Obama’s Iran Speech

Obama gave a good speech today in defense of the Iran deal. He dealt with all the major issues, and answered the objections to it. Of course, those dead set against it, many Republicans and Israelis, will not be convinced. But it should have convinced moderate, thinking people that on balance this is a deal that should be supported because it makes the world, and the Middle East in particular, a safer place.

He dealt with the provision most roundly criticized by opponents, the 24 day period to resolve disputes concerning sites that have not been declared as nuclear related, e.g., conventional military bases, perhaps some civilian research laboratories. He explained that the 24 day provision applies only in controversial cases; most inspections would take place in a shorter time period. And he made the argument that the deal is better than any alternative, especially another war in the Middle East.

He invoked Reagan and Kennedy as two Presidents who embraced diplomacy and arms control over war. He stopped short of pointing out that Reagan had a secret policy of appeasement with Iran by providing them banned weapons under the Iran-Contra deal. He did mention that Bush and Cheney had strengthened Iran by eliminating its worst enemy, Saddam Hussein. He also mentioned that the US had been one of the early providers of nuclear technology to Iran in the 1960s and 1970s. And he did not mention that one reason Israel fears the Iranian program is that they know that Israel developed its nuclear weapons capability by tricking western countries, including the US and France, into providing much of what Israel needed for weapons.

Israelis probably fear Iran because they have more respect for the Persian race than for the Arab race. The Israeli-Persian relationship goes back to the Old Testament, more than 2000 years ago, when the Persian king Darius sent Daniel to the lions’ den because Daniel prayed to the God of Israel. The Israelis probably believe that the Iranians have the expertise and infrastructure to build a bomb, unlike most or all of the Arab states, who would need much more help.

I don’t know whether the Iran deal will be blocked by Congress. It looks like it will be close, and the best bet for upholding it is the fact that it will be difficult for the Senate to overcome an Obama veto of a Congressional bill blocking it. I hope the deal is allowed to go into effect. If not, either Iran will have a much easier path to a bomb, or we will invade yet another Middle Eastern country, and this time one that is not entirely stuck in the Middle Ages, as Afghanistan and Iraq were, thus promising a bloodier, more costly war, also likely to end in defeat for the US as the Iraq war did.

In general, I think that Obama has been a good President, especially when compared with his predecessor, George W. Bush. Bush was probably a nice man personally, but a terrible President. He was asleep at his post when Osama bin Laden attacked the World Trade Center. A relatively minor upgrade in airport security would have prevented the attack. In contract to Bush, who was stupid and lazy nice guy, Cheney was a spiteful, mean-spirited villain. For most of his administration, Bush was a coward before Cheney, afraid to confront Cheney’s desire to go to war with almost everybody except out closest friends. Toward the end of his administration, as things began to visibly fall about, Bush finally began to distance himself from Cheney. Strangely, his father’s choice of Dan Quayle to be his Vice President was one of George H. W. Bush’s worst decisions, and George W. Bush’s decision to name Cheney his Vice President was one of the son’s worst decisions. In addition to the unsuccessful wars, Bush, who had an MBA, oversaw the destruction of the US financial system by reckless Wall Street banks, although Clinton shares the blame for his repeal of Glass-Steagall, which had reined in Wall Street.

Obama was faced with the possibility of a second Depression when he took office, and he avoided it. He gets criticism from the Republicans for winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who insist that if we had stayed the course we would have won. But it we can’t win a war in a small, backward country in eight or ten years, something is wrong with our military or our strategy. Cheney and Rumsfeld were strategic failures, whom Bush stupidly put in charge of two wars. Their failure is highlighted by Bush I’s successful prosecution of the first Iraq war, noted recently by Richard Haass in the Wall Street Journal.

In addition, ObamaCare expanded health care significantly. There are still health care issues, cost and the single-payer issue, but ObamaCare was progress. On the negative side, Guantanamo is still a prison camp that is America’s gulag. People are being held in violation of US and international law, in spirit, if not under the letter of the law. It is an embarrassment to a country that prides itself on its morality and rule of law. Reagan’s “city on a hill” has slid down into the mud. Bush and Cheney are responsible for pushing it into the mud, but Obama has not pulled it out.

The Republicans blame Obama for his budget deficits and the growing national debt, but at least part of the problem is the Republican’s refusal to raise taxes. No doubt some cuts are necessary, but some additional revenue is also necessary. Today’s column by Tom Friedman in the NYT points out the intransigence of the Republicans in refusing even to raise a five cent tax per gallon of gas to fund the repair of roads and bridges. Obama could have done better, but the Republicans made sure he was not playing with a full deck.

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