Your Thursday Night Reading List

By James Fallows

1) Washington football melodrama and American Futures, together at last. I am on the other end of the country from our nation's capital, on another American Futures journey, about which more details tomorrow. Therefore I am able to regard the absolute nuthouse of DC football merely as an absolute nuthouse, which even Belushi/Farley-like madcap Toronto Mayor Rob Ford can tut-tut about, rather than as a local tragedy whose twists I have to follow obsessively on sports-talk radio and blame the reviled owner for. [If you don't know what I'm talking about, move on to the next item.]

Still I note for the record: (a) in his sports-talk radio incarnation Chris Cooley has become quite the informative "let's look at the tape" analyst; and (b) everyone wonders why Kirk Cousins is being so self-effacing and gracious in an impossible situation. 

I know why! He's from Holland, Michigan, and from one of the Christian high schools whose situation I described here. And he was back in town (Holland) almost the same time we were there. So near...  

2) On China's predicament. A very good article by Shlomo Ben-Ami, former Israeli foreign minister and ambassador, on China's emerging predicament. It is called "The Rise of an Insecure Giant" and concerns the tensions between China's domestic and international imperatives. Eg:

China’s regional exceptionalism has landed it in a strategic trap. It is unwilling to accept American leadership in Asia; but it is also reluctant to assume a more prominent role in promoting regional integration, fearing the concomitant pressure for more economic liberalization, adherence to international norms and rules, and a more transparent approach to its military buildup....

Despite bold reform plans – outlined at the recent Third Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party – China’s prospects remain compromised by deep-rooted contradictions. For example, the inherent tension between the social change that development demands and the imperative of political stability required by authoritarian rule makes the current situation unsustainable in the long run.

Also relevant, this new study finding that Chinese people don't mind America but are suspicious of its government. Another plank of US-Chinese solidarity!

3) On the Iranian-US opportunity. It's now several weeks old, but this assessment by Robert Hunter, long-time U.S. diplomat and national-security staffer, is worth going back to read. We always hear, Hunter says, that the devil is in the details of such negotiations. But:

Devil and details, yes; but if there is such a thing, the “angel” is in the “big picture,” the fact of the agreement itself – interim, certainly; flawed, perhaps; but a basic break with the past, come-what-may. It will now become much harder for Iran to get the bomb, even if it were hell-bent on doing so.  The risk of war has plummeted.  Israel is safer – along with the rest of the region and the world — even as Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu denies that fact.

This is the end of the Cold War with Iran, (accurately) defined as a state when it is not possible to distinguish between what is negotiable and what is not. 

4) What Iran is, and is not. For another time, the debate about which historical analogies, if any, usefully inform the Iran situation.  For now, this note from Carlyn Meyer, of the Chicago area, about a comparison that does not apply:

One of the more dangerous and irresponsible uses of false equivalence is being repeated by Iran hawks from both parties.  In this article, Rep. Ed Royce, Chair of House Foreign Affairs Committee, talks about not letting Iran become 'another North Korea'.  This terribly misrepresents Iran's posture in the nuclear negotiations.  

Iran is a signer of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and supporting accords.  Iran has had international inspectors on the ground inspecting facilities continually since signing.  Iran is in violation of access, reporting and verification requirements under the NTP, which it voluntarily signed. The authority to impose sanctions as well as the basis of the P5+1 talks flows from the NPT.  Iran has denied access to facilities that it claims are not part of a nuclear military program but which inspectors insist they must see in order to verify Iranian claims that its program is civilian only.

North Korea never signed the NTP and its program remains closed and opaque.  Israel, Pakistan and India are the three other nuclear countries that haven't signed the NPT and therefore are not subject to international inspections and don't have international inspectors flying in and out of the country implementing other monitoring/verification actions.

We learned the dangers of politicians use hype, exaggeration and misrepresentation of an adversary's posture from the War in Iraq.  One thing the two sides in the Iran negotiations agree on is that failure of the talks could lead to war even though US intelligence still finds that Iran has not decided to proceed with a weapons program.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/12/your-thursday-night-reading-list/282320/