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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Obama, Ignatius, Cohen in Today's W Post / NY Times

Three important opinions about critical issues in today's W Post and NY Times. Barack Obama in W Post about his stimulus plan, David Ignatius in W Post and Roger Cohen in NY Times about the way US should approach Iran.

Barack Obama in W Post:

By now, it's clear to everyone that we have inherited an economic crisis as deep and dire as any since the days of the Great Depression. Millions of jobs that Americans relied on just a year ago are gone; millions more of the nest eggs families worked so hard to build have vanished. People everywhere are worried about what tomorrow will bring.

What Americans expect from Washington is action that matches the urgency they feel in their daily lives -- action that's swift, bold and wise enough for us to climb out of this crisis.

Because each day we wait to begin the work of turning our economy around, more people lose their jobs, their savings and their homes. And if nothing is done, this recession might linger for years. Our economy will lose 5 million more jobs. Unemployment will approach double digits. Our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.

That's why I feel such a sense of urgency about the recovery plan before Congress. With it, we will create or save more than 3 million jobs over the next two years, provide immediate tax relief to 95 percent of American workers, ignite spending by businesses and consumers alike, and take steps to strengthen our country for years to come.

This plan is more than a prescription for short-term spending -- it's a strategy for America's long-term growth and opportunity in areas such as renewable energy, health care and education. And it's a strategy that will be implemented with unprecedented transparency and accountability, so Americans know where their tax dollars are going and how they are being spent.

In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures; that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.

I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. They know that we have tried it those ways for too long. And because we have, our health-care costs still rise faster than inflation. Our dependence on foreign oil still threatens our economy and our security. Our children still study in schools that put them at a disadvantage. We've seen the tragic consequences when our bridges crumble and our levees fail.

Every day, our economy gets sicker -- and the time for a remedy that puts Americans back to work, jump-starts our economy and invests in lasting growth is now.

Now is the time to protect health insurance for the more than 8 million Americans at risk of losing their coverage and to computerize the health-care records of every American within five years, saving billions of dollars and countless lives in the process.

Now is the time to save billions by making 2 million homes and 75 percent of federal buildings more energy-efficient, and to double our capacity to generate alternative sources of energy within three years.

Now is the time to give our children every advantage they need to compete by upgrading 10,000 schools with state-of-the-art classrooms, libraries and labs; by training our teachers in math and science; and by bringing the dream of a college education within reach for millions of Americans.

And now is the time to create the jobs that remake America for the 21st century by rebuilding aging roads, bridges and levees; designing a smart electrical grid; and connecting every corner of the country to the information superhighway.

These are the actions Americans expect us to take without delay. They're patient enough to know that our economic recovery will be measured in years, not months. But they have no patience for the same old partisan gridlock that stands in the way of action while our economy continues to slide.

So we have a choice to make. We can once again let Washington's bad habits stand in the way of progress. Or we can pull together and say that in America, our destiny isn't written for us but by us. We can place good ideas ahead of old ideological battles, and a sense of purpose above the same narrow partisanship. We can act boldly to turn crisis into opportunity and, together, write the next great chapter in our history and meet the test of our time

David Ignatius in W Post:

Whom should President Obama appoint as his emissary to Iran, to take on what may be the most important diplomatic mission in decades? The right person (or persons) would have the stature and experience to engage Iran at the highest level -- and to explore what Obama in his inaugural address called a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

My nominees are Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, former national security advisers for Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, respectively. They would elevate the Iran mission, connecting it to the tradition of bipartisan strategic thinking that shaped America's role in the modern world. And, like our youthful new president, these two octogenarians understand the need for America to turn a page in its foreign policy and to connect with what Brzezinski has called a global political awakening.

I know Brzezinski's and Scowcroft's views about dialogue with Iran because I spent many days with them last spring, moderating a discussion that yielded a book, America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy.

The book was an experiment to see whether a prominent Democrat and a prominent Republican could find common ground for new approaches to the world. Indeed they did: On nearly every issue, from the Arab-Israeli dispute to the war in Afghanistan, the two had similar insights about how to use diplomacy better to align America with a changing world.

This willingness to embrace new ideas was especially clear when Brzezinski and Scowcroft talked about Iran. Both believed that the Bush administration's policy of isolating Iran -- and trying to dictate terms for negotiations about its nuclear program -- had been a mistake. Scowcroft argued that the United States had approached Iran emotionally, while Brzezinski said the administration had followed a self-defeating policy that simply perpetuates the existing difficulty.

In the book, I asked the two what message they would carry if the next president asked them to serve as joint emissaries to Iran.

Scowcroft replied that his brief to the Iranians would begin this way: First, that we're aware you live in a dangerous region, and we're prepared to discuss a regional security framework. . . . Second, whether or not you want nuclear weapons, you're proceeding on a course that psychologically destabilizes the whole region. It is dangerous. It will bring about a counterreaction. And let's work on this security framework. You don't need nuclear weapons.

Brzezinski said he agreed and added: The only way we can accomplish [mutual security] is by sitting together and figuring out some mechanism whereby you achieve what you say you want, which is a peaceful nuclear program, and we achieve what we need, which is a real sense of security that it's not going to go any further.

The two former national security advisers talked hopefully about engaging Tehran. But they are hardly of the gee-whiz school of foreign policy. Brzezinski advocated a military coup in 1978 to check the Muslim revolution; Carter rejected his advice. Scowcroft tilted toward Iraq until Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait; he then became the chief strategist of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Both men start from a realist's appreciation of Iranian power, but both believe that the Iranian challenge is best addressed by diplomacy.

The advantage of sending these two distinguished senior statesmen is that they would make it harder for the Iranians to play political games. Brzezinski and Scowcroft are part of what I call the great chain of being of American foreign policy. Their presence as emissaries would signal that engagement with Iran is a matter of the greatest seriousness to the United States, equivalent to their predecessor Henry Kissinger's secret diplomacy with China in 1971. Perhaps most important, the two would have the confidence to walk away from the talks if they made no progress.

One of the few things Brzezinski and Scowcroft disagreed about was whether the initial contacts with Iran should be open (Brzezinski's view) or secret (Scowcroft's preference). Both believe that America's emissaries must meet with an Iranian representative who is close to the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

I'm biased. I like Brzezinski and Scowcroft, and I don't know anyone who thinks more clearly about foreign policy. If they did become President Obama's emissaries, they should take along someone who could coordinate the dialogue and its aftermath. Dennis Ross, expected to be the State Department's senior adviser on Iran, could play that role.

This one matters, and President Obama would be wise to send the A-team

Roger Cohen in NY Times:

When it comes to Iran, the choice of metaphor is limited.

I would never take a military option off the table, Barack Obama declared during the campaign, a position unchanged since he became president.

We are not taking any option off the table at all, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at her Senate confirmation hearing.

As for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, he tweaked the mantra this way: The military option must be kept on the table.

All three have also talked up dialogue with Iran. But the question, more pressing since Iran fired its Islamic satellite into orbit this week, remains: what in reality is this threat of force and what purpose does it serve?

I’ve read think-tank scenarios that have the United States bombing Iran’s nuclear installations at Natanz, hitting Iranian military bases to limit the response, imposing a naval blockade and infiltrating special forces from Iraq or Afghanistan. After eight Bush-Cheney years, such plans exist at the Pentagon.

To which my response is: Hang on a second.

The United States’ role in the 1953 coup here that deposed the Middle East’s first democratically elected government lives in memory. Any U.S. attack would propel 56-year-old Iranian demons into overdrive and lock in an America-hating Islamic Republic for the next half-century.

From Basra through Kabul to the Paris suburbs, Muslim rage would erupt. The Iranian Army is not the Israeli Army, but its stubborn effectiveness is in no doubt. Rockets from Hezbollah and Hamas, and newly tested Iranian long-range missiles, would hit Israel.

Chaos would threaten Persian Gulf states, oil markets and the grinding U.S. campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. war front, in the first decade of the 21st century, at a time of national economic disaster, would stretch thousands of miles across the Muslim world, from western Iraq to eastern Afghanistan.

It is doubtful that a bombing campaign would end Iran’s nuclear ambitions, so all the above might be the price paid for putting off an Iranian bomb — or mastery of the production of fissile material — by a year or so.

In short, the U.S. military option is not an option. It is unthinkable.

This is the poisoned chalice handed Obama by Bush, who responded to Iranian help in Afghanistan in 2001 by consigning Iran to the axis of evil, rebuffed credible approaches by the former moderate president, Mohammad Khatami, and undermined European diplomacy.

No, the real Red Line will be set by Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s leading candidate to become prime minister after elections next week, has said everything that is necessary will be done to stop Iran going nuclear. I believe him.

Never again is never again. There’s no changing that Israeli lens, however distorting it may be in a changed world. That could mean an Israeli attack on Iran within a year. If the U.S. military option is unthinkable, equally unthinkable is the United States abandoning Israel.

That is Obama’s dilemma. Netanyahu is right about one thing. The Iranian nuclear program, which Iran implausibly says is for civilian purposes, is the greatest challenge now facing 21st-century leaders. If Obama fails, his new era of peace will become the bitterest phrase of his inaugural.

I asked Mohsen Rezai, the former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and secretary of one of its highest state organs, the Expediency Discernment Council, how he sees the U.S. threat. America will not do anything military within the next 10 years,” he said. “What the U.S. needs to do now is regroup, repair, reconstruct.

And an Israeli attack? Maybe, but it would be one of its stupidest decisions.

There is little time to lose. Vice President Joseph Biden and senior Iranian officials, including Ali Larijani, the speaker of Parliament, will mingle at the Munich Security Conference this weekend. They should talk.

But only Obama can overcome the gridlock. He must break with the Bush years in more than words. That requires a solemn declaration that the United States recognizes and no longer seeks to destabilize the Islamic Republic — an implicit renunciation of force.

A threat, in Iranian eyes, can only come from a domineering power, the very U.S. attitude this country cannot abide.

I think the tightened sanctions being contemplated by Obama are a bad idea.

The sanctions don’t work; they enrich the regime cronies who circumvent them. Plunging oil prices are a cheaper weapon. They will concentrate Iranian minds as the economy nose-dives.

Decisiveness is foreign to the many-faceted Iranian system. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader and ultimate arbiter, will not easily be swayed from a course that would shred the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, of which Iran is a signatory, among other disasters. But reason can still prevail.

It was Rezai, back in the late 1980s, who wrote Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, telling him the course he had vowed never to alter — prosecuting the war against Iraq until victory — had to be abandoned or disaster would follow. Khomeini changed his mind. Peace came.

Khamenei’s ultimate duty is to preserve the revolution by being true to Khomeini’s example. Obama might, obliquely, remind him of that

(Zoon Politikon)

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