Tag Archives: global politics

US-Iran Treaty Can Send Oil to $40

oil productionMy Comments: I’ve already said that I much prefer a negotiated deal between adversaries than continued threats to bomb the crap out of them. In todays economic and political environment, that option poses too many risks that I’m unprepared to accept.

Here’s some economic thoughts about what might happen, now the deal is in place. Yes, Congress has 90 days to approve, and no, the oil industry will be unhappy, but it’s time to think what is best for ALL OF US, and not just the few.

by Barry Ritholtz – July 14th, 2015

While the world is distracted by the unending Greek saga (will it or won’t it leave the euro?) and the epic Chinese stock-market meltdown (and manipulation), something really important is going on. Three words sum it up: Iran and oil.

Negotiators have reached a deal with Iran to constrain its nuclear arms program. Despite the pessimism and outright fear-mongering, an agreement has been reached.

Don’t let China’s stock market and Greece’s debt melodrama distract you from paying attention to this issue — now that this deal is all but consummated, the repercussions are potentially enormous.

The agreement to end 13 years of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear aspirations is likely to be the defining foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration. Iran had opportunistically pursued its nuclear ambitions after 9/11, accelerating the program once its biggest regional enemy, Saddam Hussein, was removed by the U.S. military invasion.

Normalizing relations between one of the largest military powers in the Middle East and the major nations of the West is a huge, game-changing event. Iran’s ruling party wants access to global markets, technology and capital; Iranian youth would like access to Western consumer goods, culture and most of all, the Internet. How much any of these become part of the end result of a deal has yet to be determined.
What is perhaps most fascinating about this deal is the role and ambitions of China and Russia.

China’s motives are more obvious: It would like to blunt the projection of U.S. military power around the world, disengagement of the U.S. from Middle East politics and — most of all — a reduction of geopolitical tensions that tend to raise oil prices.
Russia’s interests are more complex, since it benefits from higher oil prices. Putting Iran’s huge oil production back on the market could exacerbate today’s global crude glut. Speculation that this will happen has already helped push down the price of oil, which has fallen by about a third in the past 12 months. Further signs of a Chinese economic slowdown also are weighing on crude prices.

Given the current situation, including sanctions against Russia for its role in destabilizing eastern Ukraine, one has to wonder what advantage there is for Vladimir Putin & Co. if Iranian oil begins to flow freely to the global market.

The Houston Chronicle quoted Neil Atkinson, an oil analyst at Lloyd’s List Intelligence in London, who observed, “It’s finally dawning on the market that the overwhelming weight of supply growth isn’t just going away… Iran is a huge factor. I can see $50 in sight for West Texas Intermediate [when a deal is reached].” Iran has 40 million barrels of crude stored on at least 23 ships that could be released into the market relatively quickly, the Chronicle added.

So what’s driving the Russians to be so cooperative? Perhaps the lessons of the 1980s are still fresh in Putin’s mind. What brought down the Soviet Union wasn’t the result of military failures or armed conflicts through surrogates. Rather, it was the economic might of the U.S. Supporting a huge military requires a large, efficient and productive economy and the Soviets simply couldn’t compete with the U.S. As much as former U.S. President Ronald Reagan is praised for the collapse of the USSR, Adam Smith deserves more credit.

The Russians may have figured out that fighting the American economy has been a losing game for them.

A peaceful, non-nuclear Iran might help to limit the U.S. presence in the Middle East, according to Gary Samore of Harvard’s Belfer Center. “The Russians don’t like to see the U.S. going around the world, bombing countries,” he noted.

Given the painful sanctions on Russia — and the related precarious economic state it is in because of much-reduced oil prices — greater cooperation between Russia and the U.S. could be mutually beneficial. Both want to see a defeat of the Islamic State. So does Iran. All benefit from a more stable Middle East, albeit for very different reasons.

Putin is smartly playing a long game. Lower oil prices will be painful in the short run for Russia. But an aggressive U.S., with an expansionist military around the world may be even worse. Hence, the surprising willingness of Russia to sign on to an agreement to lift sanctions against Iran.

The key takeaways of the deal with Iran is that it has the potential to lower energy prices, reduce tensions in an area fraught with conflict and create an opening for Russia to find a way to end the sanctions now hobbling its economy. A Russian economy that is better integrated into the world economy will have far better growth prospects.

It will be interesting to watch the contortions and hysterics among members of Congress opposed to the Iran deal. But as of now the critics of the accord lack a veto-proof majority. However much they might complain, it is likely to just be political noise.

Watch the price of oil. Consider what increases in supply and reduction of Middle East tensions do to its price. Then imagine what that could mean for the global economic recovery.

Wrong On Iran

My Comments: I’m unsure about the title of this article; is the author talking to us, to the Israelis or both. Personally, I’m all for the deal that was signed on Monday. I’m persuaded the choices are either an agreement based on mutual distrust, made by skilled negotiators, or war. And I’m sick and tired of us playing that game. Since 1945, we’ve only won once, and that was against the mighty nation of Grenada.

For the GOP, it’s the same mantra since 2008; if Obama is for it, we’re going to do whatever we can to oppose it and stymie his efforts, never mind what’s in the country’s best interest. If we spend another few trillion dollars and get thousands killed and maimed, so what. We enjoy making money.

Nothing of significance can be reduced to simple black and white terms, even though the media would have you believe it is. This article talks about subleties, background and motives of those involved. If we can be friends with Japan and Germany after what happened in the 1940’s, there’s no reason we can’t develop a foundation with Iran.

by David Swanson on July 14, 2015

For the United States to sit and talk and come to an agreement with a nation it has been antagonizing and demonizing since the dictator it installed in 1953 was overthrown in 1979 is historic and, I hope, precedent setting. Let’s seal this deal!
Four months ago the Washington Post published an op-ed headlined ‘War With Iran Is Probably Our Best Option.’ It wasn’t. Defenders of war present war as a last resort, but when other options are tried the result is never war. We should carry this lesson over to several other parts of the world.

The time has come to remove the “missile defense” weaponry from Europe that was put there under the false pretense of protecting Europe from Iran. With that justification gone, U.S. aggression toward Russia will become damagingly apparent if this step is not taken. And the time has come for the nations that actually have nuclear weapons to join and/or comply with the nonproliferation treaty, which Iran was never actually in violation of.

In addition to the prevention of a massive bombing campaign in Syria that was prevented in 2013, a major recent success in war-lie-preparedness is the holding off, thus far, of a U.S. war on Iran — about which we’ve been told lies for decades now. The longer this debate goes on, the more it should become clear that there is no urgent emergency that might help justify mass killing. But the longer it goes on, the more some people may accept the idea that whether or not to gratuitously bomb a foreign nation is a perfectly legitimate policy question.

And the argument may also advance in the direction of favoring war for another reason: both sides of the debate promote most of the war lies. Yes, some peace groups are talking perfect sense on this issue as on most, but the debate between Democratic and Republican party loyalists and those in power is as follows. One side argues, quite illegally and barbarically, that because Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon, Iran should be bombed. The other side argues, counterproductively if in a seemingly civilized manner, that because Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon, a diplomatic agreement should be reached to put a stop to it. The trouble with both arguments is that they reinforce the false idea that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon. As Gareth Porter makes clear in his book Manufactured Crisis, there is no evidence for that.

Both arguments also reinforce the idea that there is something about Iranians that makes them unqualified to have the sort of weapon that it’s alright to voluntarily spread to other nations. Of course, I don’t actually think it’s alright for anyone to have nuclear weapons or nuclear energy, but my point is the bias implicit in these arguments. It feeds the idea that Iranians are not civilized enough to speak with, even as one-half of the debate pushes for just that: speaking with the Iranians.

On the plus side, much of the push for a war on Iran was devoted for years to demonizing Iran’s president until Iran, for its own reasons, elected a different president, which threw a real monkey wrench into the gears of that old standby. Perhaps nations will learn the lesson that changing rulers can help fend off an attack as well as building weapons can. Also on the plus side, the ludicrous idea that Iran is a threat to the United States is very similar to the idea that Iraq was such a threat in 2002-2003. But on the negative side, memory of the Iraq war lies is already fading. Keeping past war lies well-remembered can be our best protection against new wars. Also on the negative side, even if people oppose a war on Iran, several billionaire funders of election campaigns favor one.

Will Congressman Robert Hurt who claims to represent me, and who got Syria right in 2013, commit to taking no funding from those warmongers? Here’s what Hurt had to say on Tuesday:

“The Threat of a Nuclear Iran Persists
“Dear Friend,

“The long-running nuclear negotiations with Iran and the United States, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom finally reached a head early this morning. Even with the deal reached, I am skeptical that Iran will keep their word, act in good faith, and abide by the terms of the deal.”

The deal is an INSPECTION arrangement, not based in any way on anybody trusting anyone.

“I remain committed to the goal of eliminating Iran’s nuclear capabilities because the prospect of Iran attaining the ability to produce a nuclear weapon is a grave threat to the world, and it is a very real possibility that this deal may only fuel Iran’s ability to expand its nuclear ambitions and facilitate its efforts to spread terror in the Middle East.”

What nuclear ambitions? What terror? This from a Congressman who voted for pulling out U.S. forces on June 17th but has taken no further action and has funded the U.S. operation that is currently killing people in the Middle East?

“Iranian leaders clearly remain focused on expanding their nuclear capabilities. They only want to do the bare minimum necessary to lift damaging international economic sanctions that have crippled their economy.”

What mindreading feat is this based on? Where’s evidence? Haven’t we learned to demand it yet?

“Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.” Not according to any world source, but rather the U.S. government which defines terrorism to suit its ends. The world disagrees.

“The regime makes no secret of its longstanding commitment to see the demise of the United States and Israel, our greatest ally in the Middle East.”

Then why don’t you point to a single scrap of evidence?

“On Saturday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke about the need to continue to fight against the “arrogant” U.S. regardless of the outcome of these talks. Allowing Iran to achieve the nuclear capabilities it seeks would pose an existential threat to Israel and the world.”

There’s nothing there about the demise of the United States or Israel or the slightest evidence of Iran pursuing or threatening to use any weapon. Expecting people to believe otherwise seems a bit — if you’ll excuse me — arrogant.

“Given Iran’s nuclear ambitions and history, I remain unconvinced that Iran will act in good faith and adhere to any of the terms of a deal. Iran has been unwilling to make necessary compromises to meaningfully limit their nuclear program, and there is little reason to believe this will change. Reaching a deal just for the sake of doing so is not worth putting the safety and security of our allies and our country at risk; no deal is better than a dangerous deal.”

Again, what ambitions? What history? Why the steady avoidance of documenting any claims? Iran is complying with restrictions not imposed on any other nation. How is that a refusal to compromise?

“If this deal is in fact a bad one, the American people have a role to play in this process. In May, the President signed into law the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which would require congressional review of any final nuclear agreement with Iran before the President can waive or suspend sanctions previously imposed by Congress. Now that an agreement has been reached, Congress has 60 days to review the agreement and pass a joint resolution to approve or disapprove of the deal. Should Congress disapprove the deal, the President would likely veto that measure, but Congress can override the veto with a two-thirds vote.”

The American people, in case you hadn’t noticed, favor the deal, including a majority of Democrats and a plurality of Republicans.

“It is my hope that Congress will carefully consider the consequences of a deal with Iran and maintain its focus on the ultimate goal of eliminating the threat of a nuclear Iran. I remain committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to enhance the necessary sanctions against the Iranian regime. We must do everything within our power to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities.”

Is that a proposal for war?

Anyone can tell their rep and senators to support the deal here.

David Swanson is the author of War Is A Lie.

Europe’s Dream is Dying in Greece

My Comments: Society evolves, just like animals and plants. But it takes time, and we are conditioned to want it NOW, not over the next millenia. If there is enough collective will, the European Union (EU) will survive by evolving to accomodate Greek society. The players themselves are going to have to find the right pieces, fit them together, and hope it all works out.

It’s in our best interest for the EU to survive and thrive. They are a huge market for whatever it is we produce, be it ideas or technology, or war machines. In human terms, the years since the early 20th century that saw massive conflicts between evolving states is way behind us. But the vestiges of tribal and clan loyalties take time to disappear. We can only hope they find a way to make it work.

Gideon Rachman June 29, 2015

The shuttered banks of Greece represent a profound failure for the EU. The current crisis is not just a reflection of the failings of the modern Greek state, it is also about the failure of a European dream of unity, peace and prosperity.

Over the past 30 years Europe has embraced its own version of the “end of history”. It became known as the European Union. The idea was that European nations could consign the tragedies of war, fascism and occupation to the past. By joining the EU, they could jointly embrace a better future based on democracy, the rule of law and the repudiation of nationalism.

As Lord Patten, a former EU commissioner, once boasted, the success of the union ensured that Europeans now spent their time “arguing about fish quotas or budgets, rather than murdering one another”. When the Greek colonels were overthrown in 1974, Greece became the pioneer of a new model for Europe — in which the restoration of democracy at a national level was secured by a simultaneous application to join the European Economic Community (as it then was).

Greece became the 10th member of the European club in 1981. Its early membership of an EU that now numbers 28 countries is a rebuke to those who now claim it has always been a peripheral member.

The model first established in Greece — democratic consolidation, secured by European integration — was rolled out across the continent over the next three decades. Spain and Portugal, which had also cast off authoritarian regimes in the 1970s, joined the EEC in 1986. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, almost all the countries of the former Soviet bloc followed the Greek model of linking democratic change at home to a successful application to join the EU.

For the EU itself, Greek-style enlargement became its most powerful tool for spreading stability and democracy across the continent. As one Polish politician put it to me shortly before his country joined the EU: “Imagine there is a big river running through Europe. On one side is Moscow. On the other side is Brussels. We know which side of the river we need to be on.” That powerful idea — that the EU represented good government and secure democracy — has continued to resonate in modern Europe. It is why Ukrainian demonstrators were waving the EU flag when they overthrew the corrupt government of Viktor Yanukovich in 2014.

The danger now is that, just as Greece was once a trailblazer in linking a democratic transition to the European project, so it may become an emblem of a new and dangerous process: the disintegration of the EU. The current crisis could easily lead to the country leaving the euro and eventually the union itself. That would undermine the fundamental EU proposition: that joining the European club is the best guarantee of future prosperity and stability.

Even if an angry and impoverished Greece ultimately remains inside the tent, the link between the EU and prosperity will have been ruptured. For the horrible truth is dawning that it is not just that the EU has failed to deliver on its promises of prosperity and unity. By locking Greece and other EU countries into a failed economic experiment — the euro — it is now actively destroying wealth, stability and European solidarity.

The dangers of that process are all the more pronounced because Greece is in a highly strategic location. To the south lies the chaos and bloodshed of Libya; to the north lies the instability of the Balkans; to the east, an angry and resurgent Russia.
Knowing all this, the administration of Barack Obama is increasingly incredulous about the EU’s apparent willingness to let Greece fail. To some in Washington, it seems as if the Europeans have forgotten all the strategic lessons learnt during the cold war about the country’s importance.

That, however, is unfair to the Europeans. Their response to the criticism from Washington is that the EU works only because it is a community of laws and mutual obligations. If you allow a country such as Greece to flout those laws and obligations — by, for example, reneging on its debts — then the club will begin to disintegrate anyway. If, by contrast, you kick Greece out there is still a chance of confining the damage to one country.

The crisis also has profound implications for democracy, the original rallying point that drew Greece into the EU more than three decades ago. Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister, now argues that far from securing Greek democracy, the EU has become its enemy, trampling on the will of the people.

In reality, of course, this is a clash of democratic mandates — pitting Greek voters’ desire to ditch austerity against the voters (and taxpayers) of other EU countries, who want to see their loans repaid and are loath to let an unreformed Greece continue to benefit from EU money.

It may be that those two democratic wills can be painfully reconciled in next Sunday’s referendum. If the Greek people vote to accept the demands of their EU creditors — demands that their government has just rejected — Greece may yet stay inside both the euro and the EU. But it will be a decision by a cowed and sullen nation. Greece would still be a member of the EU. But its European dream will have died.

US Should Not Negotiate Free Trade Behind Closed Doors

global tradeMy Comments: Recently I was reminded that I appear to have strong opinions. This is usually accompanied by a rolling of the eyes, and to which I now hang my head, but without shame. On this topic, I’ve not had an opinion worth talking about until now. I hate it when people bitch and moan but can’t be bothered to offer an alternative which might be an improvement. (See GOP arguments against the Affordable Care Act)

Since I don’t have a visceral dislike of Barack Obama and voted for him twice, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt when he talks about the need for and benefits of the Trans Pacific Parnership or TPP. If he says it will be good for the US, I’m inclined to believe him.

But I’m also not inclined to ignore the push being made by the likes of Robert Reich, of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. I think of them as credible advocates for what is in our best interests going forward.

We do need trade deals to keep the US current with what is happening globally in the 21st century. And we need to make sure that they are focused first on what is best for you and I as citizens America and not just what is best for corporate America. Since the Supreme Court has declared that corporations are people, then it seems reasonable that we not be discriminated against just because our pockets are not as deep.

The TPP needs a new start with full transparency since, in my opinion, the idea is valid and NOT a total waste of time.

Mark Wu / May 26, 2015 / The Financial Times

Many Americans who think free trade can be good for them nevertheless doubt whether the same can be said for the international trade agreements that are actually being written, often in conditions of secrecy.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement that the US is negotiating with 11 Pacific Rim countries, is a case in point. Beyond the few paragraphs on the White House website, most Americans have little idea what it contains. Even members of Congress have to go to a secure room in the basement to read the latest negotiating text.

The White House argues that a period of secrecy is necessary, to afford negotiators flexibility to cut deals. Once we have an agreement, officials say, there will be plenty of time for the public to debate its merits — and Congress can reject it. Yet sceptics are not convinced; last week Democratic lawmakers tried to prevent the Senate from so much as discussing a law that would give President Barack Obama broad authority to negotiate a deal.

It does not help that some Americans have greater insight into what is happening than others. The US trade representative consults with about 700 people while negotiations are in progress; most are from the private sector. This advisory system fuels fears that trade deals benefit corporate interests at the expense of ordinary Americans.

As a former trade negotiator, I know that so-called trade promotion authority and some degree of secrecy is vital for getting a deal done. But the current level of secrecy may be going too far. Instead of dismissing critics as misguided, the White House should strike a better balance between retaining flexibility for negotiators and keeping the public informed during the process.

Here are three proposals — developed with my colleague John Stubbs, a former senior adviser to the USTR — that would help restore this balance.

First, the administration should provide better accounts of US negotiating objectives. The EU does this already, publishing a two-page summary of its aims for each chapter of a trade deal, and sometimes releases its own negotiation proposals. By contrast, the USTR publishes only a terse paragraph for each chapter. It should be more forthcoming.

Second, the government should release information about proposals under consideration, provided our negotiating counterparts agree. It should solicit public comments on contentious proposals (there is no need to say which government put forward which proposal). This provides a mechanism to seek input from the broader public, rather than just select advisory group officials.

Finally, government reports of the economic benefits and losses associated with trade deals depend heavily on economic models. While the final reports of government economists are made public, the data and assumptions underlying these models often are not. Why not make that information available as well? Outside experts can re-run the model to show how the economic effects change under different conditions.

None of these proposals would hamper the ability of trade negotiators to do their jobs. Yet all three can help erase worries that the government is hiding something, and restore trust that deals are being negotiated in the broader public interest.

Outdated trade rules need to be revised. But America’s process for formulating trade policy is outdated, too. Citizens should be able to make informed decisions over whether a deal allows Americans to share broadly in the gains from trade. Supporters of trade deals need to realise that they too need to support greater transparency, if they are to rebuild a broader coalition in favour of trade.

America Could Have Been One Giant Sweden — Instead It Looks a Lot Like the Soviet Union

My Comments: This is a long, uncomfortable article that predicts how the world might evolve economically and politically over the next several decades.

My generation will have passed on soon, but regardless of your political stripes today, it will be different. If you want to take back America, or at least preserve what we have, you had better get in touch with your socialist side. Either that, or kiss your basic freedoms goodbye. Life simply does not stand still; never has and never will.

By John Feffer / May 26, 2015

Imagine an alternative universe in which the two major Cold War superpowers evolved into the United Soviet Socialist States. The conjoined entity, linked perhaps by a new Bering Straits land bridge, combines the optimal features of capitalism and collectivism. From Siberia to Sioux City, we’d all be living in one giant Sweden. It sounds like either the paranoid nightmare of a John Bircher or the wildly optimistic dream of Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, however, this was a rather conventional view, at least among influential thinkers like economist John Kenneth Galbraith who predicted that the United States and the Soviet Union would converge at some point in the future with the market tempered by planning and planning invigorated by the market. Like many an academic notion, it didn’t come to pass. The United States veered off in the direction of Reaganomics. And the Soviet Union eventually collapsed. So much for “convergence theory,” which like EST or cold fusion went the way of most crackpot ideas.

Or did it? Take another look at our world in 2015 and tell me if, somehow we haven’t backed our way through the looking glass into that very alternative universe — with a twist. The planet currently seems to be on the cusp of a decidedly unharmonic convergence.

Consider what’s happening in Russia, where an elected autocrat presides over a free market shaped by a powerful state apparatus. Similarly, China’s mash-up of market Leninism offers a one-from-column-A-and-one-from-Column-B combination platter. Both countries are also rife with crime, corruption, growing inequality, and militarism. Think of them as the un-Swedens.

Nor do such hybrids live only in the East. Hungary, a member of the European Union and a key post-Communist adherent to liberalism, has been heading off in an altogether different direction since its ruling Fidesz party took over in 2010. Last July, its prime minister, Viktor Orban, declared that he no longer looks to the West for guidance.

To survive in an ever more competitive global economy, Orban is seeking inspiration from various hybrid powers, the other un-Swedens of our planet: Turkey, Singapore, and both Russia and China. Touting the renationalization of former state assets and stricter controls on foreign investment, he has promised to remake Hungary into an “illiberal state” that both challenges laissez-faire principles and concentrates power in the leader and his party.

The United States is not exactly immune from such trends. The state has also become quite illiberal here as its reach and power have been expanded in striking ways. As it happens, however, America’s Gosplan, our state planning committee, comes with a different name: the military-industrial-homeland-security complex. Washington presides over a planet-spanning surveillance system that would have been the envy of the Communist apparatchiks of the previous century, even as it has imposed a global economic template on other countries that enables enormous corporate entities to elbow aside local competition. If the American tradition of liberalism and democracy was once all about “the little guy” — the rights of the individual, the success of small business — the United States has gone big in the worst possible way.
CONTINUE-READING

What It Means to Be a Liberal

CharityMy Comments: I no longer make any apologies for being liberal. It does not mean I cannot embrace positions held by conservatives, but on balance, I see myself as being a liberal.

As much as anything, I identify this way as I refuse to live in the past. As I age, I have a longer past and while much of it was fantastic, it’s gone. I can only live in the present, and with diminished energy and time, want to spend it building a better future for my family and my community.

I’m convinced that attempting to replicate the “good” things in the past serves mostly to prove the idea that “bad” things come in 3’s. Yes, learn from the past, but for me, liberal means focusing time and energy on developing the conditions around us that will likely benefit ALL OF US. Sure, there will be mistakes. But in my capacity as a financial planner, I often use the phrase “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.” Life is incredibly interesting, and if I have a regret, it will be that I won’t be here fifty years from now to see how it all plays out.

Aug 24, 2014 / By Clive Crook

You might wonder if there’s any point in even trying to define liberalism. Efforts to do so seem bound to fail. From the start, its meaning has been elusive and in flux. Today, no right-thinking person is against “liberal democracy,” and we mostly take “liberal capitalism” for granted — yet conservative Americans use “liberal” as a term of abuse and many left-leaning Americans would rather be called “progressives.”

It’s tempting to say that “liberalism” no longer means anything. This would be wrong. According to Edmund Fawcett’s new book, “Liberalism: The Life of an Idea.” Fawcett, a former colleague at the Economist, examines liberalism through time not as a fixed coherent ideology but as “a practice guided by four loose ideas”: acceptance of conflict, resistance to power, belief in progress and civic respect. This is a novel approach, and it turns out to be very rewarding. Fawcett has written a marvelous book.

He steers the reader through a fascinating historical survey of liberalism’s leading practitioners — meaning the thinkers and politicians who were guided, to a greater or lesser degree, by the four ideas. He ranges far beyond the usual cast of British and American principals. Indeed, his erudition would be daunting if he didn’t write with such verve. “Liberalism” isn’t an easy read, but it’s a pleasure.

Fawcett’s organizing bundle of four beliefs or attitudes is surprising at first sight because of what it seems to leave out. What about liberty? That’s where most accounts of liberalism start, and where a lot of them finish.

Fawcett explains why liberty doesn’t get you far in explicating liberalism: “Just about every modern rival to liberalism has claimed to stand somehow on the side of liberty.” (The Nazi Party’s charter program of 1920, he notes, called for “Germany’s rebirth in the German spirit of German Liberty.”) It doesn’t help that liberals can’t agree on what “liberty” is: Would that be negative liberty (“freedom from”), positive liberty (“freedom to”) or something else? The notion that liberty is the foundational goal from which liberals derive all the rest doesn’t wash, either. (For many liberals, equality counts at least as much.)

What, then, do liberals want when they say they want liberty? One thing is resistance to power, the second of Fawcett’s guiding ideas: not just political power, but economic and social power as well. Liberalism expects that power tends toward tyranny unless checked. Another thing liberals want when they say they want liberty is respect for people in their own right — also one of Fawcett’s guiding ideas. “Once embraced democratically, respect for people as such forbade power from excluding anyone from the circle of liberal protection.” He calls this “the democratic seed in an otherwise undemocratic creed.”

The practice of liberalism was also guided by the idea that social harmony was impossible. Goals were bound to conflict, but this disharmony could be channeled into competition, argument and exchange, which would make it a strength, not a weakness. Finally, liberal optimism and the liberal reading of history inclined practitioners to the view that change was both inevitable and, on the whole, for the better.

The four ideas are complementary in some respects and in contention in others. Liberals have always argued, and probably always will, about the weight that each idea should be given in relation to the rest, but it’s been a strength of the practice of liberalism that no one idea has been permanently granted preeminence. Of course, one of the guiding ideas — that intellectual conflict is inevitable — predicts that very outcome. Liberals exemplify it by arguing with each other, as well as with nonliberals and anti-liberals.

Fawcett’s four guiding ideas lend what could have been a sprawl of biographical sketches and wide-ranging intellectual history a satisfying and intelligible shape. What’s better, the more you think about them, the more sense they make.

In particular, they help you to see what liberalism isn’t. As Fawcett says, “The twentieth century was generous to liberalism with two defining Others, fascism and communism.”

Conflict over goals? Both insisted on a false unity. Resistance to power? Fascism exalted the power of nation and race, communism the power of the proletariat. Belief in progress? Sure, but they defined it in terms that excluded outsiders. Civic respect? If you opposed the program, you were worthless. Communism “was an extremism of hope, fascism an extremism of hate. They were nevertheless alike enough on those four counts to provide liberalism with a captivating image of itself in negative.”

Sadly, however, it isn’t true to say, “We’re all liberals now.” There is no lack of rival systems: state capitalism, militant Islam, elected autocracy, outright dictatorship. All of those, in different ways, reject one or more of the guiding ideas of liberalism. And anti-liberal strains of thinking are all too apparent in the U.S. and other liberal societies. Nonetheless, there is such a thing as liberal society, and liberalism really is a big enough tent to accommodate progressive liberals as well as Tea Party liberals.

Family quarrels can be bitter — but they’re still family quarrels.

Iraq’s Least Worst Options

asstooheavyMy Comments: If I had to personally make definitive decisons about the US role in the middle east, I have absolutely no idea what would be in our best interest. That’s why they don’t pay ME the big bucks.

But history has made us the world’s only policeman. Since I have no idea about what I’ll have for lunch tomorrow, knowing how any definitive decision will play out is also an unknown. You might have a clue, but you do not “KNOW”.

I’m willing to accept that Bush and/or Cheney had “honest” reasons for taking us into Iraq. If the reasons WERE “honest”, however, then their judgement as leaders is seriously in question. There was either bad judgment or their reasons were “dishonest”.

Today, the self styled Islamic caliphate called ISIS needs to be destoyed to the extent possible. But short of killing hundreds of thousands of people, military action is not going to do much good. The ones we don’t kill will be permanently pissed off, further jeopardizing our men and women and our future treasury. Money can be replaced, but not lives.

So I worry about it. But I don’t want to condemn or praise those seeking higher office today because they might have voted differently. What’s done is done. I’d much rather worry about what is in our best interest as a nation going forward.

The other evening I witnessed a fascinating dialog between Barney Frank and Chris Hayes. The conclusion I heard was an agreement that from time to time, intervention IS in our best interest and should be made. On the other hand, in hindsight, invading Iraq was a mistake.

Virtually all the “candidates” in the GOP fail to answer the basic questions posed to them about what we did in Iraq. Their confused answers means they are simply not ready for prime time. They had to have rehearsed their possible answers and yet still came across like deer caught in the headlights. Surely we can do better than that.

“If we want to defeat ISIS, we are going to have to accept some outcomes we don’t like.”   By Fred Kaplan / May 19 2015

The fall of Ramadi, the strategic center of Iraq’s Anbar province, doesn’t necessarily signal the triumph of ISIS, but it does mean that President Obama and various regional leaders can no longer dodge some uncomfortable choices.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s decision to let 3,000 Shiite militia men amass outside Ramadi to prevent ISIS from moving further eastward toward Baghdad (and even possibly charging into the conquered city to battle the jihadists head-on) is the clearest sign yet that there is no longer a viable Iraqi army. Its ranks have been whittled away by corruption, incompetence, sparse pay, and lack of allegiance to the Baghdad government.

Obama and his top generals have warned Abadi not to rely so heavily on Shiite militias, which are controlled by Iran. In the battle for Tikrit in March—in which ISIS forces were ousted by a coalition of Iraqi soldiers, Sunni militias, Shiite militias, Kurdish peshmerga, and U.S. bombing runs—American commanders threatened to withhold their air power unless the offensive was led by Iraqi soldiers and no Iranians were on the battlefield. The players complied (though they still quarrel over which faction was responsible for the victory).

But in Ramadi, where Iraqi troops and Sunni militias swiftly folded under fire, the pretense won’t hold. Shiite militias, mainly the Badr forces, will lead the way by default, and Obama will have to decide whether to hold back, out of some principle, or hold his nose and send in the smart bombs.

Before deciding what to do about Ramadi, Obama—or any other leader with a stake in the fight—first has to decide what outcome he prefers. Since all plausible outcomes are lousy, this means deciding which outcome sickens him the least.

Obama and the leaders of every nation in the region want to see ISIS crushed or contained. But they’ve gone about it half-heartedly because they dread the side effects of doing it with gusto. ISIS is as strong as it is, only because its leaders know and exploit its foes’ dilemmas.

For instance, one potent way of fighting ISIS would be to energize and unify the armies of Iran, Turkey, Syria, and the Kurds. These are the forces that fear ISIS the most and could fight it most effectively. But there are serious obstacles to forming this alliance. The United States and the Sunnis in the region (including Turkey, the Kurds, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf States) do not want to help Iran expand its influence. Nor do they want to bolster Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria; in fact, they want to see Assad toppled (preferably by the U.S. military, so they don’t have to bother). Meanwhile, the Turks don’t want to let the Kurds swell with too much swagger.

Finally, ISIS itself is a Sunni organization; it has thrived, especially in Iraq, by co-opting local Sunni tribes, whose leaders fear domination by Shiites (including Iraq’s Shiite-led government) even more. To beat ISIS requires neutralizing its sectarian appeal, and that means driving a wedge between the ISIS jihadists and their less militant Sunni enablers. But a coalition that includes Iran or Syria might push Sunnis more firmly into ISIS’s corner—and might keep such Sunni-led nations as Turkey, the Gulf States, and Saudi Arabia from joining the alliance to begin with.

Analysts have noted that mobilizing Shiite militias to fight ISIS in Ramadi would intensify sectarian tensions. This is true, but every option that involves fighting ISIS would intensify sectarian tensions. The real question is which options stand a chance of hurting ISIS the most while sharpening sectarian tensions the least. Or, from the standpoint of the United States and the anti-ISIS leaders in the region: Which options might hurt ISIS the most while raising the specter of side effects—the expansion of Iranian influence, the swelling of Kurdish separatism, the bolstering of Assad’s regime—the least?

A more basic question: How would these leaders rank the range of outcomes, including “ISIS wins,” “Iran controls southern Iraq,” “Assad survives,” “Assad is overthrown” (but by whom?), and the rest? Which outcomes are intolerable, which are merely disgraceful, and could the leaders live with some of the latter in order to preclude the former?

“Assad survives” is probably the biggest nonstarter, not least because he may be on the verge of falling. One word from President Vladimir Putin or Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Assad would be gone. The challenge is to give Putin or Khamenei an incentive to pull the plug. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent meeting with Putin in Sochi was held, in part, to explore possible terms of such an arrangement. The handshake must have been unpleasant, maybe even disgraceful, but if it leads to the ouster of Assad, which in turn would prod the Turks and Saudis to crack down harder on ISIS, it would have been worth the nausea.

The Middle East is a mess—the product, in part, of the post–Cold War disintegration of borders that were imposed by colonial powers nearly 100 years ago in the wake of World War I. The rise of ISIS, its ability to thrive even though it’s surrounded by powerful nations that dread its aspirations, is a symptom of this mess.

Those who believe that Obama caused these troubles, or that they can be solved by a few thousand American ground troops, are so naive and shallow that we can only hope that none of them wins the White House or advises the candidate who does. For one thing, “a few thousand ground troops,” in fact, means many more: They would need air support (including transport planes and helicopters), bases, supply convoys, and a headquarters, plus additional troops to protect the troops, bases, convoys, and headquarters.

For another, what are these troops supposed to do? And which would have the larger effect—the additional firepower that they could bring to bear against ISIS or the additional recruits that ISIS could rally to kill Americans in the name of jihad?

Logistics, intelligence, airstrikes to help local anti-ISIS forces on the ground—this is what the United States can best offer. Officers and analysts on the ground say that airstrikes terrify many ISIS fighters, who tend to attack in swarms, which provide concentrated targets for a bomb. These sources confirm a report in the New York Times that ISIS launched its crucial attack on Ramadi during a major sandstorm, when pilots (of airplanes or drones) could not have seen its movements on the ground below.

But even in clear weather, airstrikes alone aren’t sufficient. ISIS mingles with the locals (in some cases, they are the locals), making it hard for pilots to distinguish friends (or neutral innocents) from foes. Ground assaults are needed, too—by other locals, who are more likely to speak the language, understand the situation, and wrest away the allegiance of those in the ISIS’s grip or sway.

ISIS isn’t that mighty. It apparently took control of Ramadi with 400 fighters. The surrounding nations could easily rid the region of this gnatlike pestilence if they overrode their short-term fears with their long-term interests. This is easier said than done, of course. But there is no other solution.