December 5, 2013
As the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) move ahead with their plans to dispose of the Syrian stockpile of chemical weapons, the truly frightening question is now beginning to emerge. Having apparently successfully eliminated the machinery for fabricating the chemical weapons; having packaged apparently successfully the various chemical weapons prior to their being transported from their site; it now remains only to remove successfully the materiel from Syria!
While the procedures for this disposal have been established, the critical question is whether the chemicals can safely be moved to the disposal ships waiting for them in the Syrian port of Latakia. These ships in turn have a plan for their destruction and disposal.
Specifically, the challenge is how to transport the highly toxic materiel by land across Syria to Latakia without their falling into the hands of anti-Assad forces, radical Islamists, Al Qaeda radicals, or similar other random terrorist groups. All of these non-governmental forces and others would be only delighted to possess chemical materiel with which they could create much mischief; both within Syria and elsewhere.
As is the case in Pakistan, random radical opposition groups represent the greatest regional nuclear threats for the use of WMD’s. In fact like the Pakistanis, the Iranian regime itself is probably unlikely to ever use nuclear weapons despite all the bluster and threatening saber rattling—not that Israel should be placed in a position where it lives constantly with such an existential threat. The true fear that nuclear weapons might be used, comes from terrorist groups and non-state actors who could steal or otherwise obtain such weapons. Their potential use of nuclear material represents a far greater regional threat.
Both in Syria and Iran, it is the internal and external radical forces which hold the potential for catastrophic havoc and mischief. With both ideological and religious zeal, the terrorist groups lack any of compunctions which nations possess. They can justify their actions within a small circle of possessed and fanatical leadership.
If the OPCW can successfully move out the Syrian chemicals by the end of December, the first test will have been passed. What unfortunately is clear, is that this is likely to be only the first test in this region.
December 3, 2013
It may be hard to believe but despite an enormous number of vital unfinished issues facing the Congress, the House of Representatives only has eight legislative days scheduled for the month of December will be in session only five days when the Senate is also meeting. It is not just the legislation that has piled up in one or both chambers, but rather the fact that the negativity in the climate on Capitol Hill is so depressing. No amount of blame game concerning the Affordable Health Care Act will make the agriculture bill and food stamps bill get passed, or unemployment compensation extended, or doctors’ Medicare reimbursements be continued. It will not facilitate completion of the 2014 budget compromise which was supposed to have been completed on October 1. While Congress will probably avoid another Government shut-down on January 14, it might me a nice surprise for the American people to have it in place before Christmas. While the Senate will confirm Janet Yellin to head the Fed, there may be oratorical bloodletting in the Senate as the new anti-filibuster rule begins to enable Obama’s lower court nominees and Executive appointments to move ahead.
No one is blameless in this ugliness, but the lack of responsible leadership is appalling. The White House wants to get back on track after seeing the President’s polling fall to historical new lows. Obama’s presidency is on the rocks unless he can begin to regain the public’s trust following his mis-conduct of the healthcare.gov fiasco. To do so, however, he needs to energize a disheartened Democratic party and find some Republicans willing to participate with him in governing the nation for the next three years. He needs constructive action and not posturing as the poll numbers will sink even lower for Congress again as well as the President’s.
This comes as the 2014 congressional elections are looming on the horizon. Both congressional parties are struggling with internal debates and conflicts. They must make strategic political decisions while trying to get past the budget, the debt ceiling, and a potential shut-down. If the Senate—as appears probable at this time--opts to ratchet up the Iranian sanctions (even if they would only take effect in six months and with conditions), the President could well have a major foreign policy confrontation on his hands before St. Nicholas arrives bringing holiday cheer.
The question now is what will get done!
November 24, 2013
The P5+1 deal with Iran has so far produced expected reactions. The Obama Administration appears very pleased with how much the deal has accomplished and suggests they will take it as an effective beginning. Critics in Washington are skeptical at best and the Israelis are angry. The deal was largely the deal that has been thrashed out now for a while whose key points have been discussed publically by the U.S. and Israel and which the Israelis have consistently argued was forgiving too fast without necessary conditions. It essence for them it was a sell-out or capitulation with nothing received in return.
Netanyahu’s frustration and annoyance in this preliminary accord is understandable and has been so stated to the world, but what is not mentioned is the extent to which it has aroused a similar response from the Saudis and the Gulf States. Clearly without any domestic coalition partners or a democratic legislature to hold it accountable, the Saudi royal family and its Gulf allies can choose their own method to respond to the Iran agreement; an understanding that they also find unacceptable.
There are three likely responses from the Sunni—read Saudi- leadership. They could inform the U.S. that they are dissatisfied but will permit the six month period to elapse to test Iranian compliance with it and with the further agreements forthcoming between the P5+1 and Iran. This would be a response that the U.S. would very much appreciate and may be expecting. Second, they could reject the agreement totally and demand its rescission; something that undoubtedly the U.S. will reject and work to ameliorate. Finally and most dangerous of all, the Saudis could announce that upon reflection and considered calculation they have reached the decision to proceed immediately with acquiring nuclear weapons for themselves.
November 21, 2013
Washington gets uglier as the days pass. The Senate vote today to eliminate the Senate’s rule that had permitted filibustering on presidential nominations of non-Supreme Court and executive appointments was a long time coming. It was a legitimate and correct but also a very sad statement about the state of affairs in Washington. Clearly the case can be made on both sides of the so-called “nuclear” vote, but what it should have never have come to this point. While permitting Senators to filibuster nominations is upsetting and its repeated use was unnecessarily disruptive, if its use had been selective, less angry, and less vindictive it would never have come to a vote.
Through this vote, 52-48, Republican Senators were finally stymied in their consistent and persistent policy of attacking anything the President wanted to do or any nomination he sought to advance. The Democrats know full well that this vote may well return to haunt them when the inevitably lose control of the Senate, but regardless of what some of the Senate traditionalists will argue, there was nothing sacred about the rule. In addition, for the Democrats it was necessary for them to assert some power and leadership in the Senate and force Republican votes that were opposing qualified and recommended judicial appointments and Executive nominees.
Democrats recognized that they may well be beaten up in some of their re-election campaigns because of these votes; but it was time to admit to all that any semblance of bi-partisanship sadly was over. For many of the Democratic Senators, however, it permitted a bit of media distraction from the on-going hullabaloo over ObamaCare which they know will haunt them as the return home for Thanksgiving. This brief respite, they all recognize, will hit regardless of the results, when the bell on the clock strikes midnight on November 30.
November 19, 2013
Israel may be facing a totally different more immediate threat than Iran if today’s bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut is any sign of forthcoming rebel, al-Qaeda, anti-Assad activity now spilling into Lebanon in a big way. As most observers suggest, this bombing was the work of Islamic radicals who are opposed to all the Shiite forces which are backing President Assad including Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. They are also virulent enemies of Israel.
Clearly the war in Syria is not going the rebels’ way. The casualties on all sides mount and the rainy winter season commences with all the concomitant consequences which it brings to all the combatants and civilians. The U.S.-Russian dismantling of the chemical weapons appears to be proceeding, although there remains here serious skepticism as to whether it is really the success it is being touted to be so far.
What is clear is that the clean-up forces are becoming exceedingly nervous about transporting the materiel from its locations. There is a concern about sabotage, theft, ransom, and kidnapping of both the staff as well as the chemical materiel by various forces from all sides. Today’s attack, assuming it is indicative of radical Islamic infiltration into Lebanon, is a signal that any thought of bring the materiel across Syria to a Lebanese port may expose it to seizure in Lebanon by radical forces, as well as by Hezbollah.
Hezbollah reportedly already retains a larger (70,000 rockets) and more sophisticated missile arsenal than it possessed in 2006; ready to use against Israel. Both Israeli and Lebanese press have been speculating for several weeks about various scenarios and activities which might be developing in South Lebanon near the Israeli border. These have ranged from fear of underground tunnels now coming into Israel on one extreme to a sense of long-term quiet present along the border; all this despite underlying hostilities, fears, as well as preparedness. Today’s Beirut bombing is such a clear anti-Iran/Hezbollah statement, that it must give pause for Israel to consider the precariousness of its situation in the North should the Syrian hostilities spill over into Lebanon in a meaningful way.
November 15, 2013
Amidst all the hoopla about the President’s culpability and now his apology over the failure of the ACA to get off the ground properly, there is a most telling observation about presidential decision-making which may say the most about the Obama Presidency and which analysts have totally ignored. While in no way does this minimize the Obama Administration’s responsibility for the health care legislative problems, it does offer a very important insight into the operation and administration of the Obama White House.
This legislation –as is the case for example with the “pending” immigration bill—was not drafted by the White House or the Administration. It was created by Congress and then the President and its team work it over. This fact rang true in the President’s press conference as he discussed the Administration’s failures to prepare adequately for many of these eventualities. It was not their bill; while they did mold it, it was not created by them. They never truly had ownership of the bill. Consequently, they never worked through all the pitfalls which now have confounded the American people.
Admittedly, they did have three years to run through many of the issues and should have caught the most serious ones. Historically, when the federal government writes a bill, it has been fully vetted and tested before it is presented to Congress. (Curiously, the Clinton Administration never could let go of its own healthcare bill. They kept testing and redesigning it, so that when it was finally sent to the Hill it was much too late. The rest of the demise of Hillary’s bill is history.)
The oddity in this situation is that since early in the Twentieth Century, certainly, almost all major legislative initiatives—actual draft bills—emanated from the White House and the OMB or its predecessor the BOB. Presidents sent Congress draft legislation to chew on and to modify; but the basic bill’s language and procedures came from the White House. This has not been the modus operandi of this Administration. This certainly does not justify why the Obama team is in such a pickle over the major legislative initiative of Barack Obama’s tenure in office. So far, at least, it does not reflect well at all on the Obama style of operating. For the bureaucrats who perhaps actually might have saved the bill from this mess, it is truly chaotic. For presidential scholars it is a fascinating insight into the Obama Presidency and may begin to explain some characteristics about his political psychology.
November 13, 2013
Former President Clinton joined the chorus of angry voices on Tuesday challenging the failure of the President to deliver Obamacare as promised. He asserted that the President’s failure to insure that the American people could keep their former health care plan if they so desired and not in OYZ.com which was cited in the Daily Beast today, Clinton’s statement suggests—considering the source--how deep a problem the White House is facing with the chaos that has ensued since the Affordable Health Care Act took effect on October 1.
Clinton did not address directly the failure of the healthcare.gov web site to be operational, although it is fairly clear to everyone that if the end of November comes and the system is not up and running, the President will need to resort to drastic measures—perhaps even administrative ones-- to get the health care program operational. Clinton focused directly on the plight of at least 3.5 million people who have been dropped from their plans or have seen their plans disappear. This despite the fact that the President promised it was precisely this eventuality which would never occur under the ACA.
President Clinton’s attack on Obama seems clearly to have had only one motive aside from the legitimate attack on the ACA mess which the President is currently facing. President Clinton was the stalking horse for the 2016 Democratic presidential aspirant who felt she could not yet go out and attack the man whom she served for four years until just 10 months ago as Secretary of State.
Playing the bad guy, President Clinton did not want to cede all the attack on the failure of Obamacare to Governor Christie or the Tea Party or even the establishment Republicans. The Clinons obviously felt this would be deft way to place their statements on Obamacare on the record before any campaign actually starts; both during the forthcoming presidential nomination fight as well as the general election. She needed to begin to separate herself from the President, yet she needs to remain a loyal soldier until she officially throws her hat into the ring .
November 9, 2013
There is a cardinal rule in international diplomacy that states that Heads of States never meet to negotiate treaties or agreements, only to initial and sign them. All the bargaining is done at lower levels so no one is embarrassed when the final session breaks down. Everyone must go home with a settlement not with an understanding to meet again. Such a concept exists as well, when the highest level of negotiators are the foreign ministers.
When all the Western Foreign Ministers flew into Geneva on Thursday to the Iran talks, it is clear that their Heads of State had been led to believe that the Iranians had agreed to the P5+1 terms to the Iranian nuclear weapons-sanctions negotiations. The fact that everyone was spinning like crazy as they flew out on Saturday night gives clear evidence that the Iranians had made total fools of the West. Everyone had been led to believe that terms were on the table to justify all hands being on hand to sign the papers. They naively believed what the Iranians probably never intended to concede but had assumed that once they had all the Foreign Ministers in a room they would agree to Iran’s wishes—whatever they might have been—rather than leave town with their tails between their collective legs.
While that style—needing to save face at all costs may be the modus operandi in the Levant-- it clearly is not the way in the West. It is truly sad how little the West understands the mentality of negotiating in the Middle East.
November 7, 2013
Tuesday’s elections were interesting, but except for the talking heads and the paid analysts, no one should extrapolate very much out of the results. Considering the races involved, the size of the turnout, and the peculiarities of this truly off-year election, no one should be moved to draw dramatic conclusions in any direction. A rational consideration of the results should prove the point.
1. New York elected a liberal Democrat as its new Mayor. This is about as shocking as the fact that it snowed yesterday in Alaska in November. DeBlassio will have his hands full managing the City and so will New York. Life in Gotham could get interesting, but politically the results were not dramatic.
2. Chris Christie was re-elected by more than a 20% margin. If he could have, Obama would probably have voted for him. Defeating State Senator Barbara Buono, a sacrificial political lamb, the exit polls suggest that people liked the style and flamboyance of the man, but many voters profoundly disagreed with him on the issues. This also proves why Christie scheduled the Booker special Senate election to not coincide with or distract from, his own November, general re-election. What it means for the 2016 Republican nomination will depend on which Republican base will be at the Party’s core after the 2014 congressional elections.
3. Democrat Terry McAuliffe defeated the Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who had Tea Party support but not enough Tea Party money. As Virginia continues to be a swing--leaning blue-- state, moderates like McAuliffe should win. The new Governor’s biggest problem may well be to show he can actually govern the Commonwealth without Bill and Hillary at his side.
4. Alabama’s 1st District Republican primary showed that without serious money, the Tea Party candidate, Dean Young, could not defeat the establishment Republican, Bradley Byrne, in the Republican primary. While Byrne’s margin was a narrow four points, this deep southern district should have stayed true to the faith; instead it suggested that the Tea Party wing needs better organization if it seriously intends to contend next year; or the GOP even could lose the House.
Speculation run ramped was the call, with no serious conclusions.
Wait, however, until February at which time the economic crisis at home will be clarified. A budget will or will not be in place; the debt limit fixing will or will not be set; a second Government shut-down will or will not have been avoided; and Obamacare will or will not have been fixed to operate as had been expected. If at that point the White House will have assumed control, Republicans could get even lose the House in November; if not the Senate may be up for grabs and Hillary may decide she prefers to be a stay-at home grandmother.
November 6, 2013
CNN reported on Tuesday that Syria may not be in compliance with the U.S.-Russia agreement to disclose, release, and destroy all its chemical weapons. As Seth Meyers on Saturday Night Live would say: “Really”! “Really”!
It should have been dubious from the beginning that Syria could bring itself to completely accept the demand to destroy all its chemical weapons. The graciousness and speed with which Assad acquiesced to U.N. inspection and collection of the gas stored for years throughout Syria, should have been an immediate give-away. Had Syria been moving to completely transfer its weapons it would have dragged out the negotiations and even then maybe not finally to have agreed; even with Obama threatening to attack Syria with cruise missiles? Having just gassed his own people, did everyone assume that Assad suddenly reconsidered his actions and gave up his trump?
Many have always feared that much of the more volatile chemicals might have been transferred to Iran or Hezbollah in exchange for their assistance in fighting the insurgent rebels. The inspectors were being given—or perhaps facilitating--Syria’s disposal of its older stockpiles and perhaps even its less chemically stable material, which might have required more sophisticated efforts to detoxify.
Assuming that the CNN report is corroborated by the inspection team, what are the consequences for the Russian-U.S. agreement to remove the gas stores? What will the U.N. possibly now do about Syria reneging on its promise? How long will all parties proceed to discuss what can or might be done against Syria? Is Russia any closer now on agreeing to implement sanctions? Finally, where does this leave the President and his still violated red line? The Syrians may have given Obama time to get through the Government shut-down and debt limit crisis, but how does he waffle through the holidays given Syria’s thwarting a diplomatic finesse?
If you want something else about which to worry in the region of the same or even greater magnitude, is U.S. intelligence so sure that Qaddafi really gave up all his nuclear weapons in 2003?
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