What “spirit” of the Iran agreement?

Iran is electing a president next month, and it’s seen partly as a referendum on its deal with the West to limit its nuclear development program. I talked about that a few minutes ago with host Bruce Sakalik on KQV Radio in Pittsburgh.

Complicating the equation is the latest statement from President Trump, denouncing the agreement on the one hand and then charging that Iran is “not living up to the spirit” of the accord on the other, noting that it’s involved in conflicts around the region as a destabilizing factor.

Yet Trump’s own secretary of state has written to Congress to say that Iran is essentially living up to the terms of the accord. How do those two statements fit together?

You can read the whole agreement here if you like, or you can leave that to me–friends, there isn’t a word in the accord about anything other than Iran’s nuclear program. The “spirit” of the agreement is to stop development of nuclear weapons.

The fact that Iran is a bad player in the Mideast is a separate issue. It’s my view that implementation of the agreement, lifting of sanctions and giving the Iranians something to lose–namely, economic relations with the West–is the best way to bring Iran around to the idea of peaceful relations. As before, you can leave it there, or you can read my detailed arguments here.

There’s a lot of “I told you so” in the wind here, but it’s a matter of dangerous self-fulfilling prophecies. If the agreement is scrapped, then nothing will stop Iran from resuming its nuclear weapons program, and the critics of the agreement will say “I told you so.” If  Trump’s blunt criticism of the accord erodes its support in Iran and the people elect an extremist as president, well, there’s another “I told you so” moment.

Of course the Iran nuclear deal is not the best possible outcome. That’s the definition of “deal”–neither side gets all it wants. Perhaps Iran could have been squeezed further, though I doubt it–here’s why–but whatever the case,  the deal is the deal, and the choice now is to implement it–which the secretary of state acknowledges that Iran is doing–or scrapping it to please the “I told you so” crowd.

That’s an easy call.

Turkey problem isn’t new system–it’s the president

Turkey’s people might have just approved a system giving President Erdogan new powers–but the system itself, if you read the amendments, is not a dictatorship–it’s similar to the American system. I talked about this a few minutes ago with host P.J. Maloney on KQV News Radio in Pittsburgh.

This is not a theoretical exercise. Turkey is a member of NATO, it’s hosting millions of refugees from Syria, and it’s a vital power in the Mideast region. What happens in Turkey affects the region, Europe, and the rest of the world.

I’ll copy a list of the amendments, courtesy of Wikipedia, if you want to take a look for yourself.

The problem is Erdogan. He is already acting like a dictator. He did not conduct a democratic election campaign–he imprisoned opponents, banned much campaigning against the constitutional amendments.

Even so, he won the vote by a narrow margin–he got just 51 percent support, and he lost in his country’s three main cities.

Despite the cries of irregularities and the complaints from European observers, this round is probably over. The next one is in two years, and it’s the important one.

All but three of the amendments (2, 4 and 7) take effect only after the next presidential election, set for 2019. Erdogan has two years to solidify his support, and his opponents have the same two years to get their act together to defeat him. That’s a big order–as elsewhere in the region, there are several opposition parties, and they agree on nothing except their opposition to the current ruler. Besides, Erdogan is in the position of power, and he has shown that he’s more than happy to abuse it.

So we’ll keep an eye on Turkey as this develops. Also be aware of the fact that the way things usually change in Turkey is through a military coup.

So no, this is not an American system of government, even if these amendments seem to set that up:

Description of proposed amendments
Proposal # Article Description of change
1 Article 9 The judiciary is required to act on condition of impartiality.
2 Article 75 The number of seats in the Parliament is raised from 550 to 600.
3 Article 76 The age requirement to stand as a candidate in an election to be lowered from 25 to 18, while the condition of having to complete compulsory military service is to be removed. Individuals with relations to the military would be ineligible to run for election.
4 Article 77 Parliamentary terms are extended from four to five years. Parliamentary and presidential elections will be held on the same day every five years, with presidential elections going to a run-off if no candidate wins a simple majority in the first round.
5 Article 87 The functions of Parliament are

  • Making, changing, removing laws.
  • Accepting international contracts.
  • Discuss, increase or decrease budget (on Budget Commission) and accept or reject the budget on General Assembly.
  • Appoint 7 members of HSYK
  • And using other powers written in the constitution
5 Article 89 To overcome a presidential veto, the Parliament needs to adopt the same bill with an absolute majority (301).
6 Article 98 Parliament now detects cabinet and Vice President with Parliamentary Research, Parliamentary Investigation, General Discussion and Written Question. Interpellation is abolished and replaced with Parliamentary Investigation. Vice President needs to answer Written Questions within 15 days.
7 Article 101 In order to stand as a presidential candidate, an individual requires the endorsement of one or more parties that won 5% or more in the preceding parliamentary elections and 100,000 voters. The elected president no longer needs to terminate their party membership if they have one.
8 Article 104 The President becomes both the head of state and head of government, with the power to appoint and sack ministers and Vice President. The president can issue decrees about executive. If legislation makes a law about the same topic that President issued an executive order, decree will become invalid and parliamentary law become valid.
9 Article 105 Parliament can open parliamentary investigation with an absolute majority (301). Parliament discusses proposal in 1 month. Following the completion of Discussion, Parliamentary investigation can begin in Parliament with a hidden three-fifths (360) vote in favor. Following the completion of investigations, the parliament can vote to indict the President with a hidden two-thirds (400) vote in favor.
10 Article 106 The President can appoint one or more Vice Presidents. If the Presidency falls vacant, then fresh presidential elections must be held within 45 days. If parliamentary elections are due within less than a year, then they too are held on the same day as early presidential elections. If the parliament has over a year left before its term expires, then the newly elected president serves until the end of the parliamentary term, after which both presidential and parliamentary elections are held. This does not count towards the President’s two-term limit. Parliamentary investigations into possible crimes committed by Vice Presidents and ministers can begin in Parliament with a three-fifths vote in favor. Following the completion of investigations, the parliament can vote to indict Vice Presidents or ministers with a two-thirds vote in favor. If found guilty, the Vice President or minister in question is only removed from office if their crime is one that bars them from running for election. If a sitting MP is appointed as a minister or Vice President, their parliamentary membership will be terminated.
11 Article 116 The President and three-fifths of the Parliament can decide to renew elections. In this case, the enactor also dissolves itself until elections.
12 Article 119 The President’s ability to declare state of emergency is now subject to parliamentary approval to take effect. The Parliament can extend, remove or shorten it. States of emergency can be extended for up to four months at a time except during war, where no such limitation will be required. Every presidential decree issues during a state of emergency will need an approval of Parliament.
13 Article 125 The acts of the President are now subject to judicial review.
13 Article 142 Military courts are abolished unless they are erected to investigate actions of soldiers under conditions of war.
13 Article 146 The President used to appoint one Justice from High Military Court of Appeals, and one from the High Military Administrative Court. As military courts are abolished, the number of Justices in the Constitutional Court reduced to 15 from 17. Consequently, presidential appointees reduced to 12 from 14, while the Parliament continues to appoint three.
14 Article 159 Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors is renamed to “Board of Judges and Prosecutors”, members are reduced to 13 from 22, departments are reduced to 2 from 3. 4 members are appointed by President, 7 will be appointed by the Grand Assembly. Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) candidates will need to get 2/3 (400) votes to pass first round and will need 3/5 (360) votes in second round to be a member of HSYK.(Other 2 members are Justice Minister and Ministry of Justice Undersecretary, which is unchanged).
15 Article 161 President proposes fiscal budget to Grand Assembly 75 days prior to fiscal new year. Budget Commission members can make changes to budget but Parliamentary members cannot make proposals to change public expenditures. If the budget is not approved, then a temporary budget will be proposed. If the temporary budget is also not approved, the previous year’s budget would be used with the previous year’s increment ratio.[note 1]
16 Several articles Adaptation of several articles of the constitution with other changes, mainly transferring executive powers of cabinet to President
16 Article 123 President gets power to create States.
17 Temporary Article 21 Next presidential and General elections will be held on 3 November 2019. If Grand Assembly decides early elections, both will be held at the same day. Board of Judges and Prosecutors elections will be made within 30 days of approval of this law. Military courts will be abolished once the law comes into force.
18 Applicability of amendments 1-17 The amendments (2, 4 and 7) will come into force after new elections, other amendments (except temporary article) will come into force once newly elected president is sworn in. Annulled the article which elected Presidents forfeit membership in a political party. This constitutional amendment will be voted in a referendum as a whole.

Egypt bombings: Targeting Christians shows ISIS tactics, strategy

ISIS is on the run on Egypt’s Sinai desert, and its natural response is to spread out, not to fight to the death. I talked about the deadly bombings in Egypt over the weekend with host Bob Bartolomeo a few minutes ago on KQV News Radio in Pittsburgh.

The bombings inside the churches in Tanta and Alexandria killed at least 49 people during Palm Sunday services. These are the bloodiest attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took power in 2013. As a result, his government declared a three-month state of emergency which will give him additional police powers. As it is, el-Sisi has been cracking down on Muslim Brotherhood members alongside his campaign against ISIS, jailing thousands and triggering hysterical human rights advocates who don’t understand that human rights are not on the agenda in Egypt as long as there’s a double crisis–economic and security.

Just today Israel underlined the severity of the Sinai situation by closing its border to the peninsula–in one direction, from Israel to Egypt, and only to Israelis–who are urged to use the crossing in the other direction and come home. Despite constant terror warnings, thousands of Israelis vacation on the Red Sea coast of the Sinai, especially during Passover, which begins tonight.

Bob also asked me about the US air strike on Syria last week. My only observation at this point is that the era of sending messages is over–if that’s the US idea, then it’s not going to work. The message concept implies an “or else” that just doesn’t exist today–there’s no way the US is going to get fully involved in Syria, sending in hundreds of thousands of soldiers, and for what? To preserve a Syria that no longer exists?

This is going to get worse before it gets better, and there’s pretty much nothing the US can do about it. Russia will find itself caught up in a conflict it can’t control, either, though it has limited goals–preserving its military bases on the Syrian coast.

But in the end, the people here on the ground will have to sort this out, and what the West can do is help the victims and help rebuild when the time comes. That would be a much more effective “message.”

Egypt’s leader finds friend in Trump, but…

President Trump got along just fine with Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in their White House meeting. No surprise there–both are fighting ISIS, and Trump isn’t concerned with el-Sisi’s human rights abuses. I talked about the meeting a few minutes ago with host P.J. Maloney on KQV News Radio in Pittsburgh.

There’s no doubt that el-Sisi’s human rights record is abysmal, but I maintain here that the West shouldn’t be putting so much emphasis on that aspect. Egypt is far from caring about human rights–first it needs to keep its people from starving. Only a military dictator like el-Sisi can take the radically painful steps to right Egypt’s economy, and he’s trying to do that. So I believe the West needs to back off and let him do whatever he needs to do to stabilize his government and concentrate on the economy, even if it means that thousands of Muslim Brotherhood activists remain in prison.

So for different reasons, I find myself agreeing with Trump. That’s gotta hurt.