Why I Wish Today's Republicans Were More Like Ronald Reagan

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President Reagan was not the Evil Emperor — even for progressives. He granted amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants, vocally supported federal gun control, and would probably be written off as a RINO by today’s conservatives for backtracking on his own tax cuts.

And while more flexibility on these issues among the Republicans of today would be commendable and a relief, I think Nov. 19 is the perfect day for the ghost of the Gipper to come haunt his party on an entirely different issue.

That’s because exactly thirty years ago today, on Nov. 19, 1985, President Reagan arrived in Geneva, Switzerland to meet with Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, face-to-face. The event was carefully planned and statements meticulously edited for the press and the television cameras. It was the first time in six years that the leaders of the world’s two superpowers had met in person. Huge obstacles loomed between the two leaders. With the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the arms race, and Reagan's “Star Wars” missile defense program all causing tension, was it even worthwhile to meet?

The Power of Peacebuilding

THE PEACE MOVEMENT needs a stronger response to the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It is not enough merely to oppose deepening U.S. military involvement. We must also identify viable diplomatic and political options for countering the ISIS danger and reducing violence in the region.

President Obama has said there is no military solution to the crisis in Iraq, but his administration has relied heavily on bombing as its main response to ISIS. Since August, the United States and about a dozen other states have launched more than 1,900 air strikes against ISIS and militant groups in Iraq and Syria. Approximately 80 percent of the strikes have been conducted by U.S. forces, mostly jet fighters but also armed drones. The strikes have had the effect of halting further ISIS encroachments into Iraq and have enabled Kurdish fighters to regain some ground in the northern part of Iraq. In Syria, however, ISIS reportedly has continued to gain ground despite the U.S.-led attacks.

U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Syria is having unintended effects that could make matters worse. Battling the United States gives ISIS a transcendent objective beyond its political agenda in Iraq and Syria and distracts local attention from its brutal policies. It allows ISIS to portray itself as the victim and to claim that it is defending Islam from Western attack. After the start of airstrikes in August, support for the group increased. The strikes in Syria have also targeted the al Nusra Front and have generated pressure for rival groups to close ranks. Unlike al Qaeda, ISIS has not declared war on the United States, but it may now rethink its strategic focus and plan attacks on the “far enemy,” to use al Qaeda’s term.

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Wanted: A New Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom

RNS photo courtesy of U.S. State Department

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with Suzan Johnson. RNS photo courtesy of U.S. State Department

WASHINGTON — It’s been three months since the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook resigned as the State Department’s religious freedom watchdog, and those who decry religious persecution in Syria, Sudan, and elsewhere are wondering how long it’s going to take the White House to name a new ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

Many in the field hope it’s someone with a more diplomatic background than Johnson Cook, a former Clinton administration official and popular Baptist minister whose international experience was mostly acquired on the job.

The other factor: the more than two years it took for the Obama administration to choose Johnson Cook and to get her confirmed by the Senate.

“A continued vacancy will confirm the suspicion that already exists among foreign governments, persecutors, victims and American diplomats that the issue is not a priority,” said Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

The White House has been tight-lipped about the timeline for a decision, as well as about any candidates it may be considering for the position, which Congress created in 1998 to highlight and alleviate religious persecution worldwide.

Here’s a short list of five names swirling around Foggy Bottom, culled from experts who work in the field and were asked who they see as likely to be under consideration, or as particularly qualified for the job.

Congress Should Give the Interim Deal with Iran A Chance

Everett Collection / Shutterstock

Congressional hearing in session. Everett Collection / Shutterstock

After a decades-long standoff, Iran and the West (plus China and Russia) have signed an interim agreement to halt Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for modest sanctions relief. While some are calling it a historic breakthrough along the lines of Nixon’s visit to China, the U.S. media has been mostly skeptical. And in a rare display of bipartisanship, Congress is already looking for ways to derail the deal by passing legislation to impose new sanctions on Iran and tie the President’s hands for future negotiations. Despite the fact that President Obama has successfully passed tougher sanctions on Iran than any previous administration, the U.S. media in lockstep with Congress continue to thumb their noses at anything that resembles diplomacy when it comes to Iran. And while other U.S. allies in the region — primarily the Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia — have expressed their concerns over this deal, few Americans care about what the Saudis think. As representatives of the American people, what Congress really cares about is what Israel thinks.

That’s where things get dicey.

The Last Thing the World Needs Is Congress Thwarting Historic U.S.-Iran Nuclear Deal

Globe Turner and SoRad / Shutterstock

Globe Turner and SoRad / Shutterstock

The nuclear deal that the U.S. just struck with Iran is nothing short of historic. This agreement is a victory for everyone who wants to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and a catastrophic war.

The deal is one of the many triumphs that have resulted from the great American tradition of negotiating with adversaries to advance U.S. interests. President Kennedy's talks with Premier Khrushchev delivered the world from the brink of nuclear war. Ten years later, President Nixon's visit to Mao's China revolutionized the U.S. role in Asia, and the world. A decade later, President Reagan's diplomatic engagement of President Gorbachev achieved historic nuclear arms reductions.

UN weapons inspectors are now on track to peacefully disarm Syria of its chemical weapons because Washington was willing to engage the Syrian regime through diplomacy with Moscow, rather than through Tomahawk cruise missiles. And under the deal reached in Geneva this weekend, Iran will stop advancing its nuclear program for the first time in nearly a decade.

Iran's nuclear program will now be under an expanded inspections regime to help ensure that Iran's nuclear program is used for purely peaceful purposes. In exchange, Iran will receive modest sanctions relief.

Make no mistake: this is a good deal, and it should be protected so that our diplomats have the space to negotiate a final agreement to prevent war and a nuclear-armed Iran once and for all.

Syria Is About People, Not Politics

Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

Syrian Refugees sit in the arrival hall after arriving at Hanover Airport on Sept. 11 in Germany. Alexander Koerner/Getty Image

I have been literally disgusted at how “politics” has dominated the media’s response and coverage of the Syria crisis. Millions of lives are at stake, as is the security of one of the most critical regions of the world. But all many of our media pundits can talk about is how this affects politics — i.e., how this could weaken President Obama’s second term or what this might mean for Obamacare.

I heard the same media blathering when I was in London last week when the Syria chemical weapons crisis broke through. “Does the vote in Parliament hurt the Prime Minister and help his opposition?” “Is the Labor Party now up, and the Tory down?”

Who cares?!