The Paris Agreement: Yet Another Meaningless Deal

On Saturday, nearly 200 nations signed a climate pact that President Barack Obama called a “turning point for the world.” Obama argued this agreement was the one “the world needed.” Upon reading the actual text of the deal, it would appear the world didn’t need very much, if the President’s claim is to be taken at face value. In the end, this deal is as fanciful and toothless as the Kellogg-Briand Pact of nearly a century ago that banned war in the wake of World War I. While the failings of this deal are unlikely to be as grave (World War II was pretty awful, you know), it suffers from the same fatal flaw: no enforceability.

This agreement doesn’t actually do anything; it is merely a voluntary plan whereby nations will unilaterally cut emissions or something. The over-arching goal is to keep global temperatures rising 2 degrees (Celsius) from the current expectation of some in the science community for 2.7-3.7 degrees. If this voluntary deal works really well (!!!), the agreement leaves open the possibility of pushing for a more aggressive 1.5 degree target.

This agreement “invites Parties to communicate their first nationally determined contribution no later than when the Party submits its respective instrument of ratification, accession, or approval.” This agreement merely invites nations to come up with their own plan to bring down emissions to unspecified levels to lead to less climate change. Does that sound vague? Don’t worry; this agreement also creates an “ad hoc working group” to monitor nations’ progress because groups of bureaucrats are renowned for getting things done.

Signing to this deal merely signifies the “Voluntary participation authorized by each Party involved.” Are there any enforcement mechanisms that punish nations for failing to bring emissions down (or for some developed nations, rise more slowly)? Nope. We are operating solely on the trust system—no way that could produce underwhelming results. Some hailed the underlying goal of the deal as ground-breaking: “Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.” Others may contend that the phrase “as soon as possible” means absolutely nothing and gives offending nations plenty of room to maneuver if confronted (i.e. more action just wasn’t possible). This deal also says developed nations are to give developing ones at least $100 billion/year by 2020 to help fund their development, thereby making income redistribution an international affair. Good luck getting everyone to write those checks…

Those who are unconvinced climate change is the world’s most pressing problem and aren’t prepared to crush the economy to cut emissions should actually be thrilled by today’s deal as no new policies have to be implemented. If we actually wanted to cut emissions, any deal needs to have set targets and strict ramifications for violations (for example, automatic WTO admissible tariffs to hurt the economy of offenders). Otherwise, developing nations, like China and India, will cheat, pointing to the fact there were no restrictions on the West’s industrial revolution a century ago. Of course, they benefit from our revolution (India doesn’t have to invent the car for instance), so there should be restrictions if we are to have some, though perhaps not quite as onerous for a bit of time. Adhering to unenforceable deals threatens to leave the American economy relatively uncompetitive as other nations’ flout the deal’s requirements.

Fortunately for the climate alarmists in our midst, the private sector is already helping to solve the problem. Our abundance of natural gas is hurting coal, and with or without government regulations, coal will likely go the way of the dodo bird in this country over the coming decades. As we export LNG, energy production around the world will only get cleaner. Automotive emissions keep improving, and the advent of the electric car will only help. Continued advancement in battery technology could facilitate a smaller, cleaner grid while improvements in transmission will make nuclear more viable in more regions. Even in countries like China, popular discontent over ridiculous pollution levels could force the regime to act over time if only to keep the public happy. Indian cities aren’t far behind.

However, our President is a climate alarmist, which leaves one befuddled as to why he would be happy with this deal that is voluntary and lacking enforcement mechanisms. This climate pact is strikingly similar to the Iran Deal, which is nonbinding (heck no one even signed the agreement!) and has laughable verification measures (not to mention the fact that re-imposing sanctions with Russian approval and European unity is as likely as Hell freezing over, unless of course unfettered climate change here serious impacts the temperature down below…).

Our President seems to have a lot of trust in foreign powers to do the right thing despite their national interest. It’s a fascinating turn for a President who so recognized the free-rider problem, he coerced Americans to buy healthcare insurance or face stiff financial penalties (the individual mandate). Of course, if the insurance under Obamacare is as good and affordable as advertised, wouldn’t people be clamoring for it and not need coercion? I guess, unlike China and Iran, Americans can’t be trusted to the right thing.

Moreover, our President may see no need to make legally-binding agreements since he never feels the law binds him as evidenced by the lawless immigration executive orders and potential one on Guantanamo Bay. Ultimately, our President seems to enjoy doing things for the sake of doing things. That is how Democrats inevitably react to gun violence (just pass a law, even if it wouldn’t have stopped this shooting). Obama wanted a deal with Iran to check off a box on his legacy, even if the deal was a poor one. Similarly, he wanted to do something on the climate. We can all sleep easy and claim the moral high ground now that this high-sounding, completely unenforceable garble has been agreed to. In the view of our leadership, just doing something is an achievement, results be damned. That is the only way to explain the Iran Deal, the Paris Accord, gun violence reactions, and our tepid ISIS bombing campaign. At least we can feel good about ourselves as the world implodes!

Now, I don’t believe economy-crushing cuts make sense, but it astonishes me how horrendous of a negotiator our President and his Secretary of State, John Kerry, are. They are either delusional or lying when calling such a deal as this a groundbreaker. If we ever want to deal successfully with China or Putin or Iran, this naïve idealism is dangerous.

Recently, Obama and the Left have often linked climate change to terrorism. Well, the Paris Agreement will do as much for emissions as those 20 bombings/day have done to roll back ISIS.

Just like coal, this deal will end up being a puff a smoke, not worth the two weeks of diplomats’ hot air blown in Paris.

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Doomed to Fail: A President Dithers

During a 60 Minutes interview in which President Obama could only offer rambling and incoherent answers to Steve Kroft’s fair and pointed foreign policy questions, the President did manage to shed new, and rather unflattering, light on his disastrous Syria policy. After backing down from his own red line when Bashar al-Assad gassed his own people, Obama decided to launch a $500 million rebel training program whereby the United States would train moderate fighters to oust Assad. With only 4 or 5 trained rebels currently fighting in Syria, it is safe to call this program a failure. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, the President himself said last night, “I’ve been skeptical from the get-go” that the training program would work.

What does it say about a President who built a strategy around a program he deemed doomed to fail? How callous to watch thousands of Syrians die each month at the hands of Assad, and now ISIS, while pursuing a program that you don’t believe can work. It is one thing to try and fail; it is entirely different to pretend to try and fail. In a Presidency chock full of stunning admissions, this has to rank near the top of the list. The Syrian Civil War has raged for over 3 years, and the only strategy the Administration could come up with was essentially fictitious.

While dithering away time and letting Syria devolve into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises of the past quarter-century, he’s let ISIS stand up and fill the power vacuum. The President doesn’t even have a plan to deal with ISIS, saying that over time “the community of nations” will deal with ISIS. What is this community the President speaks of? China enjoys all the perks of being a world power without assuming any responsibilities, Europe hasn’t led in decades, and Russia is directly flouting Obama’s high-minded goals. The concept of such a community is noble and works well as a dissertation at Columbia University but is dangerously simplistic when applied in the real world. A community of nations only exists when America plays the leading role.

Instead, Obama has stepped back and is now letting Vladimir Putin decimate the rebels we’ve aided without impunity from the air. What message does this send to other potential allies in the region? The US will not stand by you when times get tough, which will undermine our ability to form strategic relations in the region for years. With Putin allied with Iran—the region’s aspiring hegemon—the moderates are being wiped out, leaving only Assad and ISIS, an unpalatable choice, and the Russia-Iran axis will inevitably pivot to push back ISIS from Syria and Iran all while the President awaits for the community of nations to respond.

The overarching failure of President Obama’s foreign policy is a simple one: he dithers until the United States is left with virtually no winning option. In Syria, we could have provided substantive support for moderate rebels and toppled Assad. Now any action risks direct military conflict with Russia, and quickly, the only two feasible options are ISIS or Assad. Three years ago, we had options that could tip the balance in our favor; now, there are none.

In Iraq, we could have signed a “status of forces” agreement to leave residual troops in Iraq, continue to train their military, and ensure the hard-fought gains we made were kept. Instead, Obama made no serious effort to get this agreement, pulled out entirely, leaving Iraq weak and vulnerable, and leaving it easy for ISIS to take large swaths of territory. Now, what is left of Iraq is morphing into an Iranian client state as the US has unilaterally ceded all influence. Obama could have kept troops in Iraq, or he could have provided serious assistance in the fight against ISIS last year. Instead, he has done as little as possible and somehow allowed a nation we spent a decade building to align with our major rivals, Iran and Russia.

In 2014, Obama had a chance to swiftly respond to Russia’s illegal seizure of Crimea by providing arms to the Kiev government and restart the Eastern Europe missile defense shield, a real cost in Putin’s eyes. These actions could have stopped Putin in his tracks, winning Crimea but realizing the rest of Ukraine would not be worth the fight. Instead, Obama merely lectured Putin, so he launched a covert operation in East Ukraine and essentially split the country in two. What can the US do now apart from some meaningless sanctions? Providing the necessary support to the Ukrainian government to roll back Russia would be exceedingly costly and risk direct military confrontation with a nuclear power while giving Putin cover to escalate his involvement. The other option, to accept Russian expansion, would be the most humiliating strategic defeat against Russia since the Carter Administration. By doing virtually nothing serious for 18 months in Ukraine, we face another no-win situation.

Last, Obama foolishly loosened sanctions on Iran just for coming to the negotiating table, ceding the leverage that brought them there. At that point, reasserting the sanctions was all but an impossibility, forcing us to accept an embarrassingly weak deal. Iran doesn’t even care about the few restrictions in the deal, testing a long range missile this week despite that likely being forbidden in the text. They know this administration won’t do anything to nullify the deal because we could never get Russia and China to okay sanctions at the UN again. If we had actually kept sanctions in place during the negotiation, we would have maintained leverage and been able to reach a good deal with real verification. Either we accept a flawed deal that lets Iran become a threshold nuclear state over a decade or we isolate ourselves diplomatically by exiting the deal and imposing further sanctions ourselves.

From Syria to Iraq to Russia to Iran, Obama has been so consistently wrong and soft that we are left with a host of complex situation where there is no clear option for the US. In each situation, had we acted swiftly, we could have gained the initiative and reached a strategically favorable outcome. Instead, American power is being challenged around the world. That is the legacy of this President. His successor will have to navigate minefields just to scrape out draws, by aggressively reasserting our military presence to assuage panicked allies in the Middle East and Eastern Europe alike while reminding bad actors like Putin that the U.S. really is a force to be reckoned with.

Obama’s Presidency is one of bungled opportunities. Would you expect less from a man who expects his own policies to fail?

Beware Russians Bearing Gifts

When addressing the United Nations’ General Assembly on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin will surely have a swagger in his step. Thanks to his reassertion of Russian power on the world stage over the Ukrainian crisis, Putin enjoys domestic popularity that Western leaders would salivate over—despite an economy in recession and overly reliant on exporting oil and gas. On top of this, Putin can take additional delight over his ability to reshape the West’s thinking over the Syrian crisis almost overnight by deploying forces to aid President Bashar al-Assad. Putin is now offering assistance in fighting ISIS and supposedly is even willing to fight ISIS single-handedly. However, we must view this offer with deep skepticism. Often, accepting gifts from enemies is a dangerous proposition.

With over 200,000 dead and millions displaced, the Syrian civil war has devolved into arguably the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since Rwanda, and our failure to do anything substantive merits significant blame for this. Europe prefers to live in blissful decline than carry its weight in the Middle East and now faces refugee inflows unseen since the end of World War II, putting tremendous pressure on its political union. At the same time, the President failed to act when Assad crossed his red line by gassing his own people. Our effort to arm moderate rebels has been a total embarrassment; for $500 million, we have trained “4 or 5” active fighters. Considering our government lacks the competence to even count with confidence to 5, it is no wonder this training program has failed at every level.

Unfortunately, power vacuums inevitably get filled; that is the one time-tested truth of geopolitics. By abdicating our leadership role, we left space that has since been filled by ISIS, leaving us with a civil war where both sides are evil. Fight ISIS and the child-gassing Assad stays in power; fight Assad and watch an apocalyptic terrorist state reign. The moderate rebels have been all but vanquished in the cross-fire. From Syria to Ukraine to the Iran deal, the bumbling of the Obama Administration has consistently left the United States with no-win situations.

Our calls for Assad to go have virtually no credibility given our unwillingness to do anything about it. Assad’s days have supposedly been numbered for years after all. At the same time, our effort to roll back ISIS from the air alone is proving to be ineffectual. Since stopping its advance on Mosul, ISIS has regrouped, solidified its territory, and controls large swaths of Iraq and Syria. Containing it is simply not a viable long-term strategy, and when the White House resorts to using inaccurate intelligence, you can be sure things are not going swimmingly.

Enter Russia.

Putin needs to keep Assad in power or at least ensure that a pro-Russia government takes power. Russia has a strategically critical naval base in Tartus, providing the Navy with a year round warm water hub and a replenishment base on the Mediterranean Sea. Putin cannot allow a regime that would threaten this base take power. At the same time, having risen to power in part thanks to his aggressive response to Chechen terrorists, Putin does understand the threat Islamic extremism poses to the world and probably sees the need to crush ISIS. As such, he has moved troops, tanks, and aircraft to Syria to assist Assad. With Russian assistance, Assad can stabilize the fight and even take some territory back.

Putin is now reaching out to the President to form a joint task force to fight ISIS and resolve the Syrian Civil War. While Putin may accept Assad gradually leaving power over time, Putin wants Assad at the negotiating table, a prolonged transition, and assurances any new government will be in-keeping with Russia’s strategic interests. Make no mistake, the timing of this military buildup is not coincidental. Putin is looking to gain leverage into the UN General Assembly where he can make a triumphant return to the world stage and show his citizenry the key role he played in solving this crisis. Putin has picked the perfect time to apply pressure and force the West’s hand.

Already, our European allies are ready to sign on. Nations like Austria and France now appear willing to let Assad remain in power for some time—perhaps indefinitely.

We mustn’t strike a deal with Putin so easily as there is a significant cost. Putin sees the U.S. retreating from the world, particularly the Middle East, and he has the ability to turn Russia into the regional power. Now with its lackluster and unproductive economy, Russia can do little to project power outwardly and compete with the US by itself (though its national will and nuclear arsenal keep it from being influenced by the United States). However, Russia with one or two regional powers can form hegemonic alliances that can effectively counter US power.

We have already seen Putin pivot East, ensuring Russia will be China’s primary energy supplier for decades as he tries to ally with a rising global power and project strength in the Pacific Basin. At the same time, with $150 billion in fresh funds, an economy unshackled, and 77 million people, Iran has the potential to be the regional power in the Middle East, usurping Saudi Arabia over time. Of course, this is another nation Putin is hitching his horse to. Iraq has turned to Iran for help fighting ISIS since Obama has all but abandoned the region. Shia Iraq is quickly turning into Iran’s proxy.

Similarly, Assad is merely an Iranian proxy, and a proxy Iran needs to keep funneling Hezbollah weaponry. Assad is the key to Iran maintaining its sphere of influence throughout Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. This is the danger of inviting Russian participation in a coalition against ISIS and accepting Assad at the negotiating table. Doing so guarantees a Russian-Iranian axis that extends from the Gulf to the Mediterranean. All the while, Russia makes overtures to Egypt and Turkey, which become all the more compelling as Russian dominance in the region becomes clearer. Even without these two nations, this turn of events would be devastating for the United States, shifting the balance of power away from us in the region and isolating the Gulf States who could turn to nuclear weapons to re-balance—opening the door to an arms race in the most volatile part of the globe.

The case for accepting Putin’s offer today may he compelling in the short-term. 2,000 Russian troops would help in the fight against ISIS, and since we have dithered for so long, there is no viable moderate opposition anymore. This makes our position that Assad must go less tenable—there is no one who can replace him. But to strike a deal with Putin today is to ensure Russian influence in the Middle East only grows over time as the balance shifts towards the Russian-Iranian axis. Plus working with him likely weakens Europe’s resolve to maintain sanctions over Ukraine, which will provide his economy with much needed oxygen.

Are we really prepared to welcome Vladimir Putin back to the world stage as the central dealmaker and risk ceding regional influence to him? A weak-willed Europe unwilling to do anything to actually deal with ISIS and Syria is. The United States should not be. Instead of striking the proverbial deal with the devil, the US should fight to win against ISIS, re-engage with Iraq, deploy 10-15,000 ground troops, roll back ISIS, and pry Iraq back away from Iran. Then with ISIS on the run into Syria, we again have leverage over Putin and can resolve the situation there in a more advantageous fashion. Yes, this strategy is more costly today than Putin’s offer of expedient assistance but it will pay dividends in years to come as Russia remains the outsider looking in at the Middle East.