Netanyahu and the Facts

Originally posted at AmericanThinker

Criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 2 speech before a joint session of Congress ranges from evasive, to merely imprecise, to outright conspiratorial. Suggestions that Netanyahu is war mongering, or that he represents some nefarious Israel Lobby’s perversion of U.S. policy on Israel’s behalf ignore not only Netanyahu’s words but the negotiations’ own history and context. None of the criticisms addresses the substance of Netanyahu’s speech which, at core, merely asked that any deal to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons actually prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The argument that Netanyahu didn’t offer anything new is just not correct. Mr. Netanyahu made two specific points that have not been part of the discourse. First, the ten-year sunset provision legitimizes Iran’s nuclear program and guarantees it breakout capacity, which for all practical purposes is synonymous with joining the nuclear club. As a result, the sunset provision is irreconcilable with the Obama administration’s many promises to both Israel and other U.S. allies in the Middle East never to allow Iran to obtain the bomb. Ambassador Samantha Power repeated that promise Monday, saying “[t]he United States of America will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. Period.”  Mr. Netanyahu’s point that this promise and the proposed sunset provision are mutually exclusive has not been addressed.

Second, Iran is developing ICBMs whose only purpose can be to target the United States and Europe. Israel is already within range Iran’s of existing missile arsenal, and is susceptible to infiltration by Iran’s pet terrorists in Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon. According to former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey, Iran’s combined nuclear and ICBM programs pose an existential threat to the United states itself.

While there are no new facts, these are nevertheless new formulations and new analyses that deserve close consideration before adopting a deal leaving Iran’s nuclear and missile programs intact.

In addition to these two specific issues, Mr. Netanyahu also provided context that is sorely lacking in the administration’s evaluation of the negotiations’ progress and prognosis. The notion that Iran and an Iranian bomb are Israel’s problem, not the U.S.’s, Europe’s, the regions or the world’s, ignores 35 years of Iranian history and U.S. policy judgments. Iran bombed the Marine barracks, the U.S. embassy, and the French embassy in Lebanon in 1983. Hence Iran has been on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1985, long before the current issue of its nuclear weapons program ever arose.

Elsewhere, Iran trained and armed insurgents killing U.S. troops in Iraq up until the U.S.’s brief withdrawal in 2011. Now, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps troops and officers fight alongside Iraq’s unready army, consolidating Iran’s influence over its fellow Shi’ite neighbor. The IRGC and Iran’s proxy Hizb’allah have been critical to perpetuating Bashar Assad’s brutal regime in Syria. The ham-handed Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States reflects the same deep sectarian enmity rending Iraq and Syria.

Separately, the uneasy U.S. allies of Egypt and Saudi Arabia are just as concerned about the Iranian bomb as Israel. As Mr. Netanyahu alluded to, both have announced their intention to ramp up nuclear activity. Last month, Egypt and Russia announced a deal to develop nuclear energy in Egypt. Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program has been accelerating since at least 2014, and on Wednesday Saudi Arabia signed a deal with South Korea to build its first nuclear reactors. Iran’s claim that its nuclear program is for civilian energy production has long been rejected as pretense because Iran’s massive oil reserves make nuclear power redundant; Saudi Arabia’s reserves are nearly double Iran’s. This budding arms race was widely anticipated, and reflects both serious doubts about the efficacy of the proposed Iran deal and a failure of broader U.S. anti-proliferation policy.

In short, the U.S. has not struggled to prevent Iran from obtaining the bomb for fifteen years for Israel’s sake, but for a wide range of reasons deriving from Iran’s direct and indirect threat to U.S. interests and policy.

In addition to this general historical and geopolitical context, the course of negotiations belies specific criticisms leveled against Mr. Netanyahu. Netanyahu said the alternative to a bad deal is a better deal, that there is still the option to walk away from the table, reimpose sanctions, and pressure Iran to accept a more thorough and permanent nuclear rollback. Detractors implicitly rejecting this as mere puffery nevertheless accuse Mr. Netanyahu of war-mongering and demanding in so many words that the United States bomb Iran.

Even if Mr. Netanyahu’s words are not taken at face value, which itself reflects the objectors’ bias, he was only echoing the Obama Administration’s own arguments. The Joint Plan of Action signed in November, 2013, was the first formal step in the current round of negotiations. At the time, the JPA was heavily criticized for being overgenerous in giving Iran somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 billion in sanctions relief without substantive concession on Iran’s part. Speaking to a conference of international trade attorneys in December, 2013, a State Department representative asserted that it was a good deal because Iran agreed to engage in future negotiations. Critically, the Obama administration defended the JPA as a preliminary step, emphasizing that sanctions could be re-imposed if Iran was not adequately forthcoming or a deal not reached.

In the event, Iran has not been forthcoming. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly warned that Iran is stonewalling international investigators regarding “possible military dimensions” of its nuclear program. Nor will the IAEA or any other body be able to verify Iran’s compliance with restrictions in any nuclear deal, because “key observables are easily masked.” Yet when Netanyahu repeats the Obama administration’s own defense of its negotiations, and argues there is no need to rush into a bad deal, he is vilified as demanding war.

Other criticisms reflect out and out animus. Stephen Walt’s previous exposés of “The Israel Lobby” forcing the U.S. into positions contrary to its own interests have been roundly rejected across the political spectrum. Walt’s thesis remains “shoddy scholarship” (the New York Times), “sheer recklessness” (Americans For Peace Now) and a “myth” (US News & World Report). Undeterred, Walt repeats the slur that the Israel Lobby “makes unconditional support for Israel a prerequisite for political success in Washington” and then takes the next logical step, saying a split in U.S./Israel relations would be a good thing.

Like any good conspiracy theorist, Walt leavens his story with some truth. The premise that Israel’s and the United States’ interests are not always perfectly aligned is correct. Yet on Iran and the bomb, U.S. and Israeli interests are exactly the same.

Walt himself stumbles onto this core truth, even as he maligns Israel for pointing it out.  Netanyahu’s primary objection is that the deal being proposed leaves Iran an obvious and inevitable path to the bomb.  Even as he attempts to drive a wedge between Israel and the U.S., Walt reiterates Netanyahu’s own premise, writing that “America’s strategic position would be enhanced if it could get a diplomatic deal that kept Iran from going nuclear and opened the door to a more constructive relationship” (emphasis added).  For both the U.S. and Israel, the goal it to prevent Iran from going nuclear. The notion that reaching a deal would allow a ‘constructive relationship” with Iran is itself preposterous, but that is a separate topic.

Each of these criticisms — that Netanyahu said nothing new, that he just wants the U.S. to go to war, that his views are being foisted upon the U.S. by a nefarious lobby — shares a common thread. The critics do not address what Netanyahu actually said. A sunset provision really does guarantee Iran a path to the bomb. Iran really is a state sponsor of terrorism that has been killing Americans since the early 1980s and seeks regional hegemony. A nuclear Iran poses mortal danger not only to Israel, but to the U.S. and the U.S.’s Arab allies in the Middle-East. The U.S. will have far fewer options for deterring, containing or defeating a nuclear Iran.

These are facts, whether or not Benjamin Netanyahu is the one who speaks them. Saying they aren’t new facts doesn’t make them any less true or any less demanding of attention. If the facts are inconsistent with the proposed Iran deal, it is the deal that should be critiqued, not the facts, and certainly not the man who dared speak them.

HarperCollins Panders to Gulf Extremism

HarperCollins has admitted it sells school atlases in the Middle East that omit Israel. A HarperCollins subsidiary spokesperson said naming Israel would be “unacceptable” in the Gulf and the change accommodated “local preferences”.

It no surprise that the Arab and Muslim states of the greater Middle East prefer to erase Israel. Since 1947, Israel’s neighbors and their supporters in the Gulf have invaded Israel four times. Since those conventional military efforts failed, the intermittent terror war against Jews that began in the 1910s has become the focal point. Petrodollars have fueled the terror, as first Iran and now Qatar are primary Hamas financiers, Iran still controls Hezbollah, Saudi wealth supports extremist mosques, madrassas and organizations that indoctrinate members with virulent, violent anti-Westernism, Yemen remains an al-Qaeda hotbed, and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq paid cash prizes to families of Palestinian suicide bombers until his overthrow.

Erasing Israel from school maps may seem a trivial slight or self-indulgence when seen alongside perpetrators of horrific violence, but that misses the point. In 1967, the Arab League met in Khartoum, Sudan and adopted the “three no’s” – no negotiation with Israel, no normalization of Israel and no recognition of Israel. Underlying this rejectionist doctrine was the realization that acknowledging Israel’s very existence might lead some to believe resolving the conflict short of Israel’s annihilation was possible. The Arab League rejected any peace with Israel under any circumstances, so any feeling that peace was possible ever, under any conditions could only hamper their efforts. Israel could not be acknowledged in the least sense.

Indoctrination, incitement and rejectionism remain significant obstacles today. Throughout the Muslim and Arab world, terrorists who perpetrated attacks on Israel are lauded as heroes, with streets, parks and schools named after them and the anniversaries of their attacks celebrated. Mein Kampf is popular. Despite 36 years of peace since the Camp David accords, Egypt’s state media still pedals anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, including a gala 2002 television adaptation of the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Not surprisingly, polling consistently finds the Egyptian population among the most anti-Semitic in the world, perhaps exceeding even the Palestinian Territories. Among the many failings of textbooks used in UNRWA and other Palestinian schools, a perennial source of dispute, they, like HarperCollins’s maps, fail to acknowledge Israel’s very existence.

As a business, HarperCollins is of course free to acquiesce in its clients deceiving their children. However, its officers should understand that they are perpetuating a mindset and conflict that has already continued at least sixty-six years, and as long as a hundred, depending what starting point you choose. Prospective HarperCollins clients and partners are likewise free to take their business elsewhere in light of its loose relationship with facts and complicity with extremists.

China Makes No Promises On Emissions

The announced agreement between the United States and China on carbon dioxide emissions is not an historic breakthrough. If consummated, the deal announced Wednesday would require China to end the increase in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and to increase its non-fossil fuel energy production to 20% by the same year. The U.S. woukd agree to reductions of at least 26% below 2005 emissions levels by 2025. While these commitments by the world’s two largest greenhouse gas producers are impressive at first blush, the agreement devolves into a U.S. promise to curb economic activity without any reciprocal changes in Chinese policy.

First and foremost, China’s obligations would be illusory. An April, 2011, U.S. Department of Energy report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory concludes that China’s CO2 emissions would – surprise – peak in or about 2030 based on China’s existing policies and economic outlook. In the first paragraph of the abstract in “China’s Energy and Carbon Emissions Outlook to 2050,” the authors note that “China has taken serious actions to reduce its [energy per unit of GDP and carbon dioxide per unit of GDP] by setting both a short-term energy intensity reduction goal for 2006 to 2010 as well as a long-term carbon intensity reduction goal for 2020.” Later the abstract continues:

It is a common belief that China’s CO2 emissions will continue to grow throughout this century and will dominate global emissions. The findings from this research suggest that this will not necessarily be the case because saturation in ownership of appliances, construction of residential and commercial floor area, roadways, railways, fertilizer use, and urbanization will peak around 2030 with slowing population growth. The baseline and alternative scenarios also demonstrate that China’s 2020 goals can be met and underscore the significant role that policy-driven energy efficiency improvements will play in carbon mitigation along with a decarbonized power supply through greater renewable and non-fossil fuel generation.

DOE estimates China’s CO2 emissions are going to peak at a bit under 12 billion tons in 2030 if China continues its current policies.

China’s renewable energy commitment is also redundant, or nearly so. The Washington Post noted that China “must add 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero-emission generating capacity by 2030 — more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to the total electricity generating capacity of the United States.”

Once again, though, China’s existing policies and economic trajectory will account for much or all of this obligation. According to the 2011 DOE report, China’s “growth rates for non-fossil based electricity generation are remarkable and exceed 10% on annual average basis for solar, wind and nuclear capacity . . . In the [current conditions] case, total installed solar capacity in China in 2020 reaches over 25% of current global installed capacity and wind capacity reaches over 60% of current global capacity.” A chart in the DOE report reflects that energy production from nuclear, hydro-, wind-, solar-, biomass and other non-carbon sources would be well over 20% by 2030 with no change in Chinese policy.

China’s proposals may look impressive on paper, but in practice merely require staying the course.

This is not particularly surprising. China’s spectacular economic growth has been fueled in part by massive industrial and power generation investment with little or no regard to environmental impact. As a result, while China only surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide in 2007, Chinese emission were nearly double the U.S. total by 2012.

But as China’s economic miracle slows and peaks, China’s emissions will likewise plateau. China’s GDP growth peaked in 2007 at 14% and has declined to under 8% in 2012 and 2013. Growth in demand for energy and products has likewise declined and is expected to continue to shrink.
As demand growth shrinks, an ever greater proportion of investment that previously went into new industrial and coal power projects can be diverted to non-fossil fuel energy production or retrofitting existing plants to reduce emissions.

The U.S.’s promises, on the other hand, have real teeth. President Obama previously committed to reducing emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020. The new commitment is to reduce emissions by at least 26% from the 2005 level by 2025, or an additional 9% over only 5 years. If implemented, U.S. emissions in 2025 will be a bit less than 4.5 billion tons, approximately one third China’s projected 2030 limit.

There is no indication yet where U.S. reductions will come from. Most likely it will be further reduction in coal power generation by direct regulation of the industry or government subsidizing competitors. In either event, consumers’ electric bills will rise.

Even the best-case scenario assumes China can and will maintain its current policy of notably improved environmental consciousness, and thereby meet its treaty obligations. But if China’s economy continues to slow, and the combined weight of skewed demography, social unrest and political dissent make investment in non-productive or capital inefficient environmental projects politically risky, there is little doubt the ruling communist party will simply jettison the deal. If confronted by a choice between meeting its paper obligations to the United States and maintaining the political status quo in China, is there any doubt which choice the leaders of the People’s Republic will make?

By committing the U.S. to what amounts to unilateral emissions cuts, the President gains leverage in his effort to end coal power. Already, national newspapers, political magazines and even Popular Mechanics have hailed the prospective deal as “historic” and the surely the United States would not balk at making good on such weighty promises. So now the President has political cover for onerous new regulation. It is hard to quibble with Republican Senator Mitch McConnell’s assessment that this is a shot in “the President’s ideological war on coal.”