Friday, August 14, 2020

You'll Miss It When It's Gone (Iran Deal Edition)

The UN Security Council today declined to extend an arms embargo against Iran, over furious protests by the United States, Israel, and Arab Gulf States. The main opponents of the arms embargo were, naturally, Russia and China. But several European nations -- France, Germany, and the UK -- expressed hesitation, claiming that the United States was no longer in a position to credibly push for sanctions on Iran after it withdrew from the JCPOA (aka "the Iran Deal").

Fancy that. And speaking of the JCPOA, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, in its own statement denouncing the UNSC's vote, urged that Security Council consider implementing the JCPOA's "snapback" provisions as an alternative means of blocking Iran from advancing its nuclear weapons program. An interesting idea -- if only a certain country hadn't detonated the JCPOA framework! It's almost like the Iran Deal contained important leverage and hard-won commitments even from countries not otherwise inclined to care about Iranian aggression, and when the United States unilaterally abandoned the deal we lost a ton of international credibility that we can't easily earn back.

Many, many people warned against the reckless decision to back out of the JCPOA, precisely on the grounds that doing so would ruin the ability of the United States to credibly pursue any sort of robust diplomatic containment strategy against Iran going forward. And now we're seeing the real fruits of the Trump administration's decision. Way back when the Iran Deal was initially being debated, I noted that one of the most persuasive arguments I read in its favor was the experts who observed that every time we reject or abandon an "Iran deal", the one we're able to get two or three years later is far worse than the one we left behind. The common cycle is a deal is proposed, conservatives say "how dare you give everything away to the terrorist regime of Iran", we abandon the deal, and then next time around ... we're in an even worse negotiating posture than we were before and what once looked like "giving everything away" now is an unattainable fantasy.

We are, as always, apparently doomed to keep reliving history. Heckuva job, Trumpie.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Quick Thoughts on the Israel/UAE Deal

As you may have heard, Israel and the UAE have announced a historic agreement to normalize ties, in exchange for which Israel has committed to "suspend" plans to annex the West Bank. My quick thoughts:

  • This is a good thing. And it's okay to say it's a good thing! It doesn't make you a Trump supporter to say this is a good thing!
  • If you can only take joy in policy announcements these days if they anger someone you hate, be advised that the extreme settler-right in Israel is furious about this -- they view it as Bibi once again Lucy-and-the-footballing them with regard to annexation.
  • In all seriousness, this is probably the biggest foreign policy accomplishment of Trump's entire term. Of course, when one zooms out, that means his biggest foreign policy accomplishment is "Israel establishing diplomatic relations with its third Arab neighbor, in exchange for which Israel steps off a ledge Trump put them on." Less impressive.
  • The best defense you can give of Trump's approach here, appearing to green-light annexation, is that it was a case of brinkmanship that paid off. Still a hell of a gamble though. When David Friedman says Israel could have annexation or peace, but not both, he's basically admitting his favored policy was one which would have denied Israel peace for generations.
  • In "brinkmanship doesn't always pay off", see also Iran, whose increasingly belligerent orientation towards its Arab neighbors has had the effect of drawing them closer to Israel in ways unthinkable in the recent past.
  • Will this announcement be an "icebreaker" for other Arab states to follow suit? I've seen Bahrain and Oman cited as candidates. One awkward but probably accurate assessment: It's simultaneously healthy for Israel and its Arab neighbors to develop closer ties and for the U.S. and Israel to have greater critical distance.
  • While stopping annexation is an unambiguous good thing, it still leaves in place a status quo where Palestinians are under occupation and lack full democratic and self-determination rights. "Stopping annexation" is not and should not be the be-all-end-all of American support for Palestinian equality.
  • Has annexation been stopped? Bibi is saying it is still "on the table". What's that I often hear about leaders who say one thing to their domestic audiences and another to international listeners? (I actually think this is Bibi once again playing the rule of Lucy vis-a-vis the settler-right and putting the football back down, but still).

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Harris Pick versus White Fragility

California Senator Kamala Harris has been selected as Joe Biden's running mate.

This is, I think, the chalk pick, and one I'm quite content with. I like Harris -- she was my off-the-blocks favorite before I switched my support to Warren -- and I think she'd make a fine President in the event that Biden's health fails him. It's momentous that a Black woman is filling this role, and that shouldn't be undersold just because many predicted it in advance (as Yair Rosenberg notes, part of what makes it historic is precisely that it feels conventional). I also am excited for the prospect of the first Second Man being the first Jewish Second Man.

There is one other thing that rose to my mind that I haven't seen fully emphasized. Harris' biggest moment on the campaign trail this primary season was, of course, when she hit Joe Biden on his failure to support busing as a racial integration measure. Given that, it is I think notable that Biden picked her as his VP anyway. The standard "White Fragility" narrative* is that such a challenge, from a Black woman, to a White man, will be taken as the gravest and most unforgivable of insults -- a shattering offense from which there can be no recovery. Biden is modeling an alternative -- he did not respond to a very public, very pointed anti-racism challenge by treating the challenger as cherem. He stayed in relationship with her and elevated her as his political partner. It's not the largest thing, but it is a thing that matters.

* I know "White Fragility" is passe now among the cool kids, but for what it's worth I read it back when it was a random academic article published in an obscure journal in 2011.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Searching for Tikhanovskaya

Belarus just had a presidential election, and incumbent Alexander Lukashenko -- who has held his position since the mid-1990s and is known as "Europe's last dictator" -- was announced the winner with over 80% of the vote.

Nobody (well, nobody but a few especially credulous tankies) believes this figure is accurate, and protests have erupted throughout the country. Meanwhile, Lukashenko's main challenger, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has reportedly gone missing (Tikhanovskaya entered the race after her husband was arrested two days following the announcement of his own presidential run. What a fantastic avenue for feminist advancement!).

What do you think will be the most likely circumstances of Tikhanovskaya's reappearance?

  1. She'll emerge from hiding in another European country;
  2. Flanked by government "security", she will "voluntarily" announce that she accepts the election results and urge that all Belarussians respect Lukashenko's regime;
  3. The government will report the sad news of her suicide -- she "jumped out a window" after only taking 10% of the vote, the poor thing.
  4. She'll never reemerge, or in any way be heard from again.
I certainly hope she's okay, and safe, and send my full solidarity with the people of Belarus struggling for freedom and democracy.

UPDATE: And apparently, it's door #1!