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Q: Is the Obama Administration Complicit With Slavery? A: Yes

[ 51 ] July 16, 2015 |


Above: A jawbone discovered at a Malaysian human trafficking site

The more one looks into the Obama administration’s reclassification of Malaysia in its human trafficking index, the more disturbed one gets. Malaysia openly engages in widespread human trafficking. This is technically illegal in Malaysia but Kuala Lumpur does nothing to stop it. Meanwhile, the U.S. government does nothing about it in its negotiations with Malaysia because that nation is so key to Obama’s cherished Trans-Pacific Partnership. The situation has not improved. The Obama administration knows this. And yet its response is to know push for a system that would create meaningful regulations or standards for Malaysia to crack down. The response is simply a meaningless change in classification that does absolutely nothing to fight Malaysian slave labor. I understand that all administrations have to balance a number of morally dubious options at times and make tough choices. But with the TPP, Obama has made decisions that hurts workers on three continents in order to assist American corporations. Both the American and Vietnamese labor movements actively oppose the TPP, while workers without voices such as trafficked labor in Malaysia are completely left powerless through this agreement.

And who are these exploited workers? They are mostly migrants, many from Myanmar and Cambodia and many tribal peoples from around the region who have found their ways undermined by increasingly powerful centralized governments who want to crush their traditional lives. They are often promises jobs in relatively wealthier nations like Malaysia and Thailand and then forced into slavery, where they are often held in cages when they are not working or murdered in lieu of payment.

In the 19th century North, as well as Britain, much of the industrial economy was fueled on slavery in the American South. There, northern industrial investors relied on cotton picked by slave labor in the South. Such a situation was not necessary to expand the northern economy and there were plenty of other labor systems that could have led to cotton entering northern textile mills. But the South was deeply invested in a system of chattel slavery and so long as the money was coming in, many northerners didn’t care. While on a trans-national rather than national scale, this is not so different than the relationship between American companies and southeast Asia today. Several industries rely heavily on trafficked labor. If you are buying frozen shrimp from Walmart, you can pretty much assume slave or extremely exploitative labor systems have produced that in southeast Asia. Yet Walmart does not care. Its executives are the 21st century version of those 19th century pro-slavery industrialists. And the Obama Administration is facilitating the don’t ask don’t tell employment policies of modern capitalism that allow companies like Walmart to take advantage of this human trafficking without having to know too much.

I’m not saying the situations are precisely analogous–obviously there is a big difference between the moral universe of Obama and, say, Franklin Pierce. And there is a difference between chattel slavery as a central feature of the American republic and human trafficking happening in isolated parts of the modern U.S. trade empire. But however he convinced himself to do so, Obama made the decision that he could live with a certain level of human trafficking to get this trade deal passed. And given that said trade deal is terrible for workers at home and abroad, it’s hard to see the moral complexity of that decision. It just seems morally bankrupt. And it makes President Obama complicit with global slavery.

There are Democrats fighting the reclassification of Malaysia for TPP reasons. Robert Menendez is leading this and while I usually have a lot of disdain for Menendez, he’s certainly right on this.

But Menendez and other critics are calling on Congress and the State Department’s inspector general to investigate any move that promotes Malaysia from the lowest level in the U.S. government’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report.

He said promoting Malaysia would be “a cynical maneuver to get around the clear intent of Congress.”

“They put extra time on the clock for Malaysia to put some promises on paper — we don’t know for sure what they plan to count as progress — instead of taking the time for Malaysia to demonstrate some real action,” Menendez told reporters.

Any undermining of the report is an “incredibly dangerous proposition as it relates to our ability to promote our efforts globally against human trafficking,” he added.

The State Department says the TPP debate won’t affect Malaysia’s grade in the trafficking report.

Oh yeah, I really believe the State Department on this one…. David Dayen:

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that the State Department would, at the bidding of the White House, undermine the integrity of a report that shames countries’ indifference to slavery within their borders. But it’s a complete perversion of the logical steps America normally takes to impact other countries’ human rights records. Instead of hitting them with sanctions until they improve — Tier 3 status can lead to withholding of foreign aid — the administration is instead granting Malaysia trade benefits and then hoping for more influence once they’re inside the trading regime. It looks nakedly political, a reward for Malaysia’s involvement in TPP.

Plus, these slaves produce the very goods that would get duty-free access to U.S. markets under the TPP. Forced labor is reportedly high in the agriculture, electronics and textile industries in Malaysia, yet the United States is apparently willing to overlook that to complete the trade deal. So consumers like you and me who unwittingly buy things made in Malaysia could be implicated in the slave trade as well.

Yes it makes sense for Dayen to use the same sort of argument that abolitionists used in the mid-19th century over the implication of everyday consumers in that system of slavery, for our nation has become complicit in a different form of slavery today. Just because that slavery exists far out of our sight does not mean that we aren’t complicit; plus, given media and transportation technologies, we can probably know as many details about modern Malaysia today as the average New Hampshire resident of 1850 could know about Mississippi.

This is the kind of issue that can have some pull with pro-free trade Democrats like Ron Wyden and Patty Murray since they are generally progressive people who do believe in human rights. Is it enough to pull their support away from the TPP? I doubt it, especially since at this point the treaty just need an up or down vote when it is concluded.

Along with his education policy, the Trans Pacific Partnership is the biggest demerit in a progressive evaluation of Obama’s administration. In promoting this policy, he has undermined the American labor movement, made it harder for the world’s population to have access to affordable medicines, undercut workers in the Pacific Basin fighting for their own rights, and reinforced slavery and forced labor in southeast Asia. The corporations are thrilled of course, but Obama has done wrong here, up to the point of being complicit with slavery. Even his greatest defenders must recognize his terrible position on these issues of great moral import.


On Credibility

[ 32 ] July 16, 2015 |

Well, this is just fine and fucking dandy:

This work will take some time. There will be a moment when Iran has dismantled a multibillion-dollar nuclear investment and faces a multibillion-dollar price tag to rebuild it. Exactly how long that moment will last is difficult to say. As part of the agreement, Iran will retain a considerable nuclear infrastructure and will continue to enrich uranium with its remaining centrifuges. The unfreezing of as much as $100 billion of Iranian assets worldwide will provide Iranian officials with new resources. Still, for some period of months, the prospect of the nuclear deal failing will be very frightening for the country’s rulers. Much of their old nuclear program will be gone, their new program won’t yet have been built, and their cash infusion will only have just begun.

 During that period, a new president may be able to press Iran to renegotiate the Obama deal’s worst terms, especially its weak inspection provisions.

So to sum up, Frum proposes waiting until Iran has made credible commitments to holding to the agreement, then taking advantage of Iran’s vulnerability to change the terms of the deal to the advantage of the United States.  Iran, facing a even worse status quo, will then become more pliable with respect to issues beyond its nuclear program.

There’s a hard headed realism to the idea! And from Frum’s point of view, it has the advantage of enraging Iran for the next several generations, and consequently poisoning any attempted rapprochement. Hardliners in Iran will love it, as it would confirm every prediction they’ve made about American perfidy.

But then sadly, the United States and Iran are not the only parties to the agreement.  That the US has managed to hold together a negotiating coalition that includes China and Russia for this long is nothing short of a miracle.  China and Russia are on board because they value keeping the nuclear club small, as long as they’re part of that club.  But the P5+1 had held together because Moscow and Beijing believe that the United States is negotiating in good faith.  If the US extravagantly demonstrates that it is negotiating in bad faith, the coalition will not hold together, the sanctions will not “snap back,” and both Russia and China will resume arms exports to Iran in zero time flat.  In short, the notional President Walker/Bush/Rubio/Trump that Frum seems to be envisioning will not actually have the power of Darth Vader; he cannot unilaterally alter the terms of the deal, then simply tell the Iranians to “pray that I don’t alter it further.”

Another point: Along with a few others, I’ve made a lot of fun over the years of the “credibility fairy,” the idea that if the United States just demonstrated sufficient toughness, it could resolve most world problems by frightening the rogues into line. “Credibility” is the last refuge of the neocon who can’t figure out how to solve a problem, or why a particular policy is failing.  What’s interesting here is the clarity that Frum is providing with respect to how he understands the definition of “credibility.”  It does not mean “a commitment to following through on the agreements that the United States has made,” which we might understand to be a conventional understanding of the term.  It does mean “a willingness to blast the hell out of anyone, at any time.” For my own part I’m somewhat skeptical of the importance of credibility defined in either way, but I find it much easier to believe that the first matters more for the long-term foreign policy success of the United States than the second.

The Struggle of Female Carpenters

[ 17 ] July 16, 2015 |


The systematic sexism inherent in most American work is particularly strong in the building trades, where sexism, work tradition, and popular perception all combine to make women a rare sight to see. Such is the case with being a carpenter:

Ask why so few carpenters are women and the answer is almost always the same: There aren’t enough resources to let women know they can be carpenters, let alone to help them stay in the industry.

“The industry doesn’t market these opportunities to women. Women don’t know anything about them,” Vellinga says. “They don’t know what these jobs entail. They don’t know how much they pay. They don’t know why they should be interested in these jobs. So most apprenticeship programs get very small numbers of female candidates.”

Chicago Women in Trades runs technical opportunities programs to help women understand basic construction skills, such as how to recognize tools and read blueprints, which they can use to secure apprenticeships in trades of their choosing. Run by unions, apprenticeships are the cornerstone of careers in the trades. During that time, apprentices earn a fraction of the salary they’ll receive once they are certified as journeymen. In return, apprentices are recognized as union members, take classes at the union school and receive on-the-job training through working with contractors at construction sites.

At least, that’s what happens in theory. While interest among women in high-paying trades jobs is on the rise—Vellinga reports that her organization’s program orientations sometimes draw over 150 women—few would-be female carpenters actually make it through their apprenticeships to become journeymen, in part because they face harassment and poor treatment.

According to National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health studies, 41 percent of women construction workers endure gender harassment. Ten percent have had their work vandalized, and another 10 percent have faced physical threats. They rarely report this abuse to their supervisors.

“There is that culture of, ‘This is where tough people come to work. And women shouldn’t be here, but since you are, you gotta be tough too,’” explains Lorien Barlow, a New York City-based filmmaker who’s spent the past two years working on a documentary about tradeswomen across the country. “If you do complain, you’ll be seen as the whiner, or the hysterical woman or the one who’s just looking to sue someone for money.”

Just one of many examples of continued sexism in the work force, which does is not an important enough issue in political discourse.

It’s also worth noting that the United Brotherhood of Carpenters has done a decent job in recent years of promoting women in the workforce. Whether that’s really accepted by the rank and file member may be another story.

Operation Jade Helm 15: Life in Obama-occupied Texas

[ 45 ] July 16, 2015 |

I have a reporter embedded in Dallas, and it doesn’t look good for America, people.

How to be a Hack, “Nixon Was a Liberal!” Edition

[ 397 ] July 16, 2015 |


Our friend Freddie deBoer is self-immolating today, and since better people than I are on it I’d rather talk about this gem unearthed by a commenter:

Obama is to the right of Richard Nixon irl

We’ve discussed this before, but I’m not sure there’s any better illustration that someone 1)considers themselves very sophisticated about politics and 2)has absolutely no idea what they’re talking about that this particular bit of truthiness. Fortunately, Elizabeth Drew has a good corrective to this nonsense in a recent Atlantic, but let’s respond to Freddie’s attempts to defend this silliness with the tl; dr version:

Check their records in domestic policy.

Ok. I see some environmental legislation that passed with massive veto-proof majorities despite Nixon’s contemptuous indifference to the subject. I see the Clean Water Act passing over his veto. I also see Nixon vetoing a bill aiding the unemployed and local services, a pay equity bill, a minimum wage bill, and a bill creating a national day care system. On the other hand, I see on the one hand Barack Obama signing the most progressive package of legislation since Johnson with razor-thin margins to work with in Congress, and I also see him vetoing zero progressive bills. When Richard Nixon got his first choice he nominated Warren Burger, William Rehnquist, and Lewis Powell to the Supreme Court; Obama nominated Elana Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. So, in short, I see that anyone claiming that Nixon is to Obama’s left on domestic policy is revealing their own massive cluelessness.

Check their preferences on health care.

Nixon’s preference on health care was “to do nothing.” We can see this from the fact that he was working with a Congress well to his left and nothing came close to passing. The fact that Republicans can offer decoy fans and various country-fried rubes will take the plans as sincere expressions of Republican policy preferences while presenting themselves as tough-minded leftists will never cease to be hilarious.

I don’t claim to know what precise health care reform Barack Obama would favor in a parliamentary system, but I do know that he succeeded in getting comprehensive health care reform passed where presidents since Truman have failed. Also note the utter idiocy of the methodology of comparing empty position statements with actual statutes. If one takes this logic seriously, Obama would be more left-wing if he had held out for single payer and gotten nothing. This is just remarkably dumb. (And, of course, even the people making this argument don’t take it seriously — the response to such a result would not be “you have to respect Obama’s lefty purism!” but “the failure of the Senate to bring the bill to a vote proves that Obama really didn’t want it.”)

Check their relationship to the social safety net

Asked and answered above. Obama signed a comprehensive health care reform bill that, among other things, included a massive expansion of Medicaid. Nixon — did no such thing, but he did veto a proposed expansion of the safety net.

I dunno, maybe one reason Ta-Nehisi Coates is a much more widely respected writer is that his political writing tends not only to be highly insightful but also tends to avoid massive howlers.

Wisconsin Legislative Priorities

[ 44 ] July 15, 2015 |


Take $250 million from the University of Wisconsin, give $250 million to the owners of the Milwaukee Bucks to build a new arena.


[ 14 ] July 15, 2015 |

“BPC Dixmude” by Simon Ghesquiere/Marine Nationale – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In my latest for the National Interest, I make the case that it’s in just about everyone’s national interest to facilitate the transfer of the two Mistral-class amphibs, intended for Russia, to Brazil:

Brazil could use a pair of Mistral-class amphibious assault ships. Fortuitously, a pair just came on the market.

As has become well known, Russia contracted with France in 2009 to build a pair of Mistral-class amphibious assault ships in French yards. The French would then assist in the construction of two additional Mistrals in Russian yards, giving the Russians a chance to redevelop their skills at building large surface warships.

The Mistrals displace 21,000 tons, can make almost 19 knots, and can carry two-to-three dozen helicopters, in addition to small boats and a contingent of marines. They have advanced communication systems necessary for managing complex amphibious operations (the sophistication of this system was one of the sticking points in the export deal with Russia).

And I’m not the first person to think this way. I spoke with a Brazilian naval analyst this evening, and he suggested that there are some legal difficulties (the contracting with Russia makes it very difficult to resell this ships, as does the presence of Russian military equipment on board), but that one of the options under consideration might be to sell the older Mistrals (France has three), and convert the Russian ships to French service. But there are also obvious concerns about where the money would come from.

Not to Fan the Flames, or Anything…

[ 211 ] July 15, 2015 |

I’m just gonna leave this here.

Alice Goffman on the run

[ 212 ] July 15, 2015 |

on the run

That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly—Tom’s Aunt Polly, she is—and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.

Huckleberry Finn

This morning, a couple more pieces were published regarding the growing controversy over Alice Goffman’s much-lauded book On the Run.

Steve Lubet, who first raised serious questions about the book’s veracity, and was as far as I know also the first person to point out that On the Run ends with Goffman admitting to engaging in a conspiracy to commit murder, has an article in the New Republic that raises yet more questions about both issues. First, Lubet reveals further problems with Goffman’s reliability, in this instance surrounding her description of the death of her friend Chuck, whose murder makes up the book’s narrative and thematic climax:

To that point, Goffman’s version closely mirrors the police account of events. The Chinese restaurant in West Philadelphia, the head wound, the younger brother at the scene, the victim’s age and race, the downtown hospital, and the time of death all match. According to police reports, Chuck’s girlfriend was in his hospital room when detectives arrived in the morning, as she was in Goffman’s version. And another friend of Chuck’s was there as well.

But one person who wasn’t in the hospital room when the detectives arrived, according to the police reports, was Alice Goffman. Detective Francis Mullen, one of the lead investigators on the case that day, told me that they would have recorded the name, race, and gender of anyone who was in the hospital room—as they did for other individuals.

“I am 100 percent certain there was NOT a white female” there, he said in an email.

Goffman is adamant that she was by Chuck’s bedside when the detectives arrived. Asked about this discrepancy, Goffman said, “They were definitely in the room, and they were asking Chuck’s girlfriend questions while I was in the room. And they didn’t ask me any questions or say anything to me.”

The conflict between these narratives is of a piece with a lot of other things which anyone who decides to read the book critically will end up discovering. On the Run is full of inconsistencies, incongruities, improbable stories, and, in least a couple of cases, on their face impossibilities. I’m not going to go into these matters here, except to note that when someone points out one of these things in relative isolation, it can appear that the critic is making a mountain out of a mole hill. But there comes a point where a sufficient number of mole hills piled onto each other will begin to resemble a mountain, and by the end of the book On the Run has very much reached that point, as I will discuss elsewhere.

Second, Lubet points out that Goffman’s response to the claim that she admits to having committed a serious felony calls her overall reliability into further question:

Goffman has defended herself by asserting new facts that dramatically alter her narrative. In a response posted on her University of Wisconsin website earlier this year, Goffman writes that the manhunt was actually all a charade, a mourning ritual intended only to satisfy the “neighborhood’s collective desire for retribution.” While the name of Chuck’s killer was well known, “it was common knowledge in the neighborhood” that he “had fled,” she now states. The repeated nighttime searches were really just play acting. In her revised version, “Talk of retribution was just that: talk.”

But if it was all just a performance, why did she omit that crucial information from the book itself? Why did she instead tell us in such gripping detail that Mike kept his hand on his Glock during the drive and tucked the gun into his jeans as he lay in wait for the suspected 4th Street Boy? Why write about sitting in the car with the engine running, ready to speed off, if Goffman really believed there would be no violence?

I cannot really fault Goffman for changing her story about the events of those nights, given that the account in On the Run unequivocally implicates her in a felony—less serious because no one was shot, but no less criminal because the manhunt failed. And even if it had not been a crime, it was no less unethical and immoral to have risked the lives of her potential target and any innocent bystanders.

By belatedly absolving herself of participating in a murder plot, however, Goffman has admitted to another failing: putting drama ahead of the truth. She is asking readers to trust her. But how can we trust her if she has altered her story in ways that go well beyond simple anonymization?

Third, Lubet points out that Goffman omits to provide readers of On the Run the story of what happened to Chuck’s killers, which is a significant omission for reasons that his article makes clear. He also emphasizes that Goffman’s admitted conduct raises serious questions about the ethical obligations of social science researchers in general, and ethnographers in particular.

After reading Lubet’s article, Jesse Singal’s latest defense of Goffman in New York Magazine is pretty shocking. Singal comes off as both remarkably credulous in regard to Goffman’s veracity, and even more remarkably indifferent to her admitted averred conduct. As to the first issue, Singal’s explanation for the awkward circumstance that some of the stories Goffman relates as simple fact are both incredible on their face and impossible to verify is that she sometimes gets sloppy about distinguishing between things she’s been told by her informants and things she confirmed actually happened:

Given that there’s no evidence Goffman lied or intentionally embellished in On the Run, the most likely explanation for these discrepancies is that she simply didn’t heed her own advice about credulously echoing sources’ stories; it might be that important details about how these events unfolded got lost along the way.

There are a couple of big problems with this defense, such as it is:

(1) It would obviously be a huge breach of both basic journalistic and academic norms to present dubiously sourced or completely unsourced stories as representing incontrovertible fact, yet Goffman does just this in On the Run on numerous occasions. Singal seems to overlook that one “important detail about how these events unfolded” that may have “got lost along the way” is whether these events actually happened at all, which is something that can be asked about a number of incidents in the book.

(2) In several instances, Goffman presents herself as an eyewitness to such incidents, which potentially implicates a much more serious breach of academic and journalistic norms than reporting a poorly sourced story in a misleadingly credulous way (which is not meant to minimize the seriousness of lapses of the latter sort).

Singal simply glides over the distinction between (1) and (2), even though in at least one instance Lubet has questioned directly whether Goffman actually witnesses something she claims to have seen (Apparently, Singal doesn’t consider his own inability to verify any aspect of that particular story, despite his attempts to do so, as evidence that Goffman may be lying).

As for the second issue, Singal appears to be completely unconcerned with either Goffman’s frank admission claim in On the Run that she participated on several several separate occasions in a conspiracy to commit murder, or with her unconvincing (to put it mildly) attempt to walk that story back.

All this leads to Singal’s conclusion that On the Run “is, at the very least, mostly true,” which is a rather astonishing standard to apply to a work of either scholarship or journalism.

Why Should Any Journalistic Standards Apply to Reproductive Freedom?

[ 175 ] July 15, 2015 |


I’m sure this version of heavily edited Candid Camera will turn out to be solid!

See also.

And the thing is, even if the video were honest it would be neither here nor there. The fact that something sounds gross isn’t actually a reason to ban something unless you think the practice of medicine should be eliminated entirely. Over to you, Justice Stevens.

How Corporations Blame Higher Prices on Minimum Wage Increases

[ 77 ] July 15, 2015 |


Above: The Chipotle CEO business model

This is a good discussion on the bogus connection between higher minimum wages and higher prices. The real issue leading to higher prices are CEO salaries and corporate profit margins, not a slightly higher minimum wage.

Chipotle is just the latest company in the city to claim labor costs as the reason for price hikes. It sounds logical. Wages go up 10%, prices of menu items go up 10%. It’s fair, right? But Chipotle co-CEOs Steve Ells and Monty Moran’s earnings in 2014 were $28.9m and $28.2m, respectively. Ells also brought in around $42m in stock options in 2014, yet prices must go up because the lowest paid workers received a $1 raise? This is yet more evidence that executive pay and corporate profit margins must be maintained, at the expense of minimum wage workers.

It doesn’t make sense considering Chipotle’s growth in both sales and profits over the past year. The company saw a 47.6% increase in profits to $122.6m, while sales were up 20.4%, to $1.09bn. Yet, with the company wanting to maintain specific profit margins, prices go up, even when they don’t have to.

Ells and Moran saw their own personal pay increase 15% year-to-year, according to Chipotle’s own reporting – that’s millions of dollars – but sadly, minimum wage debates over the past year have highlighted how companies, from Chipotle to McDonald’s to Walmart, just can’t afford to give their workers a living wage.

Ells and Moran could easily have taken a pay cut, or frozen their income for the year, but instead Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold was clear about what the company wanted:

California, and San Francisco in particular, has a high cost of doing business. In San Francisco, for example, our occupancy costs are about double the Chipotle average as a percentage of sales, and our menu prices there are right around the average for Chipotle restaurants around the country, so increases to wages can have a greater impact than they might elsewhere.

Of course, people largely blame higher prices on lazy workers, supporting the CEOs destroying this country’s middle class in order to buy another ivory backscratcher.

More on Iran

[ 133 ] July 15, 2015 |



In stark contrast, the historic nuclear deal announced Tuesday in Vienna between the U.S. and its P5+1 partners and Iran demonstrates an alternative vision of the use of American power. It shows that our security and the security of our partners can be effectively advanced through multilateral diplomacy, and proves once again the importance of U.S. global leadership in addressing shared problems. Specifically, it achieves the central goal of blocking Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon by dramatically reducing its capacity to produce nuclear fuel (something which continued to expand even under tight international sanctions), and by putting Iran’s entire nuclear infrastructure under the most intensive inspections regime in history.

As a result of the deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency will have eyes on Iran’s nuclear program at every level: mining, procurement, production, enrichment, etc. Not only does this deep visibility create a deterrent to cheating, but it also means that, when the intensive inspection period expires years from now, the IAEA will possess far more detailed information and understanding of Iran’s program than any other in the world.

Beinart on the Green Lanternism of the deal’s opponents:

The actual alternatives to a deal, in other words, are grim. Which is why critics discuss them as little as possible. The deal “falls apart, and then what happens?” CBS’s John Dickerson asked House Majority Leader John Boehner on Sunday. “No deal is better than a bad deal,” Boehner replied. “And from everything that’s leaked from these negotiations, the administration has backed away from almost all of the guidelines that they set out for themselves.”

In other words, Boehner evaded the question. The only way to determine if a “bad deal” is worse than “no deal” is to consider the latter’s consequences. Which is exactly what Boehner refused to do. Instead, he changed the subject: Rather than comparing the agreement to the actual alternatives, he compared it to the objectives that the Obama administration supposedly outlined at the start of the talks.


When critics focus incessantly on the gap between the present deal and a perfect one, what they’re really doing is blaming Obama for the fact that the United States is not omnipotent. This isn’t surprising given that American omnipotence is the guiding assumption behind contemporary Republican foreign policy. Ask any GOP presidential candidate except Rand Paul what they propose doing about any global hotspot and their answer is the same: be tougher. America must take a harder line against Iran’s nuclear program, against ISIS, against Bashar al-Assad, against Russian intervention in Ukraine and against Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea.

If you believe American power is limited, this agenda is absurd. America needs Russian and Chinese support for an Iranian nuclear deal. U.S. officials can’t simultaneously put maximum pressure on both Assad and ISIS, the two main rivals for power in Syria today. They must decide who is the lesser evil. Accepting that American power is limited means prioritizing. It means making concessions to regimes and organizations you don’t like in order to put more pressure on the ones you fear most. That’s what Franklin Roosevelt did when allying with Stalin against Hitler. It’s what Richard Nixon did when he reached out to communist China in order to increase America’s leverage over the U.S.S.R.

Indeed, reading winger criticisms of the deal is like reading Trudy Lieberman-style criticism of the ACA. “But why didn’t Obama take the deal where Iran would dismantle every aspect of its nuclear program and have the current regime step down in favor of a leadership hand-selected by Dick Cheney and Benjamin Netanyahu in exchange for nothing? It would have happened with only a little more strength, resolution, and strong, resolute leadership.”

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