Podcast: Who Cares About NYT Op-Ed?

Conservative Rapprochement Bias

Meet the FOCRs? I’d really like to call it the FOCR Theory (Favoritism of Conservative Rapprochement), but let’s just call it Conservative Rapprochement Bias (CRB). Conservative Rapprochement Bias is the propensity for diplomatic breakthroughs to be initiated or codified by political conservatives. The phrase “Conservative Rapprochement Bias” is not an attempt to be derogatory, but to be descriptive; more moderate protagonists and those with a wider viewpoint are often already committed to change, so the gamechanger occurs when conservative or extremists commit to change or peace.

I wrote about this years ago and called it Narrowism. At the time, I defined the phenomena as a suggested political theory which recognizes the tendency for meaningful social and international decision-making must be completed only by those with the narrowest and extreme political perspective. That definition certainly describes the negotiations that led up to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. In that situation, there were four Northern Irish political parties, as well as three nation-states party to the negotiations. The three nation-states (The US, UK, and Ireland) all wanted a deal. Among the Northern Irish, there were the more mainstream parties that desired a deal, namely the Social Democratic and Labour Party of John Hume, and the David Trimble’s Ulster Unionist Party. Those two Nobel Laureates deserve all the praise that the peacemakers received, but the deal was never a deal, until the other two parties with narrower and more politically extremist parties agreed to the Agreement, or at least participated in the result. The extremist Loyalist, Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), initially participated in the negotiations but withdrew when his ideological mirror, Gerry Adams of Sein Fein was allowed a seat at the table following his Nationalist party’s paramilitary (terrorist) affiliate the Provisional Irish Republican Army announced a ceasefire. My point is, negotiations between centrist Nationalists like SDLP, and center Loyalists like UUP, was never going to end The Troubles. The Troubles ended when the IRA announced a ceasefire, Gerry Adams and Sein Fein took their seats at the negotiating table and, post Agreement, Ian Paisley’s DUP took control of the new government after winning the plurality of seats and, ultimately, with Ian Paisley becoming First Minister in 2007.

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Yes, the Good Friday Agreement is a perfect example of Narrowism, however, when I proposed the term in 2011, I was naïve. Narrowism is certainly valid, but I now see the phenomena differently. I know believe that the more common pattern is Conservative Rapprochement Bias.

Sometimes that Conservative Rapprochement may even play out within a side of the political spectrum. Look at the US Civil Rights movement: It took a conservative Southern Democrat and master legislator like LBJ to get the Civil Rights Act passed. Would Southern Democrats ever accept a deal brokered by Northerners like JFK, had not been assassinated?

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Let’s look back at a few examples of the Conservative Rapprochement Bias:

1972, US President Richard Nixon travels to China and meets Mao Zedong. Would a President Eugene McCarthy have had enough political capital to sit down with a Communist leader?

On September 17, 1978, the Camp David Accords were signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin of the conservative Likud Party, not the liberal Labour Party of Yitzhak Rabin or the centrist party of Yigael Yadin.

In the 1980 Election, candidate Ronald Reagan ran for president against Jimmy Carter railing against Iran and called Russia the Evil Empire, but later the Reagan Administration coordinated the infamous Iran-Contra deal with Iran, and Reagan sits down with Mikhail Gorbachev on multiple occasions. To paraphrase my earlier rhetorical question, would President Jimmy Carter have had enough political capital to sit down with a Communist leader? Or a President Mike Dukakis?

We already discussed that in the Anglo-Irish peace process, nothing mattered -not only Gerry Adams came to the table- but moreover, the Agreement didn’t truly matter until Paisleyists took ownership of the new government. When political extremists like Ian Paisley, Gerry Adams, or even Yassir Arafat as another example, when the political extremists (or even terrorists or former terrorists) participated in peace talks, THAT’S when peace happens. Hardline soundbites like, “The US does not negotiate with terrorists” plays well on the 24-hour news and social media, but the reality is starkly different.

I would even point out that it was a conservative US Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), but on the other hand, there hasn’t been a liberal SCOTUS since the Warren Court ended in 1969. More to the point, it was also the transitionally conservative Burger Court that legalized abortion, banned the death penalty… most recently, it was the conservative Roberts Court that not only legalized same-sex marriage as mentioned before but also confirmed the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in 2012.

[As I said, hardline soundbites like, “No ‘bamacare” and “Repeal Obamacare” plays well on the 24-hour news and social media, but the reality is starkly different when a person or a party has to govern, not just criticize. Heck, the repeal shouters even changed their mantra to “Repeal and Replace,” and it’s still the law of the land… but I digress.]

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Back in 2008, former Presidential candidate William J. Bennett wrote in the National Review: “Barack Obama’s position on negotiating with U.S. enemies betrays a profound misreading of history,” adding that if Obama were to meet with Iranian officials, “he will lower the prestige of the office of the president.”

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And now we have, not kimchi, but Kim-Trump: The Singapore Summit. The reclusive leader of one of the most reclusive regimes in the world, travelled 3,067 miles to meet with the man who has described Kim as:

“North Korea where you have this maniac sitting there and he actually has nuclear weapons.”
~Sept. 16, 2015~

“Rocket Man [who] is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”
~September 19, 2017~

“Kim Jong Un of North Korea… is obviously a madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people”
~September 22, 2017~

And, finally, on November 11, 2017, the President of the United States referred to Chairman Kim as “short and fat.” Perhaps even the same words General George Washington used to describe King George III or perhaps it was what Abraham Lincoln called Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis?

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When US President George W. Bush uttered that infamous phrase ‘axis of evil’ in his State of the Union address on January 29, 2002, it got all of our attention. For some of us who follow international relations closely, personally I wondered why “W” baited the Iranians since the Iranian government had just shared their intelligence on Afghanistan with the US military in September and October of 2001… just 3 months earlier… but anyway…

Most people, and the media, we knew what he meant, the Iraqis, the Iranians, the Libyans, and the North Koreans… the Bush Administration was serving notice to these rogue states. In fact, one of those rogue-states, Libya, straight-up capitulated and offered to give up its WMDs programs. To an extent, it hurts me to admit it, but the Libyan reaction to the 2002 speech is an example of saber-rattling actually working as an instrument of peace, to an extent.**

  • Libya, neutralized as a member of the so-called Axis of Evil. Done. Credit given to Bush 43.
  • Saddam’s Iraq, neutralized as a member of the so-called Axis of Evil by the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Done. Credit (as it were) given to Bush 43.
  • Iran, neutralized by the Iran Nuclear Deal Framework. **Done. Credit: none.

What???? The Iran Nuclear Deal Framework was a multinational agreement between the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the European Union, and Iran… six parties! And they were *all* somehow duped?

Under the Corker-Cardin framework establishing oversight of the Iran deal, Congress could vote to approve or disapprove of a final deal, determining whether Obama has the authority to temporarily lift Iran sanctions needed to implement the Agreement. If Congress fails to pass disapproval of the deal — or if Congress does pass a disapproval measure, then fails to override Obama’s veto of it — the deal would move forward.

And it did. The Corker-Cardin framework provided Congress with the right to review the Iran Agreement, regardless of what you’ve heard spun by the pundits.

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No sitting-President of either political party has ever met with the leaders of North Korea. This policy was to avoid legitimizing a rogue-state as well as to hold onto that strategic carrot in order to draw concessions from North Korea. And now, like the US Embassy move in Israel, the United States has given up a negotiating item, for apparently nothing in return. But, the reaction to Trump’s meeting with the dictator of North Korea?

Senator McConnell praised the “historic first step” and noted that it was “the beginning of the arduous process,” but he said, “I support the goals contained in the statement and I remain supportive of the administration’s mission.” On the Iran Agreement, Mitch McConnell criticizes Iran nuke deal as “windfall” for Tehran…

On the Iran Agreement, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) said, “It is an agreement that will reward a violent, terrorist regime. Instead of stopping the Iranians from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon, it merely delays it. This deal is shortsighted and dangerous for our security.” But of the Trump-Kim Summit, Rounds said: “Good news coming from Singapore. @POTUS has made early strides in making our world a safer place. A lot of work to do yet.”

And how about this for sarcastic bitterness:

Of Obama and the Iran Agreement, Jim Risch (R-ID) said: “This deal falls disastrously short of what the Obama Administration originally promised and gives the Iranian government what it desires.”

And of Trump and North Korea? Risch said “If Barack Obama had accomplished what Donald Trump just accomplished, they’d be calling for the stonemasons to get out to Mount Rushmore and put off his head on Mount Rushmore. This is a historic occasion.”

Hahahahahaahhaha…..

Personally, I’m kinda wondering what exactly Trump *has* accomplished besides a handshake that North Korea has been seeking for decades, and now the regime received without capitulating on anything.

On Trump and North Korea, Sen. James Inhofe (OK) said “I do not trust Iran who has been the leading state sponsor of terrorism for generations, and I have no faith that President Obama’s deal will change the irrational and dangerous behaviors of Iran’s government leaders,” so I guess I’m really curious how Inhofe feels about Kim and his country’s history of bank fraud, cyberterrorism, saber-rattling and breaking of promises to South Korea as well as US Presidents of both political parties….

Here ya go: Of Trump and North Korea, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) even said “I’m so convinced that good things are going to happen,” and even praised Trump for being the first person to ever get Kim Jong-un’s attention and for playing him “like a fiddle.”

Really? Inhofe knows this already? Isn’t it equally possible that Kim played Trump like a fiddle?

The truth is that we won’t know for a long time whether President Trump gave away the cow for free, or if he was the one who started the North Koreans down the road to peaceful coexistence. John Delury, a North Korea watcher and professor at Yonsei University, thinks that it’s even possible that Kim Jung Un is creating a détente with the United States to pivot out of China’s orbit. At this point, who knows? Certainly not I…

But what I do know, is that there is a hypocrisy in the rightwing media (not that there’s not a blindness in the leftwing media on other issues), that there is a selectivity in history and an inconsistency in opinion on international rapprochement initiatives.

Perhaps it’s just partisanship? Or perhaps it’s just that the worst of partisanship is what ultimately becomes the dominant narrative in history. I hope not.

As I said, the Iran Nuclear Deal Framework was a multinational agreement between the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the European Union, and Iran… six parties! And somehow *all* six parties are incompetent and have somehow duped?

To be fair, North Korea and Iran are not in the same place in their nuclear research and capabilities. And that’s some of the reason for the confusing messages out of some conservatives. After all, North Korea’s research has been entirely weapons-based, so *if* (and that’s a huge if) North Korea stopped its nuclear weapons research, then it would be stopping all of its current nuclear work.

Iran’s nuclear research is much more sophisticated and more of a dual-tracked research. Iran has civilian nuclear research programs as well, so the Agreement honors civilian research.

So, on Trump and North Korea:

Sen. Jon Ernst (R-IA) can say that she was “excited about the opportunity.”

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) can say the “critical summit is happening because of President Trump’s leadership and unwavering resolve to make the world a safer place,” and added that “[t]he Trump Administration has my full confidence as they move forward in these key talks.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) can say a “big opportunity” and “clearly there has been progress.”

But on Iran, the same three said:

Ernst: “This to me is a pathway to nuclear armament for Iran…This deal does not stop them from developing nuclear capabilities.”

Purdue: “This deal won’t prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state — it just delays it,” and “As I’ve said all along, I cannot support any deal that allows Iran to become a nuclear weapons state. Not now, not in 10 years, not ever.”

Sullivan: “Principal objective of Iran negotiations was to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. This #IranDeal does NOT do that.”

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These statements, to me, are a lot more consistent than the statements by Inhofe, Risch, Rounds, and McConnell…

Ernst, Purdue, and Sullivan are correct. The Iran Agreement does not prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in 10 years if the Iranians want to. It was never intended to. The Agreement was intended to create breathing room, for Iran to be integrated into the world economy for a period of ten years, so that, as a member of the world economy, there would be a disincentive for Iran to throw those incentives away after ten years of participation in the international system.

Whereas the Trump Administration has, at this point, not offered North Korea the path to peaceful nuclear technology as Iran has been guaranteed, and at this point North Korea is still expected to terminate its nuclear weapon programs in perpetuity as South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, and the former Soviet Republics outside of Russia have all done.

Two different nation-states. Two different nuclear programs.

So, the issue isn’t so much about the “deal” but about the reception of engagement with rogue leaders and rogue states.

  • Nixon meets Mao, and is praised.
  • Reagan meets Gorbachev, and is praised.
  • But Clinton normalizes relations with Vietnam, and its criticized.
  • Clinton allows Gerry Adams a visa to the US as part of the Northern Irish Peace Process, and its criticized.
  • Bush pressures UK PM Tony Blair to release the PanAm 103 bombers to reward Libya, and its ignored by the public.
  • Obama normalizes relations with Cuba, and its criticized.

Yes, President Barack Obama shakes hands with Raul Castro, and it’s the end of the world, but President Donald Trump shakes hands with the leader of a rogue state one called a member of the Axis of Evil by President George W. Bush and…

Sen. Jim Inhofe says “I’m so convinced that good things are going to happen.”

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The two most consistent voices have been Ben Shapiro and Jim Geraghty:

“I’m not certain why meeting with Kim without preconditions is suddenly a grand coup when we would have gone nuts had Obama done the same,” said conservative pundit Ben Shapiro, who criticized Obama back in 2009 and is now often critical of Trump.

National Review’s Jim Geraghty wondered the same. “Remember how much we condemned then-senator Barack Obama’s pledge to ‘meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?’ That wasn’t wrong,” Geraghty wrote.

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Yes, Conservative Rapprochement Bias is a suggested political theory which recognizes the tendency for meaningful social and international decision-making must be completed only by those with the narrowest and extreme political perspective. While “not fair” it is none the less true that there is a pattern in politics, sociology, psychology, and religion that the seminal events are most often decided when those with the narrowest perspective agree to change or compromise.

As Yogi Berra said, “Déjà vu all over again.” And here we go again…

Democrats too late of 2008?

About this time last year, I told a friend that I thought John Kerry would loose the election by fifteen votes. Part of the deal was that, if I was wrong, I had to publicly admit it. So this spring, I am writing to say I was wrong. Kerry lost by nineteen votes. Presumably had he been the nominee, Jonathan Edwards would have won his home state and its fifteen votes. Then the Democrats would be down only four electoral votes and the ambiguity of New Mexico’s results would have been a lot more interesting.

The point is that Edwards was always a more viable candidate than Kerry. In fact, Edwards actually came in third in the 2004 Presidential Election ahead of Ralph Nader: one Minnesota electoral delegate voted for Edwards (source U.S. National Archives). Perhaps Kerry actually believed that the selection of a Vice-President had an impact still?

Why does the national Republican Party have a better handle on Presidential politics than my Democratic Party? There are three key lessons which must be accepted: first, we are in a time of neo-sectionalism in which the Democrats tend to dominate the coasts and the northeast. Republicans dominate the south, the Rockies and the Plains while the Upper-Midwest is a toss-up. Electorally, that gives the Republicans the advantage and the Democrats must run a candidate from a GOP state in order to win (Clinton, 1992/1996).

Secondly, winning candidates have come from state governments (Bush 2004/2000; Clinton 1996/1992; Reagan (1984/1980; Carter 1976) and not from the Federal government (Kerry 2004, Gore 2000, Dole 1996). In that regard, we might explain why even with NC’s fifteen votes, Edwards would have been short.

Thirdly, the vice-president is meaningless. The only purpose of the office is to check the pulse of the president each morning and to break ties on the rare occasion they arise in the U.S. Senate. Did Cheney swing Wyoming into the Bush column? Did Quayle offer cover for Bush (41)? Vice-President Bush was so meaningless that, when Reagan was shot, Alexander Haige declared himself in charge. The last meaningful selection of a VP was Ford and that was only ex post facto. That is, if Nixon hadn’t resigned, Ford would not have been important. Truly, the last time a vice-presidential selection affected the outcome of an election was Lyndon Johnson in 1960.

So where are we now? One year out from the last primary season and about two or three years from the next primary season. Already the hopefuls are visiting Iowa and New Hampshire. Who is in the mix? U.S. Senators John Kerry (MA), Jonathan Edwards (NC), Hilary Clinton (NY), Joe Biden (DE), Evan Bayh (IN) lead the Democratic pack. Meanwhile the Republican nominee will likely be one of the following: MA Governor Mitt Romney, NY Governor Pataki, fmr. NYC Mayor Rudy Guiliani, Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist (TN) or U.S. Senator John McCain (AZ).

Isn’t it interesting that the Democratic list is inundated with Senators? The very people that history has scorned? The only candidates that even make an electoral dent are Bayh and Edwards since they come from traditionally Republican states. If the Democrats have to rely on NY or MA then the election is already lost; there is no electoral advantage.

On the other end of the pendulum, the Republicans have mastered the strategy that the Democrats desperately need: the GOP list has three executives from two of the most Democratic states in the country!

The Democratic Party is the party of the people. It is the party that represents the greatest good for the greatest number of Americans, but its being out-maneuvered in Presidential contests. It is crucial that Rhode Island Democrats help like-minded candidates get elected in southern, Midwestern and battleground states. We can not sit by and concentrate only on local issues, however important they may be. In truth, it may be already too late for 2008, unless we can unite the country behind a Gov Easley (NC), an Evan Bayh (IN), or another Democrat from a GOP state.