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Week in Review


While many of us were enjoying Thanksgiving meals with our loved ones (and maybe even deep-frying turkeys), the chattering classes were chewing over the interim deal signed with Iran last week. The deal seemed to signal some kind of turning point, but in this week’s essay, we asked: a turning point toward what?

[O]ur first instinct isn’t to break out the champagne when we hear of a nuclear deal with Iran. But we’re also less than convinced by some of the expert analyses that various commentators have produced to show why the deal is or isn’t a good one. The internet today is packed with arm chair disarmament ‘experts’ who’ve never visited a nuclear power plant much less a bomb factory and they are ready, willing and, sort of, able to provide instant responses to a deal most of them know very little about.

Having visited a nuclear power plant back in our freshman days at Pundit High and having read a great many newspaper articles on the subject in subsequent years, we are by internet standards a formidable expert on all matters nuclear. But even so we hesitate to pronounce on the effectiveness of the constraints on Iran’s nuclear activities outlined in the interim agreement.  Despite Mr. Snowden’s best efforts from Moscow, we don’t know what the world’s leading intelligence agencies think about the Iranian nuclear program, how the fine print in this agreement will affect the decisive elements of the Iranian program, and how confident the real experts are that Iran’s compliance can be monitored. We also don’t know what the intentions of Iran’s Supreme Leader and Guide are, and so we are going to have to wait and see what’s going on.

Think of us as skeptical but not close-minded as we wait for more light. It remains the case that we vastly prefer a real agreement with Iran to any of the available alternatives, but we are far from certain that a real understanding has been reached.

WRM discussed the Iranian nuclear deal on PBS NewsHour, along with host Gwen Ifill and Nicholas Burns of the State Department; it also looks like the Iran deal is widening the rift between Saudi Arabia and the US. Elsewhere in the Middle East, the Egyptian army struggled to find a foothold in a post-Muslim Brotherhood reality, while Israel blinked in a standoff with the EU over a massive new grants program set to kick off next year.

Two narratives dominated news out of Asia this past week. First, anti-government protests have gripped Thailand, entering their eighth day today. We laid out the complicated situation in an essay, and watched the demonstrations continue even as the government begged Thai protestors for peace. The other story centered on China’s decision to announce an air defense zone in the East China Sea. Shortly after that announcement, the US flew two B-52 bombers near the disputed Senkaku islands in defiance China’s announcement. Beijing’s reaction to the American bombers’ flight was initially muted, prompting outrage and embarrassment across Chinese social media. Later in the week, China confronted and tailed two US and ten Japanese planes flying within the zone, indicating a refusal to back down. Washington told civilian airlines to respect the air defense zone, a move made out of an abundance of caution, but one Beijing will likely see as a small sign of success.

We didn’t see much out of Europe this week. In a must-read piece for The American Interest Online, Raymond Sontag explained why Kiev snubbed Brussels for Moscow (hint: it had something to do with the fact that the EU brought a baguette to a knife fight). There was more bad news for Europe, after Bulgaria’s environment minister took to the FT to chastise the continent’s failure to lead the world in green innovation.

On the domestic front, there was some concern that the higher-ed bubble is starting to pop; Moody’s issued a negative outlook for higher-ed for the second consecutive year. Meanwhile, MIT ignored the naysayers and went all-in on MOOCs, betting big on the movement’s growth potential. On the health care front, Democrats have reason to be afraid—very afraid—of the ACA’s impact on their chances in next year’s midterm elections. In a sign that certainly didn’t come across as reassuring, the White House cancelled its ACA enrollment push and urged some of its allies to calm their own boosting efforts. And we found out more Americans will be getting health care access in name only thanks to doctors’ reluctance to take on Medicaid patients.

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  • Dan King
    • Andrew Allison

      Wow! A must read — the most intelligent thing I’ve read about the deal. Based on this sample, should be on the VM blogroll.

  • lukelea

    OT, somewhat, but based on this Wikipedia article on Gleichschaultung why shouldn’t China be considered a totalitarian society even to this day:

    So why are we doing business with them?

    • Andrew Allison

      Not because we want too, but because we have to.

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