all the fear of a new wave of IS reprisals that is leading people in the city to tolerate the presence of DMSC”.

It ends “Truly sustainable peace and stability require the creation of a state-sanctioned force to protect the city from any threats from groups such as IS. After that, the internationally recognized government in Tobruk or a future Government of National Accord (as recently proposed by United Nations mediators) would help to set up a local administration to run the affairs of the city and bring it back under state control. Most importantly, the Libyan authorities and international organizations should work to create an environment in which civil society organizations can flourish, a key precondition for countering extremist ideology. Defeating the extremists and establishing conditions conducive to stability in Derna would send a welcome signal for positive change to the rest of Libya”.

 

Russia as the greatest US threat

25/07/2015

The two generals nominated to sit atop the Defense Department’s hierarchy agree: President Vladimir Putin’s Russia is the greatest threat facing the United States today. U.S. Air Force Gen. Paul Selva — President Barack Obama’s pick to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that he “would put the threats to this nation in the following order: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and all of the organizations that have grown around ideology that was articulated by al Qaeda,” offering the same list delivered last week by Obama’s nominee to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford. During his own July 9 confirmation hearing before the same committee, Dunford called Moscow’s recent behaviour in Ukraine and in eastern Europe “nothing short of alarming,” adding that “Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security” and “could pose an existential threat to the United States.”

Using the UN to outwit GOP on Iran

25/07/2015

A piece in Foreign Policy notes how the Obama administration is trying to outfox Congress at the UN over the Iran deal, “Last March, 47 Republicans led by Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas wrote a letter warning Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that a future U.S. president could legally revoke any nuclear deal that had been negotiated by Barack Obama’s administration with the stroke of a pen. They clearly didn’t realize that the White House has a way of making that much harder to do. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, on Monday circulated a legally binding draft to the 15-member U.N. Security Council that, if adopted, would give the body’s backing to the landmark nuclear pact trading billions of dollars in sanctions relief for greater international scrutiny of Iran’s nuclear energy program. It also instructs states to refrain from taking any actions that would undermine the agreement. The 14-page draft resolution, obtained by Foreign Policy, is likely to be put to a vote by early next week”.

The article goes on to note that “The decision to take the deal to the Security Council before the U.S. Congress has concluded its own deliberations on the agreement places lawmakers in the uncomfortable position of potentially acting contrary to a resolution that is binding on the administration by voting down the deal. The strategy has infuriated some Republican lawmakers, who see the administration making an end run around Congress. During a Tuesday phone call to Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) pressed him to put off a Security Council vote. “I urged that the Obama administration not seek action at the U.N. Security Council on the agreement before Congress can review it in detail during the legislatively mandated congressional review period,” Royce said in a statement”.

The author goes on to mention, “Congress is currently weighing whether to accept or reject the deal brokered by the United States, Iran, and five world powers. Under the terms of a U.S. law passed this year, lawmakers can prevent the president from lifting congressional sanctions on Iran, which would blow up the landmark nuclear deal. However, if a resolution is approved by the Security Council early next week, any president, Democrat or Republican, would be legally required to comply with many of its key provisions. “If Congress were to veto the deal, Congress — the United States of America — would be in noncompliance with this agreement and contrary to all of the other countries in the world. I don’t think that’s going to happen,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters Tuesday”.

Crucially the piece adds that “At issue is the exact power of the new resolution. A U.S. official said the administration believes that the U.N. resolution “would not impose legal obligations” for the United States, Iran, or other negotiating parties to fully implement the landmark nuclear pact. The question is highly sensitive for the White House because Kerry assured Congress last March that the big-power nuclear pact with Iran would not be “legally binding” on the United States. Some international legal experts say that the administration is correct to say that the U.N. resolution doesn’t make adhering to the entire nuclear pact obligatory for all parties. At the same time, they said the resolution would require all signatories to the deal — including United States and Iran — to comply with key provisions like the lifting of the U.N. arms embargo and ballistic missile ban in five and eight years, respectively.

“In essence, this allows the Obama administration to say that the Iran agreement in full is not binding on the U.S.,” said Kal Raustiala, a professor of international law at UCLA. “But at the same time some of the critical provisions will be binding if this resolution passes as a matter of international law, binding on the U.S. and binding on every other state in the system.”

The United States maintains that it is necessary to reinforce the nuclear pact with a binding U.N. Security Council resolution to ensure that sanctions continue to be imposed on Iran until it persuades the world that its nuclear program is peaceful. The U.S. official specifically noted that the measure will be crafted to prevent the export of all arms to Iran and to freeze the assets and prevent the travel of certain individuals.

Still, U.S. officials and some outside experts argue that there are enough safeguards written into the nuclear pact that any U.S. president would have the ability to re-impose sanctions on Iran if it violates the terms of the accord. The resolution,  as well as the underlying nuclear deal, provide “lots of opportunities for the United States to block the termination of the sanctions” and “doesn’t bind any future president,” said Steven Ratner, a professor of international law at the University of Michigan law school.

U.S. officials say the resolution would also not require the U.S. Congress to lift its own sanctions on Iran. “Congress still ultimately controls the status and application of the legislative-based sanctions at issue in the [nuclear pact],” the official said. “If Iran abides by the [nuclear pact] Congress will eventually have to act again to lift these sanctions.”

On Capitol Hill, there are currently two schools of thought about the wisdom of taking a resolution to the U.N. Security Council prior to a vote in Congress.

For some Republicans, the move is a dangerous subjugation of U.S. sovereignty and an insult to Congress’s oversight role.

“Given that huge bipartisan majorities in both houses voted for legislation to prevent the president from implementing the agreement before congressional review, I think members from both sides of the aisle will see this tactic as an end run on Congress,” said Jamil Jaffer, a Republican and former chief counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Others, even those skeptical of a deal, prefer that the U.N. take action first so that Congress can better understand the accord it’s approving or rejecting.

“It actually makes sense that we would go second because then we’ll know what we’re voting on,” said a congressional aide who focuses on the Iran nuclear portfolio. “If we went first, we’d be in the uncomfortable position of approving something that could change depending on what’s agreed on at the U.N.”

Indeed, the United States and its negotiating partners have not included some of the most controversial provisions — for instance, a decision to lift an embargo on conventional weaponry in five years and ease restrictions on the development and import of ballistic missile technology in eight years — in the nuclear accord that will be reviewed by Congress. Instead, those provisions are embedded in the new U.N. Security Council resolution, which congressional critics of the deal will have no power to block.

The new draft resolution provides weaker restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program than those contained in previous resolutions, which banned Iran from undertaking “any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” The draft under consideration would only “call upon” Iran not to engage in such activities. It also includes no explicit prohibition on Iran’s development or import of conventional missile technology. That means Iran can continue to advance its conventional ballistic missile program without violating the terms set by the U.N. Security Council.

But acquiring foreign supplies for its missile program will still be constrained by the deal. A U.S. administration official familiar with the deliberations noted that the draft requires that any company trying to supply Iran with missile-related technology seek approval from a committee composed of representatives from key powers, including the United States. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Washington would use its position to “veto” the import of any sensitive missile technology into Iran. “The practical effect” of the new resolution is to preserve the same prohibitions contained in existing resolutions, said the official. “It prohibits effectively any transfer of missile technology, conventional or nuclear.”

According to an individual familiar with the talks, the compromise on the arms embargo and ballistic missile sanctions came at the eleventh hour of negotiations in Vienna. Iran, backed by Russia, insisted that a final deal lift all restrictions on conventional arms and ballistic missiles immediately. Seeking to break the impasse, Kerry “did some maneuvering between the Iranians and Russians and got it to a five-eight compromise,” meaning the conventional-arms embargo would be in effect for another five years and restrictions on ballistic missile technology would extend for eight years rather than lift immediately. “This was a Kerry special,” said the individual.

Prior to the conclusion of the nuclear talks, Republicans such as New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte grilled Obama administration officials about the dangers of lifting sanctions on Iran that deter it from obtaining conventional weapons or ballistic missiles.

Responding to a question from Ayotte last week, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “under no circumstances should we relieve pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missile capabilities and arms trafficking.”

When Dempsey’s remarks were raised during a press conference with Obama on Wednesday, the president pushed back, saying, “We are not taking the pressure off Iran with respect to arms and with respect to ballistic missiles.”

Instead, the president asserted, the new resolution would keep those restrictions in place while leaving Washington with a “host of other multilateral and unilateral authorities that allow us to take action where we see Iran engaged in those activities, whether it’s six years from now or 10 years from now,” he said.

Khorasan leader dead

25/07/2015

The Pentagon confirmed Tuesday that the leader of the Khorasan Group — an Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria focused on hitting Western targets — has been killed. “Muhsin al-Fadhli, a longtime al-Qaeda operative, was killed in a kinetic strike July 8 while traveling in a vehicle near Sarmada, Syria,” said Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis. Al-Fadhli was the leader of a network of veteran al-Qaeda operatives in Syria who were planning attacks against the U.S. and allies, Davis said.”He was a senior al-Qaeda facilitator who was among the few trusted al-Qaeda leaders that received advanced notification of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks,” he said. Al-Fadhli was also involved in terrorist attacks that took place in October 2002, including against U.S. Marines on Faylaka Island in Kuwait and on the French ship MV Limburg, he said. “His death will degrade and disrupt ongoing external operations of al-Qaeda against the United States and our allies and partners,” Davis said. Last October, FBI Director James Comey said the Khorasan Group was working on a plan to hit the U.S”.

Bonny at the Synod, a lone voice

23/07/2015

A report from Crux notes the appointment of those bishops who will attend the Ordinary Synod on the Family in October. It begins “A Belgian bishop who has called on the Church to welcome same-sex couples will get to bring his case straight to Pope Francis. The Vatican announced Tuesday that Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp will serve as a delegate to October’s Synod on the Family. His appointment adds intellectual heft and star power to the liberal flank of bishops pushing for the Church to change how it approaches Catholics living in “irregular situations.” Bonny’s views, however, may be vigorously resisted by other synod members announced by the Vatican Tuesday, including prelates from Africa and Poland”.

The danger among those who seek change in Church doctrine is to misread this minor appointment and see trends that are simply not there. Bonny may attend the Synod in October but it would be a mistake to see his influence as something more than it is, minor. Some may construe the appointment of Pope Francis as a sign of support for change in doctrine but others have simply stated that it is part of the plan of Francis to be more pastoral.

It goes on to mention that “Bonny, 59, made waves in December when he said the Church must accept “a diversity of forms” when it comes to relationships, according to an interview he gave to a Belgian newspaper, translated by the National Catholic Reporter. “Personally, I find that in the Church, more space must be given to acknowledge the actual quality of gay and lesbian couples; and such a form of shared life should meet the same criteria as found in an ecclesiastical marriage,” he said. “We have to acknowledge that such criteria can be found in a diversity of relationships, and one needs to search for various models to give form to those relationships.” Bonny is one of 65 bishops named in a Vatican bulletin today who will participate in the synod, which is a continuation of a synod on families held last October that featured sometimes-rancorous discussions of Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, same-sex relationships, and various societal and economic pressures facing families. Bishops’ conferences in each country or region select delegates and submit them to the Vatican for approval, which is done on a rolling basis. Announcements of other participants were made earlier this year”.

The report goes on to make the point that “Last September, Bonny released a 22-page letter laying out his hopes for last October’s synod and offering clues about what he may bring to this year’s session. Concerning marriage, for example, Bonny wrote that it has changed through the centuries, undercutting activists who say marriage hasn’t changed for millennia. He suggested the Church has something to learn from same-sex couples: “The present day legalisation of civil partnership and marriage between people of the same gender has led to new situations and insights concerning marriage and family life.” Bonny also suggested that the Church should admit Catholics who divorced, but remarried without an annulment, to Communion”.

The article notes that “The first part of the synod on the family provided a platform for an unprecedented discussion of sensitive topics related to family life. A report issued halfway through the two-week event said that bishops had discussed the pastoral needs of gay Catholics, opening up Communion to the divorced and remarried, contraception and family planning, as well as the theological notion of “graduality,” or highlighting the good in relationships that might not live up to the Church’s ideal. Conservatives at the synod slammed the mid-term report, saying it was incomplete and did not reflect the wide range of views expressed during the meeting to that point. The final report approved by bishops watered down some of the more liberal language, so it’s unlikely that Bonny’s views will go unchallenged this fall”.

Needless to say these views are not shared by all, “For example, members of Poland’s delegation, also named officially Tuesday, have promised to fight any attempts at change, noting specifically their opposition to proposals from German bishops to loosen Church rules. “We certainly won’t be going in the theological direction presented by certain German-speaking circles,” Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki told the Catholic Herald Monday. “We believe the output of Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, and recent statements by Pope Francis, are enough to view Church teaching as a continuum, not as a revolution.” Some African prelates, too, have said they will toe the party line come October”.

Russia arms

23/07/2015

The Russian Air Force has received additional fighter and bomber aircraft from Sukhoi, part of Russia’s United Aircraft Corp. The SU-35S fighters and SU-34 bombers were delivered in batches late last week, the company said, but the exact number of aircraft in each batch was not disclosed. The modernized Su-35S is a multi-role “4++” generation fighter with enhanced flight characteristics and avionics than analog fighters. NATO has designated the aircraft as the Flanker-E”.

The GOP and Iran deal

23/07/2015

A report from The Hill reports on the GOP plan to scupper the Iran deal, “Republican leaders in Congress are crafting their attack plan against the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. Lawmakers will have 60 days to review the deal after the White House delivers the text of the historic agreement to Capitol Hill. The GOP could seek to move a measure of disapproval, but it will be difficult to win a filibuster-proof 60 votes, much less the 67 required to overcome a presidential veto”.

The report goes on to mention that “Bob Menendez (N.J.) voiced the strongest criticism of the deal among Senate Democrats, but his office insisted he remained undecided on whether to support it. But Republicans believe they will win the public relations battle on the deal, which largely unites the GOP and threatens to divide the Democratic Party. Some Senate Republicans are thinking about moving a motion of approval of the deal, believing it would put Democrats in a tough spot ahead of next year’s elections. Such a move in the upper chamber could lead to less than half of the Senate backing the president, allowing for more favorable headlines for the GOP. The House, however, is more likely to pass a resolution of disapproval”.

However, this goes against public opinion who approve of the Iran deal. At the same time the GOP risk looking, even more like, Israel stooges rather than supporting a deal that by all accounts will stop a war with Iran and at the same time could bring about a seismic change in the region’s politics. This could in turn make them look even more irrelevant in the mainstream political opinion.

The piece continues “A third option is to move legislation sponsored by Menendez and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) placing new sanctions on Iran, which the Banking Committee passed earlier this year and has Democratic support. “All options are on the table,” said a Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations panel who requested anonymity. “I wouldn’t take anything off.” Republicans will likely use the Iran votes as ammunition on the campaign trail in 2016. But Democrats have the bully pulpit, and the Obama administration has initiated a huge campaign to sway the public”.

Needless to say that “New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the third-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership, is emerging as a critical vote. Senate Republicans need to hold their ranks and persuade 13 Democrats to vote with them to override President Obama’s threatened veto of a resolution of disapproval. “If Schumer comes out and says, ‘I looked at the bill and studied its details and think it’s a good deal and will stop Iran from getting weapons,’ there will be zero hope of overriding an Obama veto,” said Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, which funded a six-figure Web campaign targeting Schumer earlier this year”.

Importantly the piece mentions that “Colleagues say Schumer appears genuinely torn. “He’s very sober. He said, ‘I’m going to make a decision on this based on what’s best for the country,’ ” said a Democratic colleague speaking on background. Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a leading Iran critic, said the deal is “deeply troubling.” He noted that under the agreement, an arms embargo on Iran will be lifted within five years and sanctions on its ballistic missiles will be lifted within eight”.

Thankfully the article says that “Senior administration officials are planning their own major lobbying offensive. National security adviser Susan Rice, Vice President Biden and Tony Blinken, deputy secretary of State, have already started working the phones, according to senators. Obama called Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) Monday night to alert them a deal was imminent. Boehner told the president he was “skeptical” about the deal. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Tuesday his panel will hold hearings on the pact over the next three weeks, and predicted a vote in September after the August recess. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said his panel would hold separate hearings, focusing on verifying that Iran is complying with a long-term agreement”.

It adds that “McCain said if Republicans don’t have enough votes to overturn the deal with a disapproval resolution, they could send a strong signal by forcing a vote on an approval measure that attracts only weak support. “That would be a great signal,” he said. He called the prospect of passing the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill “extremely difficult.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said lawmakers will be briefed by the administration and that those talks will be “extensive in nature.” Pushing a Senate vote on the Iran nuclear deal until September would give opponents more time to mobilize and pressure Democrats to buck the administration. A Senate Democratic leadership aide expressed concern that leaving the deal twisting in the wind for two months could give Republicans enough time to muster 67 votes for a veto override”.

It ends “In a statement delivered at the White House with Biden standing alongside him, Obama said, “I will veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of this deal.” Corker predicted the president could change his mind if a resolution of disapproval gains enough political momentum, citing the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which Obama initially opposed but then signed into law. “I would like to remind him, you know, he said the same thing about the Iran Review Act,” Corker said when asked about the latest veto threat. Obama’s deal won a boost Tuesday when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination next year, endorsed it during meetings with Democratic lawmakers”.

 

“Iran and Germany announced plans to hold their first economic conference”

23/07/2015

Closer ties between Iran and Germany will help bridge the gap between Europe and the entire Middle East, Iran’s president said as Iran and Germany announced plans to hold their first joint economic conference in a decade, the official IRNA news agency reported on Monday. Hassan Rouhani, who met visiting German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, said he hopes Germany plays a “positive role” in improving relations between Iran and the EU, “as it played a positive role in nuclear talks.” Gabriel is heading a delegation of representatives from German companies, one of the first overt signs of a thaw following a deal with world powers over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. In response to Rouhani’s comments, he said, “I am sure the business community of Germany and the German government will take stronger steps in the way you indicated,” the report said. An IRNA report earlier on Monday quoted Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh as saying the conference will be held in late summer or early autumn and will be aimed at laying the groundwork for businesses in both countries to work together as sanctions are lifted. The last such event was held in 2002 before the imposition of international economic sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program”.

Clinton, the progressive with power

23/07/2015

A piece from the Economist discusses the campaign of Hillary Clinton, “HILLARY CLINTON is a fighter. In a very long speech at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park in New York City, where she officially re-launched her presidential campaign this weekend, she declared that she is here to fight. She is ready for battle in “four fights” in particular. There is the fight “to make the economy work for everyday Americans”; the fight “to strengthen America’s families”; and the fight to “maintain [America’s] leadership for peace, security, and prosperity”. Last, but not least, she will join the fight for “reforming our government and revitalising our democracy.” At an abstract level, this is all rather unobjectionable. But who, exactly, is Mrs Clinton fighting against? It’s not America’s external enemies she’s itching to take on. She’s not in a lather about the Islamic State. It’s the Grand Old Party she’s got a beef against, and if you’re inclined to support it, Mrs Clinton has it in for you, too”.

This summation is a tad unfair. The GOP have been consistently responsible for the many, though obviously not all of the problems in modern America, from their obsession of cutting taxes to higher rates of poverty and reduced social mobility to shutting down the government they have helped bring America to where it is today.

The piece goes on to mention “Mrs Clinton’s combative partisanship is a far cry from Barack Obama’s promises to heal the divisions of a fundamentally united nation through edifying speeches and determinedly cooperative leadership. Mr Obama cast himself as a sort of King Solomon, capable of sagely arbitrating the disputes of rival factions from a position of lofty moral as well as political authority. But it didn’t work out as Mr Obama, or his supporters, had hoped. His great achievement, the passage of Obamacare, was the result of a brute-force party-line vote. Subsequent attempts at Solomonic negotiation were repeatedly foiled by the dogged partisan unity of congressional Republicans. Mrs Clinton has advertised her disinclination to reach across the aisle only to have her hand slapped away. Her model of leadership is more General Patton than Solomon. Mrs Clinton does not promise progress through reconciliation, but Democratic victory over the forces of Republican darkness with a combination of superior strategy and force”.

This strategy could be a refreshing change from the naivety of the early Obama years where he was either stupid enough or arrogant enough to believe that he could heal the profound and in some cases, natural ideological divisions within American society. While Clinton’s approach appears, at this moment, to be more brawn it may in the end lead to more compromise with the GOP recognising her as a more serious political operator not to be ignored.

As the report adds “Mrs Clinton promises a Democratic party exhausted by Republican intransigence something much different, and much desired: victory. To Democrats fed up with congressional obstruction, and Mr Obama’s failure to blow past it, this is a most appealing message. And it’s a savvy move, too, converting Mrs Clinton’s lack of charm, and her reputation for shady dealings, into assets. She’s not here to make you like her. She’s here to make sure that you get what you’d like—if you’re a Democrat. ‘A vote for me isn’t a vote for ‘unity”, writes David Frum in the Atlantic, perceptively drawing out the subtext of Mrs Clinton’s speech. ‘It’s a vote to claim a larger piece of the nation’s dwindling resources from people you don’t like and who don’t like you. In an age of increasing partisan polarisation, Mrs Clinton’s openly hostile message verges on a refreshing frankness about the nature of politics”.

The report adds that “Voters also like to be assured that they’re doing the right thing by supporting policies which, incidentally, happen to feather their nests. Take, for instance, Mrs Clinton’s proposals to ‘make it easier for every citizen to vote’ through ‘universal, automatic registration and expanded early voting’. This is presented mainly as a defence of the ideals of democracy, not as a way of making it easier for Democrats to win elections. But she won’t mind too much if you happen to see the big picture”.

If this plan were implemented it would be a temporary loss for the GOP, yet it would also be a challenge to them. They would have to propose policies that would woo these newly enfranchised voters away from the Democrats to the GOP. This would be better both for the GOP and in the end, as Clinton says, democracy.

The report adds “To understand the particular combination of pugnacity and idealism in Mrs Clinton’s announcement speech, it is necessary to understand how the rising influence and confidence of the progressive left is reshaping both the rhetoric and moral worldview of the Democratic Party. The 1990s ‘new liberalism’ of Bill Clinton, a former president and Mrs Clinton’s husband, was a Democratic version of the sunny view, normally associated with the right, that a rising tide raises all boats. The displacement of Bill Clintonian ‘liberalism’ by ‘progressivism’ brought about by the financial crisis and increasing inequality has led to a decline on the left of harmonious ideals of in-it-together mutual benefit. In is place is a combative, zero-sum conception of politics that combines the lofty rhetoric of social and economic justice with a disenchanted view of democracy as smashmouth sectarian conflict. Mrs Clinton is ably capitalising on this development”.

Interestingly the article goes on to note that “Although the populist progressivism touted by such figures as Elizabeth Warren may seem to present a challenge to the relatively conservative Mrs Clinton, it has actually handed her a very powerful weapon. Progressives wax idealistic about democracy, but their implicit notion of practical politics is class war by electoral means. This allows the powerful Mrs Clinton to position herself as her party’s only real hope, while lending moral dignity to otherwise baldly transactional promises to her party’s constituencies. If politics is war, then Democratic success in national politics requires a battle-tested leader mighty enough to vanquish the amassed forces of plutocracy and right-wing reaction. Bernie Sanders, a professorial Vermont senator and, so far, Mrs Clinton’s most significant left-wing challenger, may be able to state the problems, and articulate attractively progressive answers. But he cannot be the progressive answer. What can sweet Bernie Sanders do to the Koch brothers? Throw spare copies of “Manufacturing Consent” at them? Progressivism in both its moderate and extreme versions implies the need for a leader who is a heavyweight slugger, willing to fight at least a little dirty”.

It concludes “This is why, as long as progressivism is ascendant within the Democratic party, Mrs Clinton need not fear a progressive insurgency. In announcing her candidacy by picking fights in terms appealing to progressives, Mrs Clinton has reminded her party that, even if she’s not the progressive hero they might want, she alone has the knockout power they need”.

A Houthi defeat

21/07/2015

Local fighters and army forces in Yemen wrested two military bases from Houthi forces overnight, residents and officials said, building on a week of gains against the country’s dominant faction. The advances come a day after Yemen’s government in exile declared the key southern city of Aden “liberated”, in their biggest victory yet in a Saudi-led air campaign and civil war that has raged almost four months and killed more than 3,500 people. Saudi-backed Yemeni forces backed up by air strikes seized the Labuza army base in Lahj province north of the port city and the headquarters of the 117th armored division in eastern Shabwa province some 230km (145 miles) away”.

Holy See’s relations with Palestine

21/07/2015

A report from Foreign Policy notes the relations between the Holy See and Palestine, “Pope Francis has decided to make the Catholic Church’s feelings about Palestine official. On Friday, the Vatican signed a comprehensive treaty with Palestinian authorities, formalising a basic agreement between the Catholic Church and the PLO back in 2000. In essence, it is a formal declaration of the Holy See’s support for the creation of a Palestinian state and the peace process with Israel. “[I]t is my hope that the present agreement may, in some way, be a stimulus to bringing a definitive end to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which continues to cause suffering for both Parties,” wrote Vatican foreign minister Archbishop Paul Gallagher. The agreement follows on the Vatican’s decision in May to change the status of its diplomatic relationship with Ramallah, and officially forgo the recognition of the PLO to make way for the State of Palestine. The Catholic Church has referred to a Palestinian state since at least 2012, but the new agreement solidifies the Holy See’s support”.

The report, in somewhat biased language, notes, “For the Vatican, the decision represents another unabashed and controversial move into the foreign policy arena. It follows efforts to broker Washington’s watershed decision to re-establish relations with Cuba late last year, and the recent release of Pope Francis’ landmark environment-focused encyclical. But it is also a matter of looking after Catholics everywhere. The new agreement specifically notes that it is also meant to deal with “the life and activity of the Church in Palestine.” It also mentions that “Catholics do not seek any privilege other than continued cooperation with their fellow-citizens for the good of society.” As Reuters reported, some 100,000 Catholics live in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, and most of them identify as Palestinians. For the Church, assertively backing the Palestinian cause and the cause of peace, then, is about protecting its own”.

The reaction from Israel was typically balanced and moderate, “The news is not going over well in Tel Aviv. “This hasty step damages the prospects for advancing a peace agreement, and harms the international effort to convince the Palestinian Authority to return to direct negotiations with Israel,” said Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon. The Israeli government surely knew this was coming. Back in May when the Vatican first signaled a shifting Palestine policy, commentators and pro-Israel writers warned that such decisions would, in fact make the odds of peace less likely. “By granting the Palestinians official recognition without first requiring them to make peace with Israel, Pope Francis and the church have only made it less likely that this will ever happen,” Jonathan Tobin wrote for Commentary magazine on May 13″.

The report goes on to mention that “Others saw the pope making common cause with the Palestinians as a disturbing return to a horrifying past. “[G]iven its sordid history of anti-Semitism, book-burnings, forced conversions and Inquisitions, the Catholic Church should think a hundred times over before daring to step on Israel’s toes,” wrote Michael Freund, former deputy communications director to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the Jerusalem Post on May 18. “If anything, the pope should be down on his knees pleading for forgiveness from the Jewish people and atonement from the Creator for what the Vatican has wrought over the centuries.” Israel is also likely frazzled by the Palestinian Authority’s decision to take on Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC). On Thursday, the PA submitted its first tranche of evidence of alleged war crimes committed by Israel during last year’s war in Gaza to the ICC”.

“Claiming allegiance to Islamic State could disrupt”

21/07/2015

“The emergence of militants in Afghanistan claiming allegiance to Islamic State could disrupt White House plans to remove the remaining U.S. troops in that country by the end of next year. Islamic State has provided new ammunition to Pentagon and Afghan officials seeking to persuade the White House to reverse its decision to pull out U.S. troops. Their argument, in effect, is that Islamic State could grow and the same security collapse that occurred in Iraq could happen in Afghanistan if the U.S. removes its troops as planned. Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said Sunday that President Obama’s pledge to withdraw most of the 9,800 troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2016 was made before the appearance of Islamic State. He said the militant group has contributed to a worsening overall security situation in the country this year”.

Pro-EU UK?

19/07/2015

An interesting article from Chatham House argue that those eurosceptics in the UK that wish to leave the EU should not assume they will win.

The piece begins “Britain has a new government. While David Cameron and the Conservative Party added less than one per cent to their national share of the vote, they have returned to power with a majority. This may be a majority of only 12 seats and the slimmest since 1974, but it is still a majority. The result has ensured that Britain will soon hold a national referendum on whe-ther or not to remain a member of the European Union. This marks the fulfilment of Cameron’s promise in his 2013 Bloomberg speech to hold a referendum after renegotiating aspects of Britain’s EU membership. The promised vote reflects lingering anxieties in Britain over its precise relationship with Europe, which since the last referendum in 1975 have not been fully resolved. But in the more recent past Cameron’s pledge was also an attempt to fend off two competing pressures: Conservative backbench Eurosceptics who have long been agitating for a referendum, and Eurosceptic voters who ever since 2010 have been defecting to the UK Independence Party. While the outcome of the election appears to have temporarily pacified the former, the fact that UKIP finished in third place with almost 13 per cent of the national vote underlines the continuing threat from the latter”.

The author argues that “The prospect of Britain leaving the EU is unlikely for several reasons, and most concern the area that will ultimately decide this debate – public attitudes. First, consider the wider trends in opinion toward Britain’s EU membership. Contrary to what many claim, Britain’s population is not instinctively supportive of Brexit, as the British Social Attitudes surveys make clear. Since the early 1990s, more than six out of ten voters have consistently voiced their support for continued EU membership and at several points this has risen to seven out of ten. It is true that some people are more Eurosceptic than in the past. Between 1993 and 2014 public support for ending EU membership more than doubled, from 11 to 24 per cent. But this is still far from a majority”.

Interestingly the piece mentions that “It is usually at this point that Eurosceptics point to the opinion polls, which ask people how they would vote in a referendum tomorrow. In the latest YouGov tracker, for example, those wanting to remain in the EU hold a lead of only nine points over those who want to leave, while only two years ago it was the ‘come outers’ that appeared to be a majority. The same story emerges in data from Ipsos-MORI – while in 2014 the percentage of voters who wanted to stay in (56 per cent) was well above those wanting to leave (36 per cent), as recently as the autumn of 2012 it was the come-outers who were ahead (48 per cent to 44 per cent). Eurosceptics have consistently struggled to establish and sustain a majority position but they cite the volatility in these polls as reason for why they can win the debate. This is a misreading of  the data”.

Crucially the report goes on to note “Over the coming months it is important to remember two things. First, among those who are aware of their opinion (rather than say they don’t know or are unsure), the picture is actually far clearer. In the most recent Ipsos-MORI data, for example, among those with a clear opinion the gap between staying in and leaving is a much wider 61 per cent – 39 per cent. It is not even close. Many of those who want to stay in are also more socially liberal, middle-class and financially secure, who may well be more likely to turnout than the white, working-class voters who are the core ‘come outers’. These are the voters who fuelled the rise of UKIP’s harder brand of Euroscepticism but note how many of them also appeared to  have abandoned the insurgent party, despite telling pollsters otherwise. Second there is also a crucial distinction between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Eurosceptics – and one that will inevitably favour the pro-EU camp. Hard Eurosceptics like UKIP and some backbench Tories want Britain to withdraw, plain and simple. Soft Eurosceptics, in contrast, are instinctively hostile toward Brussels and Strasbourg but are open to staying in the club if Britain’s relationship is reformed. They are the sceptical but pragmatic middle. This is crucial  because it is also reflected in the picture of public opinion”.

The piece ends “According to Ipsos-MORI, 66 per cent either want to stay in the EU and increase its powers, stay in the EU and try to reduce its powers, or leave things as they are. Only 28 per cent want to leave. The point is clear: so long as Cameron is able to convince voters that he has delivered some reforms then the Eurosceptics will lose”.

It concludes, “The only hope for the British Eurosceptics is to win over not simply their ‘hard’ brethren but also significant numbers in the sceptical middle – the large chunk of voters who despite their concerns about the pace of European integration appear averse to risk and united in viewing integration as ultimately a positive thing. And here lies another problem for the come-outers. The visibility of Nigel Farage and UKIP raises difficult questions for mainstream Eurosceptics, some of who point to the ‘Farage paradox’ – the fact that as support for the insurgents increased, public support for leaving the EU has fallen. While this is also a misreading of the data (support for leaving the EU was in some polls higher before UKIP emerged as a serious force), it does underline a fundamental point – that the movement that wants to pull Britain out of the EU remains clearly divided. It is divided over who should be the spokesman, over what the strategy should be, over who should be involved, and over what vision of Britain and Europe should replace the current arrangement. This is not a recipe for referendum success”.

Bombing by UK pilots

19/07/2015

UK pilots embedded with coalition allies’ forces have been conducting air strikes over Syria against the Islamic State group, it has emerged. This is despite UK MPs voting in 2013 against military action in Syria. About 20 personnel, including three pilots, have been embedded with other coalition nations’ forces, including the US and Canada, the BBC understands. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon defended the exchange of troops, saying it was “standard operating practice”. However, there was criticism from Labour, UKIP and the SNP, and some within the Conservative party. Tory MP John Baron said the personnel should be withdrawn as Parliament had “said no to military intervention”.

Jeb the moderate?

19/07/2015

An article from the Economist examines the changing demographic situation in America and how it will impact the GOP candidates for the White House, “HYPHENATED America, a fast-growing country of fluid, overlapping and proudly worn identities, makes lots of conservatives uneasy. Jeb Bush, the former Republican governor of Florida, is so comfortable in this new America that on June 15th he launched his bid for the White House there. Serenaded by Cuban musicians and flanked by his Mexican-born wife, Mr Bush announced his candidacy in a gymnasium at Miami Dade College, a diverse, no-frills academy offering mostly technical and vocational degrees to 165,000 students”.

The piece goes on to report that “Fans at the Miami rally had no problem deciphering this coded talk. Sam Guan, a Chinese-American who brought 200 supporters and a banner reading: “It’s the right time to be RIGHT! Asian-Americans for Jeb”, praised Mr Bush for working to improve schools in Florida and for supporting “compassionate” immigration policies. Ricardo Arana, a 20-year-old student and self-declared independent, approvingly called the former governor “a bit more moderate” than his Republican rivals”.

However, the author rightly points out some of the holes in the narrative presented by Bush, “Lots of Republicans call Mr Bush a moderate, though the historical record is more complicated. Mr Bush mostly governed as a conventional conservative, whether curbing access to abortion, granting new rights to gun-owners or exposing public schools to more competition. Where he breaks with more doctrinaire rivals is on questions of tone. He is, for instance, willing to call government a force for good when it gets a “few big things right”, such as raising standards in education. His launch was filled with tales of how he had expanded state assistance for the most vulnerable Floridians, such as disabled children. There are echoes of the compassionate conservatism that carried his brother, George W. Bush, to the presidency in 2000. On one big question, immigration, Jeb Bush is an outlier in the 2016 field: one of the few Republicans willing to call for a pathway to legal status for the millions living in America without the right papers”.

The strategy persued by Bush is a gamble in a party that endlessly seeks ideological purity, “Plenty of grassroots activists single out Mr Bush as one candidate they cannot abide. This was true in spades at a campaign rally in Iowa earlier this month, hosted by that state’s newest senator, Joni Ernst, crafted as a triple tribute to military veterans, Harley-Davidson motorcycles and barbecued pork, and billed as “Joni’s Roast and Ride”. Many spectators simply growled that they do not consider Mr Bush a conservative at all. Often this is a judgment on specific policies, such as immigration and Mr Bush’s support for Common Core, a set of education standards that many on the right consider a plot by federal bureaucrats to indoctrinate America’s children. But listen carefully and another divide separates Mr Bush from many rivals. Most other Republicans with White House ambitions do not sound like politicians speaking to the America of the 21st century. Instead, they pander to voters whose beliefs and assumptions were shaped in a previous age”.

The writer adds that “Bush skipped the Roast and Ride. Seven other presidential hopefuls turned up, offering tributes to conservative culture that at times verged on performance art. Rick Perry, a former governor of Texas, rode to the barbecue on a Harley belonging to a disabled war hero, accompanied by decorated ex-Navy SEALs, to raise funds for a charity that gives puppies to military veterans. Most of the seven offered laments for a country led astray by Barack Obama and Democrats who, in their telling, do not truly believe in American exceptionalism. Mr Perry assured Iowans that a few good policies and a change of leadership could bring an extraordinary country roaring back. The best-received speech, from Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, accused Democrats of fostering dependence on government, and so betraying the American Dream. America’s rare strength, Mr Walker said, is that as long as folk are willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter what class they were born into, or what their parents did for a living. This was a worryingly complacent statement, ignoring overwhelming evidence that American social mobility has stalled, presenting thoughtful politicians of left and right with a challenge that they cannot duck. The crowd, older and whiter than the national average (as is Iowa), applauded anyway”.

He ends the piece, “One candidate at the Roast and Ride, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, broke with the mood of glib nostalgia. “I love the 20th century, I was born in the 20th century,” he told the crowd—but now is a new century, with an economy transformed by such forces as globalisation and automation, eliminating jobs that once sustained middle-class lives. Mr Rubio, a young Cuban-American from Miami and a Jeb Bush protégé, wants Republicans to be the party that stands for the future, with education and tax policies to fit Americans for a competitive new world”.

It concludes “No candidate has a lock on the Republican presidential contest, and certainly not Mr Bush, who is merely one of a top tier that also includes Mr Walker and Mr Rubio. But a divide is emerging among the crowded field. Too many contenders have messages wistful for a lost past. Only a few sound excited about a changing America. Their party should heed them”.

America bombs ISIS in Afghanistan

19/07/2015

The American military has intensified its airstrikes in Afghanistan in recent weeks, expanding them to include a bombing campaign against Islamic State militants who defeated the Taliban in fighting over a sliver of territory in the eastern part of the country. Throughout June, American drones and warplanes fired against militants in Afghanistanmore than twice as much as they had in any previous month this year, according to military statistics. The increase in the use of American air power comes more than six months after President Obama declared that the American combat mission in Afghanistan had ended. The vast majority of the strikes appear to remain focused on Taliban forces, the traditional targets of American airstrikes here for more than a decade. But several have targeted insurgent commanders who defected from the Taliban to swear allegiance to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. American officials have said that the strikes against the Islamic State were part of a defensive policy to protect the coalition forces from harm. But Afghan officials said the strikes against Islamic State targets came partly at the urging of the Afghan domestic intelligence service, which thought it was time to remove them or risk the Islamic State’s gaining a foothold in eastern Afghanistan”.

Francis vs Santorum

19/07/2015

A report from Foreign Policy notes the reaction to Laudato Si’ the latest encyclical from Pope Francis, “Laudato Si, Pope Francis’s landmark encyclical on ecological justice, may or may not be the most highly anticipated papal document of all time. But it’s certainly the only one to have inspired a Hollywood-style trailer. Styled as the teaser for a summer blockbuster, the video, released by the Brazilian climate action group Observatório do Clima exactly a week before encyclical, features a kickboxing ninja warrior pope who takes on coal and oil magnates with the help of Jesus, his ringside trainer. “In this epic battle of climate crisis,” intones the voice-over, “we can’t let him fight alone.” And indeed, the encyclical — a teaching letter to the world’s 1.4 billion Catholics — on the theme of the environment and the poor makes the pope arguably the highest-profile actor in a global effort to combat ecological devastation. The encyclical is embargoed until June 18, but a draft leaked by an Italian publication on Monday didn’t pull any punches. In the encyclical, Francis does not hedge his conclusion that climate change is real and man-made, and he throws in a critique of capitalism’s exploitation of nature for good measure”.

Thankfully the author provides some accurate context, “despite all the hoopla that has accompanied the encyclical’s release, the environment is not a new area of interest for the Roman Catholic Church. In the aftermath of the energy crisis, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released an influential 1981 document that called on Americans to accept “an appropriate share of responsibility for the welfare of creation.” Pope John Paul II added his voice in 1990, referring to concern over greenhouse gases as a moral issue. Benedict XVI was dubbed the “Green Pope” for his efforts to raise international awareness of environmental destruction. Both are quoted frequently throughout the text of this latest document. At the same time, neither of Francis’s immediate predecessors explicitly mentioned climate change. And as with so many aspects of his papacy, it’s the urgency and priority that Francis has given this issue that stands apart. The timing — releasing the encyclical in the lead-up to his fall address to the U.N. General Assembly and the Paris climate summit in November — is an unusually savvy move by the Vatican, which is not in the habit of scheduling encyclicals around outside events”.

Naturally the fact that the encyclical was published at all drew ire from conservative elements, “Almost as soon as the topic of the encyclical was announced more than a year ago, critics sought to undercut its importance, arguing that papal infallibility does not extend to matters of science. Stephen Moore, an American Catholic economist, warned in a January op-ed that Francis was part of a “radical green movement that is at its core anti-Christian, anti-human being and anti-progress.” Princeton Professor Robert George piled on, writing in the Catholic journal First Things that, “Pope Francis does not know whether, or to what extent, the climate changes (in various directions) of the past several decades are anthropogenic — and God is not going to tell him.”

Of course both Moore and George are wrong. The Church’s teaching in this area is sound, linking the environment, God and man all together. As ever the Church’s holistic view is either unknowningly, or worse knowningly distorted for partisan ideological ends.

The writer goes on to mention that “The way this pope talks about the relationship between human life and creation reflects the Latin world’s more urgent preoccupation with the consequences of environmental change. This encyclical, despite the fervour it has incited in its critics, will be broadly welcomed in the developing countries that represent the future of Catholicism — many of which have been hit hard in recent years by flooding and other natural disasters that have accompanied more extreme weather patterns. These countries are the least equipped to endure crop damage and shortages that can result from drought or floods, and they are dangerously exposed to the risks of rising sea levels”.

He continues “Even in the United States, Hispanic Catholics are far more likely than white Catholics to be distressed about the climate. A 2014 Public Religion Research Institute poll found that 73 percent of Hispanic Catholics are somewhat or very concerned about climate change, while only 41 percent of white Catholics feel the same way. Hispanic Catholics are also far more likely to believe that humans are at fault, and they are more than twice as likely as white Catholics to predict that they will be personally harmed a great deal by climate change”.

Needless to say the piece adds, “It’s no secret that these are not the priorities at the top of many conservative Catholic lists. Like many political conservatives, particularly in the United States, conservative Catholics have resisted the idea that climate change is man-made. And heading into a GOP primary battle that features several Republican Catholics — Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Rick Santorum among them — they would prefer not to have climate change edging out sexual ethics as the most visible “Catholic” issue. (Just this week, Bush responded to the encyclical’s imminent release by opining that religion should stay out of politics. “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” Bush said.)”

Of course what Governor Bush should be told is that all of these elements are interlinked. One cannot be disregarded over others. So abortion is just as important as care for the poor and the environment.

Interestingly he notes “Nor are the U.S. bishops completely on board with the direction in which Francis is leading the global church. At their annual meeting last week, the bishops considered a list of proposed future priorities: family and marriage, religious freedom, evangelism, and abortion and euthanasia. There was no mention in their document of the poor, no mention of the environment. The disconnect between this pope and the West that is highlighted by the new encyclical could be a preview of the church’s immediate future. No one knows how long Francis’s papacy will last — he has indicated a desire to follow Benedict’s lead and resign after several years, and he is a 78-year-old with only one lung. But in a stunningly short amount of time, Francis has set up a challenge from the global south to those who have ruled the church since its inception. He may not be a kickboxing ninja, but Francis is taking the fight directly to those who benefit from the status quo”.

 

“India and Pakistan exchanged fire”

19/07/2015

At least five civilians were killed as India and Pakistan exchanged fire in the disputed Kashmir region, days after a meeting between leaders of the two countries in Russia. Pakistan accused India of unprovoked firing in which four civilians died and five others were injured. India said one woman was killed and three other civilians wounded in firing by Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan’s army also said it shot down an Indian spy drone in Kashmir. Pakistan summoned the Indian ambassador on Thursday to hear a “strong protest over airspace violation”, the AFP news agency quoting a statement issued by the Pakistani foreign ministry said. The incidents come days after Mr Modi accepted an invitation from Mr Sharif to attend a regional summit in Islamabad next year, signalling a new thaw in a strained relationship. This will be Mr Modi’s first visit to Pakistan after he took power last year. India and Pakistan have often accused each other of unprovoked firing along the disputed border. A ceasefire agreed in 2003 remains in place, but the neighbours often accuse each other of violating it”.

Obamacare subsidies upheld

19/07/2015

A piece from the Washington Post reports that Obamacare, the Affordable Health Care Act, has been upheld, “The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a key provision of the Affordable Care Act and agreed with the Obama administration that government subsidies that make health insurance affordable for millions of Americans should be available to all. By a 6-3 vote, a divided court affirmed an Internal Revenue Service ruling that subsidies should be available not only in states that have set up their own health insurance exchanges, but also in states where consumers rely on the federal government exchange”.

The report notes “The court was interpreting a passage in the law that said the tax credits are authorized for those who buy health insurance on marketplaces that are “established by the state.” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said while the law’s wording was problematic, Congress’s intent was clear. “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter,” Roberts wrote”.

It adds that the decision was “bipartisan”, “Roberts was joined by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Opposing the decision were Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Scalia said Roberts, who also wrote the decision in 2012 that saved the Affordable Care Act from constitutional challenge, has performed “somersaults of statutory interpretation” to save the act: “We should start calling this law SCOTUScare.” The two cases, Scalia said, “will publish forever the discouraging truth that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites.” There was no immediate reaction from the White House, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the administration should not “crow” about its latest legal victory”.

The article mentions “There are about 10.2 million people who had signed up and paid their premiums as of March, and 6.4 million were receiving subsidies in the 34 states that had not set up their own health insurance marketplaces. Those consumers stood to lose their subsidies, worth about $1.7 billion a month, if the justices had agreed with the challenge. Customers in the 16 states, including Maryland, and the District of Columbia that set up their own insurance exchanges were not at risk. The challenge was brought by the same conservative legal strategists who fell one vote short of convincing the court that the law was unconstitutional in 2012. This was a challenge about how the law is implemented”.

It ends noting, “The subsidies are scaled to income, and average $272 per month. Many who receive subsidies through the federal marketplace are white and live in the South, according to a recent Urban Institute analysis. Half have full-time jobs. Many live in states such as Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas — led by Republican officials who oppose the health-care law and have balked at setting up their own exchanges. Another big group lives in the Midwest, in states such as Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin. President Obama said recently that he did not think the court should have even accepted the case. Technically, there was no split among the lower courts that had considered the issue”.

 

Kerry goes before the House

19/07/2015

Secretary of State John Kerry will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the Iran nuclear deal next week, multiple sources told POLITICO. The hearing will give Kerry, the chief architect of President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Tehran, his first chance to directly sell the agreement to Congress. Republicans are deeply skeptical of the deal, which would curb the growth of Iran’s nuclear facilities while lifting a series of sanctions. The foreign relations panel is chaired by Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who has been critical of the negotiations with the Iran. “There is serious bipartisan concern about this agreement,” Royce said in a statement. “The Obama Administration has lots of questions to answer as the Foreign Affairs Committee and the entire Congress examine and ultimately votes on this deal. I am eager to hear Secretary Kerry explain to us the details of the agreement and am working to have him testify before the Committee as soon as possible, though we’ve not yet finalized an exact date.” Vice President Joe Biden spoke to House Democrats about the merits of the Iran deal on Wednesday morning”.

 

Shintoism and homosexuality

19/07/2015

An interesting piece discusses Shintoism and gay marriage in Japan, “In January 1999, a Shinto priest unofficially married two men in a shrine in Kawasaki, an industrial city near Tokyo. Literally “the way of the gods,” Shinto is one of Japan’s major religions, but it does not influence modern Japanese life the way that Christianity dominates in the United States. Rather, it’s more a matter of a shared culture — of ritual practices and belief in spirits — against which some people define themselves”.

The author goes on to write “The ceremony took place at Kanamara Shrine, best known for its annual Festival of the Steel Phallus, during which participants pray for easy childbirth or protection from sexually transmitted diseases. Hirohiko Nakamura, the priest who performed the rites, told local media then that this was probably the first time a wedding ceremony had been held for two men in Japan. “This may become a call to seriously think about the diversity of sex,” he said. Fast-forward 16 years. On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in all 50 states, overturning decades of often active and religiously motivated government discrimination against a minority of Americans. In Japan, gay marriage remains illegal — except for in one district, or ward, in Tokyo, which began recognizing same-sex marriages in March. A month earlier, conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been arguing for revising Japan’s Constitution to allow a more assertive military, said that reforming the Japanese Constitution to allow for gay marriage would be difficult”.

The report goes on to mention that “Across Japan, opinions about gay rights diverge. Technically, homosexuality is legal, Kazuyuki Minami, a lawyer in Osaka, reminded a journalist from the Associated Press, “but the atmosphere is such that most people feel homosexuals should not exist.” Reuters, citing a mid-2013 poll by the research firm Ipsos, reported that while 60 or 70 percent of people in most Western nations say they know someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, only 5 percent of Japanese do. Kanae Doi, the Japan director for the advocacy organization Human Rights Watch, told Foreign Policy that while many Japanese are not opposed to homosexuality, “they don’t really see it.” And while Shinto doesn’t have a clear stance on homosexuality, it “advocates that it’s not natural,” as one Shinto priest told me in Tokyo’s prominent Meiji Shrine in early June, a few weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The Association of Shinto Shrines, the administrative body that oversees Japan’s estimated 80,000 shrines and 20,000 priests, tend to be conservative on social issues, the priest said. But it’s trying to be more active on social issues — he cited an internal debate on euthanasia as proof”.

The article goes onto note that there seems to be a debate within Shintoism emerging, “a younger priest at the same shrine told me that homosexuality has recently become a topic of debate. He said that ancient tales of Shinto do not include men laying with men, or women with women. (Scholar Louis Crompton in the 2003 book Homosexuality and Civilization, writes of Shinto that “[e]arly law codes penalized incest and bestiality but not homosexual relations.” The Shinto gods “were themselves highly sexual.”) And because men can’t procreate with each other, the priest said, homosexuality is bad for the future”.

By way of context the author notes that “Shinto advocates cleanliness, as opposed to spiritual pollution. Homosexuality “is not unclean, but it’s unnatural,” the priest concluded. Nakamura, the priest who performed the Shinto gay wedding in 1999, has since passed away, but his daughter Hisae Nakamura, 38, now watches over Kanamara Shrine in his place. “In Shinto, it says make many children, expand humanity, and be prosperous,” she said. “And yet, it’s not explicitly written anywhere that homosexuality is wrong or a sin.” Since 1999, Japanese have grown more accepting of the idea of gay-marriage ceremonies. Famously, in early 2013, two women staged a same-sex wedding at the popular Tokyo Disney Resort to much social media acclaim”.

 

Carter assures the Saudis

17/07/2015

Defense Secretary Ash Carter will travel to Saudi Arabia as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to convince skeptical allies in the region about the benefits of the Iran nuclear deal, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on Wednesday. Carter’s trip next week, which the White House already announced will include a stop in Israel, is one of several initiatives President Barack Obama and his staff are taking to sell the controversial deal at home and abroad. Rice, in an interview with Reuters, gave a strong indication that some of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium would be shipped to Russia as a result of the historic deal, saying the United States would not be concerned by that. “It can be shipped out to a third country, like Russia. That’s probably the most likely means … Russia has its own fissile material, it’s handled it appropriately, we’re not concerned about that,” Rice said. She dismissed concerns that Iran could hide nuclear material during the 24-day waiting period triggered under the pact if its signatories raise suspicions about military or other sites. Rice said the deal obligated Iran to allow U.N. inspections of any suspicious sites if five of the eight signatories to the agreement demand it”.

 

Clinton courts the gay vote

17/07/2015

A report in the New York Times notes how Hillary Clinton is trying to attract the gay vote, “In honour of Gay Pride Month in June, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign held a “Broadway Brunches” fund-raiser in Manhattan, featuring a performance from the stars of the drag queen musical “Kinky Boots.” The campaign also opened a “Pride” section on its website, with rainbow-print merchandise including a “Loud and Proud” shirt with a young Hillary with a bob haircut silk-screened, Andy Warhol-style, against a yellow background. Later in the month, Mrs. Clinton posed with Lady Gaga at a fund-raiser, and her campaign promoted a kitschy pro-Clinton video made by the gay quartet Well-Strung”.

The report adds that “Mrs. Clinton does not have the most cutting-edge record when it comes to gay rights. She did not speak out on behalf of same-sex marriage until 2013. But what she lacks on the policy front, she is trying to make up for partly with a tongue-in-cheek recognition that in her decades in the public eye she has developed a certain pop culture status, particularly among some gay men who identify with her triumphs over adversity, her redemption, and her evolving personal style. The difference between her current campaign and her 2008 effort is that Mrs. Clinton, 67, seems to be playing up this cultural connection, whether it is making jokes about being a “hair icon” or sending around the Well-Strung tribute video on social media”.

The article goes on to make he point that”Clinton will attend a fund-raiser in Provincetown, Mass., hosted by Alix Ritchie, a prominent gay rights activist, and Bryan Rafanelli, an event planner who oversaw Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. The seaside enclave, often called “P-town” — in the state that was the first to legalize same-sex marriage — has long been a Shangri-La for gays, and the event will highlight Mrs. Clinton’s ties to the powerful gay Democratic donors who vacation there. The 2012 census reported that Provincetown had 163.1 same-sex couples per 1,000 people, the most of any city or town nationwide”.

Pointedly the report adds that “As some Republican presidential candidates issued measured responses to the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide and others attacked the ruling in the name of religious freedom, Mrs. Clinton was effusive in her praise. She called the ruling a “historic victory” and celebrated “the courage and determination of L.G.B.T. Americans who made it possible.” Her campaign gave out free bumper stickers with the “H” logo in rainbow colors spelling out the word “History” and had a huge presence at pride parades across the country, including four such events in Iowa. Chelsea Clinton and much of the Brooklyn-based campaign staff attended the New York City parade. Of course, gay life is incredibly diverse, and the cliché of the strong woman with diva appeal does not speak to everyone, or cancel out more substantive concerns about Mrs. Clinton’s policy positions”.

Obviously the report makes the valid point that “Some people criticized Mrs. Clinton’s response to the court’s same-sex marriage ruling as politically opportunistic and overkill, given her relatively late arrival to the cause. “Shout out to Hillary Clinton who opposed gay marriage until 2013. Truly a visionary,” Hamilton Nolan, a writer at Gawker, posted on Twitter. Others pointed to President Bill Clinton’s signing of the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, two of the most significant setbacks in the modern gay rights movement”.

Interestingly it goes on to note, “It is hard to measure gay support for candidates; until recently, most pollsters did not collect that data. But in the 2008 Democratic primaries, voters who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual favored Mrs. Clinton over Senator Barack Obama by 23 percentage points in New York and by 34 points in California, the only states that asked voters about their sexual orientation in exit polls. In the four years she served as secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton prioritized gay rights, including in a 2011 speech in Geneva in which she urged nations to accept gays and lesbians. She has now made the issue central to her 2016 campaign”.

The piece adds that “Several of Mrs. Clinton’s gay supporters cautioned against generalizations. But at the same time, they suggested that there was something visceral about Mrs. Clinton’s appeal to some of her most ardent gay supporters. The campaign’s positioning of Mrs. Clinton as a “fighter” plays into this idea. “She has had to overcome a whole lot of setbacks and personal attacks, literally, since she came into public life,” said Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign and a former Clinton aide. “If you look at the L.G.B.T. experience, there are a lot of parallels.” George Chauncey Jr., a professor of history and American studies at Yale and author of “Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture and the Making of the Gay Male World,” said that while he had not noticed his students to be particularly enthusiastic about Mrs. Clinton, that resonance of the long-suffering woman with older gay men, in particular, cannot be underestimated”.

“In a further response to Chinese expansionism”

17/07/2015

The Philippines will station new fighter jets and two frigates as it reopens the former US naval base in Subic Bay to military use in a further response to Chinese expansionism in the disputed South China Sea. Once one of the biggest US naval facilities in the world, Subic Bay was shut in 1992 after the Philippine Senate terminated a bases agreement with Washington at the end of the cold war. Manila converted the facility, which was never home to the Philippine military, into an economic zone. Defence undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino told Reuters the Philippine military signed an agreement in May with the zone’s operator, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, to use parts of the installation under a renewable 15-year lease. It marks the first time the massive installation has functioned as a military base in 23 years”.

“The agreement is as good or better in all important respects”

17/07/2015

Jeffery Lewis writes that the recently agreed nuclear deal with Iran is a “damn good deal”.

He opens “It was really boring, but in a good way. The deal — can we call it the “Vienna Plan,” please? — looks pretty much like the framework deal that was reached in Lausanne in April. I went through the documents, including the White House fact sheet, as well as my own notes from conversations with administration officials. It would seem that the agreement is as good or better in all important respects than what officials described in the spring. The reduction in centrifuges remains substantial — the limits are the same as those reported when the framework was announced. Moreover, little worries I had, like whether Iran would agree to remove piping and other infrastructure along with the centrifuges themselves, were resolved favourably. The Vienna Plan also provides a path to resolve the outstanding issues with the International Atomic Energy Agency regarding Iran’s past covert nuclear weapons program (known delicately as “possible military dimensions”) and provides a public description of something U.S. officials had only described in private — a R&D schedule that limits Iran’s development of new centrifuges over the next eight to 10 years”.

Lewis goes on to note that “if like me you think “breakout,” or the time it would take to turn nuclear material into one bomb, is a dumb measure, the agreement also has lots of provisions to deal with “sneak-out,” or an attempt to get a bomb covertly. These provisions include granting inspectors access to military sites and monitoring of centrifuge workshops and uranium mines. But this shouldn’t be a surprise: It was in the bag in Lausanne. It is worth looking at this chart issued by the Supreme Leader’s office showing all his “red lines” in the talks. It turns out the Iranians gave in on several of them and found rather creative solutions to a few others. You can make your own list, but I think they compromised on (1, 3, 5, 7, 8, and 9):

lewisredlines

Lewis mentions that “What had to be resolved in Vienna was the tricky issue of sanctions. It was always clear that there would have to be an implementation period so that Iran could say sanctions came off “immediately” while the United States could claim the opposite. One of the amazing things is how many of the pearl-clutching stories about how the agreement was going off the rails turned out to be nonsense. Most of these were written by the New York Times’  David E. Sanger, and they won’t age well: see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. One story said the administration was going to back off what looked like a hard cap on how much enriched uranium Iran could have at any one time. I called it the Great LEU Panic of June 2015. Sure enough, Iran is limited to “300 kg of up to 3.67% enriched UF6 (or the equivalent in different chemical forms).” The rest of Iran’s stockpile must be sold or diluted”.

He goes on to argue that “The real issues in Vienna were how to re-impose sanctions if the deal collapsed, as well whether to lift the United Nations’ arms embargo and the sanctions on Iran’s missile programs. The mechanism to re-impose sanctions — called “snapback” by people who don’t wear baseball caps — is pretty clever. Any of the parties can raise an issue within a Joint Commission created to administer the agreement. If the party is unsatisfied, it then can notify the U.N. Security Council. The Security Council has 30 days to act — and if it does nothing, the sanctions are automatically re-imposed. That gives the United States and other parties the ability to blow up the deal and return to sanctions regime with no chance for Russia or China to veto”.

Lewis notes that the “arms embargo and missile sanctions were trickier. The Iranians argued that those were only imposed as punishment for nuclear activities — and that they should come off as part of any deal. It’s a fair point, but rather too lawyerly for the situation. Iran’s missile program was part of the possible military dimensions to its nuclear program. And Iran is also engaged in several proxy wars in Middle East at the moment. One of the main reasons for being concerned about Iran’s past nuclear weapons work is how aggressive a nuclear-armed Iran might become”.

He says that “The compromise, again, was obvious. U.N. sanctions will come off over time — reportedly five years in the case of the arms embargo and eight years in terms of the missile program — but national and other international restrictions stay. President Barack Obama will not waive U.S. sanctions for missile proliferation, terrorism, and human rights. Moreover, Iran remains outside the Missile Technology Control Regime, the cartel of suppliers that controls missile technologies. As a practical matter, Iran’s missile suppliers are still limited to North Korea — something already prohibited by sanctions — and entities already sanctions-busting”.

Worryingly he writes that “The fight over the Iran deal is going to make the Obamacare battles look like two preppies slap-fighting over a cucumber sandwich. Congress now has 60 days to review the deal and pass a resolution of disapproval that would remove the president’s authority to waive sanctions on Iran. Obama has said he will veto such a measure, if his opponents can find the votes, which will give Congress another, shorter period to attempt to override the veto. Even if the deal survives the congressional review period, you can expect a lot of leaks”.

In a moment of professional one up man ship with David Sanger, Lewis writes that “the leaks are going to shift to how Iran is doing this or that. You kids may not remember this, but more than 20 years ago the Clinton administration — yes, Hillary’s husband was president back then — struck a similar deal with North Korea to freeze its plutonium production infrastructure. Immediately the leaks began: North Korea is cheating! (North Korea probably was cheating, by the way, but just not in the ways alleged by opponents. That’s another problem with the Beltway noise-machine.) The low point was when satellite images showed a large, underground facility under construction near a place called Kumchang-ri. Someone at the Defense Intelligence Agency decided it was a covert underground nuclear reactor — based mostly on the military unit responsible for digging. No one else thought it was a reactor because, well, it was just a hole in the ground. Not surprisingly, this got leaked to the New York Times, which ran the headline: “North Korea Site an A-Bomb Plant, U.S. Agencies Say.” (Guess who the author was?) Never mind that it wasn’t true. One agency, singular, said that; the others were unconvinced. But when something is on page A1 of the New York Times, it becomes true. The United States negotiated access to the site, which turned out to be empty. The site was “unsuitable” for a nuclear reactor and “not well designed” for a reprocessing facility. It was kind of a mini-Iraq, but where we had the good sense not to invade”.

Realistically Lewis admits that “It is possible that the Iranians will cheat. It is also possible that they will insist on tendentious readings of certain provisions. And, although I hate to break it to you, we might not be perfect ourselves. One of my favorite passages in the agreement is an oblique acknowledgement by the Iranians that there is no telling what sort of stunt Sen. Tom Cotton and his friends might pull. (Paragraph 26. Check it out.) Even two committed parties may find that they disagree about how to implement an agreement. That’s normal”.

Correctly Lewis makes the excellent point that “there will also be a cottage industry in Washington, D.C., for the next decade dedicated to manufacturing one crisis after another to try to derail this agreement. We’ve already seen a series of press conferences by the National Council for Resistance in Iran, a.k.a. the MEK, making one allegation or another. I had to debunk one about a secret centrifuge plant that NCRI claimed was churning out LEU from the basement of the site printing national ID cards”.

He ends “What’s going to be needed to deal with this is a sense of calm, a sense of perspective, and a sense of humour. There are going to be lots of people who get red in the face, point out all the terrible things the Iranian government does, and generally make accusations quicker than they can be debunked or resolved through negotiations. It will be important to step back every now again, breathe deeply, look at how things have turned out in North Korea and Iraq and remember: This is a pretty damned good deal”.

Even before the review, the GOP decide

17/07/2015

Before Congress had even begun its official review, Republican leaders vowed Tuesday to kill President Obama’s nuclear accord with Iran, setting up a fierce fight to save the president’s signature diplomatic achievement. Congress will have 60 days to review the deal, once all documents have been sent to the Capitol, after which it can pass a resolution of approval, pass one of disapproval or do nothing. Mr. Obama would veto a resolution of disapproval, and the opponents could derail the agreement only if they could rally the required two-thirds vote of Congress to override his action”.

The Iran deal and Russian oil

15/07/2015

David Francis examines the recent energy implications of the Iran deal on Russia.

He begins “the nuclear deal struck between Iran and the West will gradually add a major new player to the global energy market. But don’t expect a radical reshuffling of the deck, at least not in the short term, though Tehran could present a big problem for major energy players down the line. Iran’s oil infrastructure is decades behind that of other oil powers like Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. But the potential resource base there — Iran is thought to have reserves larger than those of each of the three aforementioned energy giants — has firms primed to change that”.

Francis makes the point that “Sara Vakhshouri, a former advisor to National Iranian Oil Company International, said Iran is going to need quite a bit of outside help to reach its target of producing 5 million barrels per day by 2020. “To reach this goal Iran would need $70 billion of investment in its oil and gas fields,” Vakhshouri, who is now president of SVB Energy International, wrote in a note circulated Tuesday morning. If true, the amount of money Iran would need to spend on infrastructure, along with the time it would take to build the necessary facilities, could undercut a central critique of the deal from opponents like Israel and Saudi Arabia: that lifting the sanctions will quickly give Iran billions of dollars to funnel to allies like Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad and proxies like Hezbollah”.

He mentions that “Exxon Mobil, which was recently shut out of the Russian energy market, is a prime candidate. Other companies, including European firms such as Total, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and Eni, are champing at the bit to get their hands on Iranian crude. Shell chief Ben van Beurden said in June that Iran is a “wonderful country with a fantastic resource base.” Total CEO Patrick Pouyanne added, “We like Iran.” There will be a short-term impact to Tehran’s getting back into the oil game, though it won’t be nearly as substantial as the long-term impact. Iran is thought to have oil reserves of approximately 40 million barrels sitting on offshore tankers waiting to be sold. “This amount of stored oil can be sold even before any removal of oil export related sanctions. China, India, South Korea and Japan [all] have waivers from sanctions,” Vakhshouri wrote”.

He goes on to make the point that a deal “won’t bring Iran as much money as it would have a few years ago. Flooding an already oversaturated global oil market with more supplies would only serve to send crude prices down. Tuesday at noon, U.S. Eastern time, a barrel cost $52.20, down 1 percent from Monday — something that will keep American gas prices low. By contrast, a barrel of oil cost $107 at this time last year. However, according to Ashford, because Iran had been almost completely shut out of the oil market, any profit, even small, is better than nothing. Since 2012, Iran has exported about 1.1 million barrels a day. Prior to sanctions, Iran exported about 2.5 million barrels per day”.

He ends the article, “This has important geopolitical implications. Russia, whose economy is suffering under the weight of Western sanctions and is heavily reliant on energy, now has a new regional rival. “This is not very good for Moscow,” said Ashford. “The ruble is falling even this morning because people expect this is going to cut into Russian profits.” Vakhshouri said this presents Russian President Vladimir Putin with a difficult choice: cooperate or suffer”.

Iran vote after recess

15/07/2015

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Tuesday that the Senate would likely vote after the August recess on the Iran nuclear deal.  “Likely, what we’ll do is vote on this when we return from recess,” Corker told reporters.  That would push any vote in the Senate until at least Sept. 8, when Congress returns to Washington after a month-long break. The Tennessee Republican said that the Foreign Relations Committee, which he chairs, would start also holding hearings “in the next two or three weeks.” Corker said that lawmakers are still waiting for the administration hand over classified portions and certifications of the agreement, adding that “we expect to receive those materials over the next several days.” Corker suggested that he would withhold final judgement on the deal until he has had time to review it, but added that “the agreement has taken a downward trend.” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) added that the Armed Services Committee would hold separate hearings, focusing on verifying that Iran is complying with a long-term agreement”.

An Iran deal

15/07/2015

Foreign Policy reports on  the Iran deal agreed yesterday.  A report begins “Iran and six world powers agreed to a historic deal Tuesday that will impose limits on Tehran’s nuclear program in return for relief from punishing economic sanctions, marking the culmination of more than a decade of diplomacy and confrontation. After 18 days of exhausting negotiations in Vienna, diplomats announced they had clinched the accord, and President Barack Obama hailed it as a breakthrough that would defuse long-running tensions over Iran’s disputed nuclear project. “Today, because America negotiated from a position of strength and principle, we stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in this region,” Obama said in a televised speech from the White House. The international community, he added, “will be able to verify that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not be able to develop a nuclear weapon” — an assertion immediately questioned by critics of the deal, who said the agreement doesn’t allow for the so-called “anytime, anywhere” inspections needed to fully ensure Iranian compliance”.

The writer notes “The accord between the P5+1 –the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany — and Iran included provisions hammered out in the final hours that will lift a U.N. conventional arms embargo on Tehran within five years and restrictions on ballistic missile imports within eight years. The agreement, the product of 20 months of intense diplomacy, runs to more than 100 pages, including highly-technical language on specific dimensions of Iran’s nuclear work”.

The outlines of the agreement are mentioned when  “Under the terms of the deal, Tehran agreed to remove two-thirds of its centrifuges, reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium to a fraction of what would be needed to make a bomb, halt the use of advanced centrifuges for 10 years, and allow UN inspectors round-the-clock access to nuclear sites. If  Tehran later chose to dump the agreement, U.S. officials said the deal’s terms would extend Iran’s breakout time to build a nuclear weapon to at least one year, a timeframe Israel and other opponents say is far too optimistic”.

He writes that “Iran also promised not to build a new heavy water reactor for 15 years and will have to modify the core of its heavy-water plutonium reactor at Arak, while its spent fuel — a key component of a potential bomb — will be shipped outside of the country. The terms of the accord will be outlined and endorsed in a new U.N. Security Council resolution, officials said. And Obama said a raft of financial and oil sanctions would be gradually lifted — providing Tehran with access to between $100 billion and $150 billion in frozen funds — only after Iran demonstrates it is abiding by its commitments under the agreement and would be reimposed if Tehran was caught cheating. He also reiterated that Washington reserved the right to use force to prevent Iran from obtaining a bomb.But Obama said the accord made the prospect of U.S. military action less likely”.

Unsurprisingly he mentions that “The deal was greeted with relief and jubilation in Iran, where the sanctions had caused the country’s currency to plummet and fueled a spike in inflation. “Today is the end to acts of tyranny against our nation and the start of cooperation with the world,” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, a reformist elected two years ago on promises to end the sanctions, said in a televised address. “This is a reciprocal deal. If they stick to it, we will,” he said”.

Interestingly he notes “The months of talks leading up to the accord almost collapsed on several occasions over an array of sharp divides over Iran’s nuclear program. Near the finish line, though, it was an unresolved dispute over the eight-year-old U.N. embargo on conventional weaponry that nearly derailed the deal. Iran — backed by Russia and China — pressed for an immediate end to the embargo, which includes sharp limits on Tehran’s ability to build ballistic missiles. The issue proved so difficult that the two sides left it out of the preliminary agreement reached by the United States, Iran, and other key powers in Lausanne, Switzerland, in April. Obama said Tuesday the U.N. arms embargo would be lifted in five years under the deal, and that international restrictions on ballistic missiles would be eased in eight years”.

The reports argues that the arms embargo was significant for Iran, “the arms embargo carries great symbolic weight among Iran’s critics in Washington, Israel, and the Persian Gulf Arab states, where it is viewed as a critical component of a broader strategy aimed at limiting Iran’s ability to spread its influence throughout the region by arming proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. Iran and Russia have argued that the embargo on Iranian conventional weapons and ballistic missiles should be lifted as soon as Iran takes steps to address the world’s concerns about its nuclear program. The future of the arms embargo is one of several points in the agreement that will come under intense scrutiny from skeptics of the negotiations in Washington and the Middle East. The agreement’s provisions on inspections will be at the center of the debate between advocates and opponents of the deal. The accord allows the International Atomic Energy Agency to gain access to any site in Iran to check that the country is abiding by the deal, including military facilities. But critics will point to a dispute settlement process outlined in the accord that could permit Iran to put off requested inspections for 24 days — possibly enough time to erase proof of illicit nuclear work”.

Naturally he mentions the whining of Israel, but given the dire state of relations between President Obama and “Bibi” there is really little that Israel can do, “Israel, Arab states and some members of Congress fear the accord will allow Iran to move closer to securing nuclear weapons while allowing them to get their hands on oil revenue and other cash to empower its proxies from Damascus to Sanaa. On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had made an unusual trip to Capitol Hill earlier this year to publicly lobby against an agreement, called it “a historic mistake” and said Israel had committed “to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and this commitment still stands.” One of Netanyahu’s chief political rivals, Tzipi Livni of the left-leaning Zionist Union Party, also condemned the deal in unusually strong language”.

The piece goes on to note that if the deal goes through, “Rouhani, Iran’s pragmatic president, the deal will provide concrete proof to his hardline rivals back home that a less strident approach to the world pays dividends, possibly strengthening the position of the reformists who support him. But skeptics say it is unrealistic to expect the nuclear accord to trigger a dramatic change in Iran’s behavior or alter its long-running hostility to the United States and its allies in the Middle East”.

In a related article, David Rothkopf writes that it is too soon to see if the deal agreed yesterday was worthwhile, “the most frequently mis-told foreign-policy anecdote is almost certainly the story of Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai’s response after Henry Kissinger asked him, in 1971, to assess the impact of the French Revolution. As the story goes, Zhou responded with, “It is too early to tell.” What really took place, according to those present, is that Zhou misunderstood the question and, rather than being asked to assess the impact of the epochal events of 1789, he thought Kissinger’s question referred to the student protests that hit Paris in 1968. In recalling the exchange, former foreign service officer Chas Freeman stated that “there was a misunderstanding that was too delicious to invite correction.” Or as we in the media like to say, the story was so good it hardly mattered whether it was true or not. As it happens, though, the tale also reveals the difference between a story that is true and one that contains a good deal of truth”.

Rothkopf writes that “The truth is that our take on seemingly big events, as they occur and for some time afterwards, is clouded by the emotions of the moment and the efforts by those close to the events to spin them as they are still happening. Later, those views are often rendered wrong or even ridiculous when the events in question are placed into the context of their consequences. As we consider the two big deals that have dominated the news this week — one pertaining to Greece’s economic crisis and one to Iran’s nuclear program — this need for perspective is worth emphasizing. Because the emotions being stirred up in both cases are intense as are the efforts to “frame” the events by their authors and opponents alike”.

He goes on to make the point that “The two deals are both as deeply flawed as they are hard won. Both will be measured as successes or failures not so much by how difficult they have been to hammer out, nor on their apparent high stakes, but rather by their subsequent implementation: how both sides address their interpretation and enforcement and how they are handled in the context of other related events, policies, and initiatives. To some degree both the Greek and Iranian deals have been viewed through a distortionary lens for months because some of those close to the deals have seen it as within their interests to inflate the stakes involved. In the case of the Greek deal, it was posited that if Greece left the eurozone, it might fall into the clutches of evil Russian President Vladimir Putin and China or, alternatively, that if it left the eurozone, the EU itself might fall to bits. In the case of Iran, pro-deal forces (including the president, as reflected in his remarks announcing the deal on Tuesday morning) argued that the alternative to a deal was war with Iran. Neither threat stands up against much scrutiny”.

In the Iran deal he argues that “As for the idea that no deal would increase the likelihood of war with Iran implies there is a side willing to go to war with Iran and frankly, absent the United States’ will to lead that effort, it seems really unlikely. And make no mistake about it, posturing aside, the Barack Obama who has shown no inclination to get meaningfully involved in the catastrophe in Syria and is tiptoeing his way through the meltdown of Iraq, all the while heading for the exits in Afghanistan, was not going to go to war with Iran under virtually any circumstances. Indeed, on the contrary, since his statement during the presidential campaign in the spring of 2008 that he would reach out to engage Iran, it seemed that Obama has been on a trajectory to try to warm up the relationship between Washington and Tehran. And though Israel, for example, might have struck out against Iran, it could not sustain a protracted conflict, and Iran’s neighbors in the Gulf lack both the will and the means necessary to engage that country in a war. (It should be noted that another flaw in the “it’s the deal or war” argument is that Iran is already involved in four other wars in the region, deal or no.)”

He goes on to mention that “Is the Iran deal a good deal? Again, while the media was, within moments of the deal’s announcement early on July 14, awash with Tuesday-morning quarterbacks explaining how they would have done it better, it is the deal we have. Further, no one can reasonably argue that it is not better to have some agreement that at least makes ending Iran’s nuclear weapons program a possibility for the foreseeable future. The key is how leaders in Iran and around the world act once the deal is in place. We have seen deals in the past that have simply not been effective. (See North Korea.) But there is a path forward with this deal that will certainly be better than the uncertainty that has hung over this issue for the past 13 years. If the deal’s terms are enforced and it translates into real inspections that are regularly and even aggressively conducted, where violations are marked without hesitation — and, of course, the Iranian government has the intent to honor its terms — this deal will be seen as successful”.

He continues, “That the deal in question leaves so many looming questions and solves so little in a lasting and irreversible way is lamentable. But lamenting it or trying to undo it will likely be less productive than focusing on what needs to be done by America and the other members of the P5+1 and our allies in the region, as well as by Iran, to work to make the deal we have a success. Above all, this means that no one — the president of the United States, his team, the Iranian government, or anyone else — sees the deal as an end in itself. It is just another step on what has already been a decade-and-a-half long journey. As intensive as the diplomacy that produced this deal was, similar efforts will be required to ensure the implementation of the deal and the resolve of the international community to enforce it. Any let up (or perceived let up) will be seen as an opportunity by hard-liners in Tehran and as a real threat by Iran’s rivals in the region. This deal is not enough”.

A related article examines how the deal is viewed in Iran, “he deal is done. Iran and the P5+1 have reached the agreement that President Obama so desperately sought, come what may. President Obama says that the deal makes the world “safer and more secure.” But here is how the Iranian Mehr News Agency describes the outcome:

– Iran’s nuclear program that was unjustly introduced as a threat to global security will now be recognized as a field for international cooperation with other countries.

– Iran will be recognized by the U.N. as a country with nuclear technology and entitled to rights of peaceful nuclear program including enrichment and full fuel cycle.

– All economic and financial sanctions against Iran will be removed through a new Security Council resolution.

– All nuclear facilities in Iran will retain their activities. Contrary to the initial demands of the other side, none of the nuclear sites will be shut down.

– With the new UNSC resolution under article 25, in addition to article 41 on provisions related to removal of past sanctions, the treatment of UN Security Council toward Iran will also undergo a fundamental change.

– All nuclear facilities in Iran will retain their activities. Contrary to the initial demands of the other side, none of the nuclear sites will be shut down.

– The policy to prevent Iran’s enrichment activities failed. Iran will continue nuclear enrichment.

– Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will be preserved. No centrifuge will be destroy [sic] and research and development on all advanced centrifuges including IR-4, IR-5, IR-6 and IR-8 will continue.

– Arak heavy water reactor will remain as such. Any demands to return the facility to a light water reactor have been dismissed. The facility will be modernized and enjoy new additions through cooperating with owners of most advanced and secure world technologies.

– Iran will enter global markets as a producer of nuclear products especially in the case of “enriched uranium” and “heavy water.” All sanctions and limitations against imports and exports of nuclear material will be annulled.

– All economic and financial sanctions in the fields of banking, oil, gas, petrochemicals, insurance, and transportation as imposed by the EU and the U.S. under the pretext of Iran’s nuclear program will be immediately lifted upon the implementation of the agreement.

– Ban on Iran’s missile activities including ballistic missiles will be limited to missiles designed for nuclear weapons, of which the Islamic Republic has never been and will be after.

– Iran’s arms embargo will be lifted, replaced with some restrictions to be removed in 5 years.

– Ban on purchasing sensitive dual-use items will be lifted and Iran’s needs will be met more easily through Iran and 5+1 joint commission.

The writer goes on to mention the deal from a Western view, “The lifting of restrictions ensures that Iran will be no further from achieving nuclear weapons status than it is today. Nothing has been rolled back. None of the initial Western demands, whether regarding enrichment, the number of centrifuges, the extent of inspections, or the timetable for lifting sanctions have been met. Iran will now have access to the latest technology, to international trade, and, most important, to billions of dollars. Estimates of Tehran’s financial windfall range as high as $150 billion. Even if the actual figures are no more than $50 billion, that sum is enough for Iran both to modernize its infrastructure and double, perhaps triple its financial support for terrorist activities, which currently is estimated to cost the Islamic Republic less than ten billions dollars. The prospects for a peaceful outcome in Syria, or Yemen have diminished markedly. Hezbollah’s fortunes have skyrocketed. And the threat to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province has become far more ominous”.

Bibi whines, no one listens

15/07/2015

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fiercely criticized Tuesday the nuclear agreement reached between Iran and world powers, calling it “a stunning historic mistake.” “The world is a much more dangerous place today than it was yesterday,” he said in a press conference in Jerusalem before the inner security cabinet convened to discuss the nuclear agreement. The prime minister said the six world powers – the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – poorly “bet our collective future,” and added that Israel was not bound by the agreement, “because Iran continues to seek our destruction.” “Amazingly,” said Netanyahu, “this bad deal does not require Iran to cease its aggressive behavior in any way… While the negotiators were closing the deal in Vienna, Iran’s supposedly moderate president chose to go to a rally in Tehran, and at this rally a frenzied mob burned American and Israeli flags and chanted ‘Death to America,’ ‘Death to Israel.'”

“The eurozone is now held together by little except fear”

15/07/2015

The superb Daniel Altman examines the economics of the recently agreed deal between the EU and Greece, “Greece’s latest bailout proposal, now accepted by the Greek parliament, and currently being scrutinised at length by eurozone finance ministers, make sense? It’s pretty much the same deal that was soundly rejected by Greek voters less than a week ago. The voters clearly knew something that the government didn’t — this is a lousy plan for the Greek economy, and a government stacked with economists surely could have come up with something better. In order to receive more money from the European Union and an extended payment schedule (or even, — gasp — debt relief) from the International Monetary Fund, Greece once again has agreed to a laundry list of new policies, some of them implying yet more sacrifices in the short term. In talks this weekend, the eurozone’s finance ministers have asked for more as a show of good faith. To borrow a metaphor from a story told in ancient Greek, there are many stations of the cross on this road — yet salvation may seem just as distant at the end. Even if Greece promises to submit to this new ordeal, the growth and debt relief it really needs may not arrive in time”.

He adds that  there are some “general points of the proposals and what they’re likely to do for Greek’s economy and its fiscal position”.

Altman writes  concerning the primary budget surpluses until 2018, “The Greek government would commit to spending less than it collects from taxpayers and lenders in each year: 1 percent of gross domestic product in 2015, then 2 percent, 3 percent, and 3.5 percent in 2016, 2017, and 2018 respectively. With modest growth, even that 3.5 percent surplus would amount to about 10 billion euros. But for its latest bailout, Greece is requesting 53 billion euros in new loans spread over three years. Essentially, the bailout lenders are providing the surpluses; they’re giving money to the Greek government conditional on the promise that the government will not spend all of it. This is obviously ridiculous; it’s like a test to see if a child can resist eating a cookie placed in front of him. It’s also economically toxic. Greece should only run budget surpluses if its economy is growing at a healthy pace, and there’s no guarantee that it will be growing in the next couple of years — especially given the rest of the points on the list”.

Altman goes on to discuss tax reform noting that “Greece has a complex tax system that has helped to create a large shadow economy. The proposal includes a bevy of changes designed to streamline the system and raise more revenue. From an economic perspective, anything that makes paying taxes easier — and avoiding them more difficult — will raise revenue somewhat while potentially freeing up taxpayers’ time for more productive activities. So making the system simpler and more transparent, for example by instituting an almost-uniform value-added tax rate, may raise revenue without harming economic growth. But the proposal also includes a number of tax increases, not just to the value-added tax, but also the tax on corporate profits and the tonnage tax on shipping. The value-added tax, at 23 percent for most goods and services, will be one of the highest in the European Union”.

On the issue of pensions he goes on to mention that “Greece’s public pension system, like its public debt, is unsustainable. The retirement age has already risen twice since the crisis began, from 57 to 66. The new proposal would increase it to 67 and inflict more cuts on benefits while attempting to collect more contributions from working Greeks. Raising the retirement age could increase economic output if it boosts the total number of employed people. But if keeping older Greeks in their jobs longer just makes it harder for younger Greeks to find work, then the effect could be the opposite.”

Altman goes on to write about privatisation, “Airports, seaports, and several other assets would be sold to private investors under the proposal. These sales could raise several billion euros, but that would only be enough to take a few chips out of Greece’s enormous public debt. The significance of these sales would rest more on the potential of private owners to encourage greater economic activity through more dynamic management of these assets and further investment in their development. Of course, this is no sure thing”.

Pointedly he notes that “The eurozone’s finance ministers are discussing Greece’s proposal late into the night on Saturday, with some, including the group’s leader, having expressed skepticism already — despite the fact that the proposal is so similar to the one put forward earlier by the creditors themselves. Then, if they are satisfied, there will be more talks, perhaps on debt relief as well. But these delays are for political posturing and little else; the reality remains that the proposal, whoever wrote it, is far from optimal in economic terms”.

He ends the piece, “Yet Greece will have to keep suffering under austerity and repaying its creditors for several years before these and other pro-growth policies have their full effect. Too many points in the proposal imply short-term pain for long-term gain; the most important step toward the control of Greece’s debt is a return to rapid growth as soon as possible. Ideally, the timing of the reforms would put the least costly policies first and make the most costly policies contingent on growth rates in the future. The last thing Greece needs is another bundle of policies whose immediate effect will be to deepen its depression”.

He concludes, “Greece’s submission to the conditions that Germany demanded, merely to start negotiations about further funding to refinance its unsustainable debts, may stave off the prospect of imminent bank collapse and Greece’s exit from the eurozone. But far from solving the Greek problem, doubling down on the creditors’ disastrous strategy of the past five years will only further depress the economy, increase the unbearable debt burden, and trample on democracy. Even Deutsche Bank, one of the German banks bailed out by European taxpayers’ forced loans to the Greek government in 2010, says Greece is now tantamount to a vassal state”.

He ends making the vital point, “But this is much bigger than Greece. It is clearer than ever that Europe’s dysfunctional monetary union has a German problem, too. As creditor in chief in a monetary union bereft of common political institutions, Germany is proving to be a calamitous hegemon. Paris may have tempered Berlin’s petulant threat to force Greece out of the euro, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel undoubtedly calls the shots. The deal that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras capitulated to mirrored German demands, not the proposals he drafted with French help last week. By pointing out the futility of resistance if Greece wished to remain in the euro, Paris has, in a sense, acted as Berlin’s agent in securing Athens’s acquiescence”.

He finishes “That’s the point of brutalizing Greece: to deter anyone else from getting out of line. Why vote for parties that challenge the Berlin Consensus if they will be beaten into submission, too? Created to bring Europeans closer together, the eurozone is now held together by little except fear”.

Altman correctly notes that this is not the end of the crisis, “many Greeks believe any deal is worth doing to keep Greece in the euro. But as depression bites and the reality of German-imposed technocratic rule sinks in, the political backlash will surely grow. So the prospect of default and Grexit are hardly gone. Greeks ought to use their extended stay in debtors’ prison to better plan their escape. To default safely within the eurozone, Greece needs to secure its banks. On prudential grounds, of course, Athens ought to force them to keep their holdings of bonds guaranteed by the Greek government to a minimum and recapitalize them with assets more tangible than tax credits on future profits. That way the ECB cannot shut them down again. The eurozone as a whole remains an economic basket case and a democratic disgrace. It is trapped in a nightmarish limbo where politics precludes the creation of common institutions that would cage German power and put the ECB in its place, while fear prevents its victims from leaving. So much for the European dream”.

 

Modi to visit Sharif

15/07/2015

Indian PM Narendra Modi has accepted an invitation from his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to attend a regional summit in Islamabad next year. This will be Mr Modi’s first visit to Pakistan after he took power last year. A meeting between the two leaders on Friday came after increased border hostilities and India cancelled secretary-level talks last year. They also agreed to help expedite the 2008 Mumbai terror attack trial, blamed on Pakistan based militants. The suspected mastermind of the attacks, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, was released on bail from a Pakistani jail in April, a development that India described as “unfortunate and disappointing”. He still faces trial – along with six other suspects – over the attacks, which left 166 people dead and damaged peace efforts between the two countries. In a separate development, Mr Modi accepted Mr Sharif’s invitation to visit Pakistan”.

A deal with Iran

15/07/2015

David Sanger reports in the New York Times that “Iran and a group of six nations led by the United States reached a historic accord on Tuesday to significantly limit Tehran’s nuclear ability for more than a decade in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions. The deal culminates 20 months of negotiations on an agreement thatPresident Obama had long sought as the biggest diplomatic achievement of his presidency. Whether it portends a new relationship between the United States and Iran — after decades of coups, hostage-taking, terrorism and sanctions — remains a bigger question”.

Sanger writes that “Obama, in an early morning appearance at the White House that was broadcast live in Iran, began what promised to be an arduous effort to sell the deal to Congress and the American public, saying the agreement is “not built on trust — it is built on verification.” He made it abundantly clear he would fight to preserve the deal from critics in Congress who are beginning a 60-day review, declaring, “I will veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of this deal.” Almost as soon as the agreement was announced, to cheers in Vienna and on the streets of Tehran, its harshest critics said it would ultimately empower Iran rather than limit its capability. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called it a “historic mistake” that would create a “terrorist nuclear superpower.” A review of the 109-page text of the agreement, which includes five annexes, showed that the United States preserved — and in some cases extended — the nuclear restrictions it sketched out with Iran in early April in Lausanne, Switzerland”.

Sanger makes the important point that the agreement leaves “open areas that are sure to raise fierce objections in Congress. It preserves Iran’s ability to produce as much nuclear fuel as it wishes after year 15 of the agreement, and allows it to conduct research on advanced centrifuges after the eighth year. Moreover, the Iranians won the eventual lifting of an embargo on the import and export of conventional arms and ballistic missiles — a step the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, warned about just last week. American officials said the core of the agreement, secured in 18 consecutive days of talks here, lies in the restrictions on the amount of nuclear fuel that Iran can keep for the next 15 years. The current stockpile of low enriched uranium will be reduced by 98 percent, most likely by shipping much of it to Russia”.

The piece goes on to mention that the “limit, combined with a two-thirds reduction in the number of its centrifuges, would extend to a year the amount of time it would take Iran to make enough material for a single bomb should it abandon the accord and race for a weapon — what officials call “breakout time.” By comparison, analysts say Iran now has a breakout time of two to three months. But American officials also acknowledged that after the first decade, the breakout time would begin to shrink. It was unclear how rapidly, because Iran’s longer-term plans to expand its enrichment capability will be kept confidential”.

Sanger writes that “Pressed on that point, an American official who briefed reporters on Tuesday said that Iran’s long-term plans to expand its enrichment capability would be shared with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other parties to the accord. “It is going to be a gradual decline,” the official said. “At the end of, say, 15 years, we are not going to know what that is.” But clearly there are intelligence agency estimates, and one diplomat involved in the talks said that internal estimates suggested Iran’s breakout time could shrink to about five months in year 14 of the plan. Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the negotiations for the United States in the final rounds, sought in his remarks Tuesday to blunt criticism on this point. “Iran will not produce or acquire highly enriched uranium” or plutonium for at least 15 years, he said. Verification measures, he added, will “stay in place permanently.” He stressed that Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency had “entered into an agreement to address all questions” about Iran’s past actions within three months, and that completing this task was “fundamental for sanctions relief.” Compared with many past efforts to slow a nation’s nuclear program— including a deal struck with North Korea 20 years ago — this agreement is remarkably specific”.

Sanger notes that “it is not clear whether the inspectors would be able to interview the scientists and engineers who were believed to have been at the center of an effort by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to design a weapon that Iran could manufacture in short order. In building his argument for the deal, Mr. Obama stressed that the accord was vastly preferable to the alternate scenario: no agreement and an unbridled nuclear arms race in the Middle East. “Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East,” he said. He said his successors in the White House “will be in a far stronger position” to restrain Iran for decades to come than they would be without the pact”.

Sanger goes on to note that President Obama, answered his critics, chiefly Israel, “In an interview Tuesday with Thomas L. Friedman, an Op-Ed columnist with The New York Times, Mr. Obama also answered Mr. Netanyahu and other critics who, he said, would prefer that the Iranians “don’t even have any nuclear capacity.” Mr. Obama said, “But really, what that involves is eliminating the presence of knowledge inside of Iran.” Since that is not realistic, the president added, “The question is, Do we have the kind of inspection regime and safeguards and international consensus whereby it’s not worth it for them to do it? We have accomplished that.” As news of a nuclear deal spread, Iranians reacted with a mix of jubilation, cautious optimism and disbelief that decades of a seemingly intractable conflict could be coming to an end”.

The piece adds that “Across Tehran, many Iranians expressed hope for better economic times after years in which crippling sanctions have severely depressed the value of the national currency, the rial. That in turn caused inflation and shortages of goods, including vital medicines, and forced Iranians to carry fat wads of bank notes to pay for everyday items such as meat, rice and beans”.

On one of the most troubled issues he mentions “the question of whether and how fast an arms embargo on conventional weapons and missiles, imposed starting in 2006, would be lifted. After days of haggling, Secretary of State Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, agreed that the missile restrictions would remain for eight years and that a similar ban on the purchase and sale of conventional weapons would be removed in five years. Those bans would be removed even sooner if the International Atomic Energy Agency reached a definitive conclusion that the Iranian nuclear program is entirely peaceful, and that there was no evidence of cheating on the accord or any activity to obtain weapons covertly. The provisions on the arms embargo are expected to dominate the coming debate in Congress on the accord”.

Interestingly he adds later on that “Diplomats also came up with unusual procedure to “snap back” the sanctions against Iran if an eight-member panel determines that Tehran is violating the nuclear provisions. The members of the panel are Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United States, the European Union and Iran itself. A majority vote is required, meaning that Russia, China and Iran could not collectively block action. With the announcement of the accord, Mr. Obama has now made major strides toward fundamentally changing the American diplomatic relationships with three nations: Cuba, Iran and Myanmar. Of the three, Iran is the most strategically important, the only one with a nuclear program, and it is still on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism“.

It concludes “While the agreement faces heavy opposition from Republicans in Congress, and even some Democrats, Mr. Obama’s chances of prevailing are considered high. Even if the accord is voted down by one or both houses, he could veto that action, and he is likely to have the votes he would need to override the veto. But he has told aides that for an accord as important as this one — which he hopes will usher in a virtual truce with a country that has been a major American adversary for 35 years — he wants a congressional endorsement”.