Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Obama Rebound Begins

Things were hairy there for a couple of months, what with the government shutdown (Republicans' fault) and the still incomprehensible fail of the healthcare website (all you, Democrats), but slowly and surely, things seem to be turning around, just in time for the holidays.

For example, House Speaker John Boehner did a nice job showing that the healthcare website wasn't such a bad experience after all. In fact, a health insurance representative tried to call him, but hung up after Boehner kept him on hold for 35 minutes. Even better, the ACA is changing the way that hospitals are treating patients, cutting down on procedures that might not be necessary, and generally becoming more efficient. And part-time workers will have more choices come January, which will replace the spare options they have now for more robust policies.

The best part, though, is that thousands of people are effectively signing up for health insurance through state exchanges and Medicaid, and will soon have a much better experience on healthcare.gov. I went on the site and breezed through the process here in New Jersey. In late October, that didn't happen.

On the foreign front, the president and John Kerry have been working with the leaders of five other nations and have come up with what they think is a plausible plan to monitor Iran's nuclear capacity and loosen some of the sanctions that have squeezed a good deal of pulp out of Teheran's economy. This is not only a pivot for Obama away from confrontation and war toward a more diplomatic-centered policy, but it reinforces the notion that he's at heart a man of peace who can finally see his vision of a more engaged Middle East come to fruition. And so far, Americans seem to support his efforts.

Of course, this will be a long, messy process. The Saudis and Israelis are wary and nervous about a reinvigorated Iran, and for good reason. Iran threatens the Saudi near-monopoly on oil in the region and their Sunni government is a natural enemy for the Iranian Shiite mullahs who really run the country. Israel is, of course, afraid that Iran will ignore any limits placed on it by a treaty and once their economy improves, will go ahead and build nuclear weapons and use them on Jerusalem.

If you thought it was difficult to solve the Israeli-Palestinian issue, then this will be well-nigh impossible, but it has to work. Iran once had a vibrant economy and the people are committed to a free-market system. The religious leaders might have to make more concessions to the business sector, as the Chinese Communist Party has done in the name of capitalism, and my sense is that a rising middle class will not look kindly on a regime that would threaten that prosperity with a risky and suicidal strike on Israel. And really, do you think Iran would nuke the Old City, with its timeless Muslim shrines? I might be naive, but I don't.

As for the Saudis, they have been fed on American weapons and support, while suppressing any free speech or political movements that could give women the right to drive, much less tolerate a free press or alternative political parties. Yet we see them as an ally and the somewhat more free Iranians as the third leg of the axis of evil. Never forget that 15 of the 19 September 11 conspirators were radicalized Saudis. That says something about the level of repression inside that country. I suspect that their bigger fear is what their society will need to undergo in order to compete in a world where Iran and Iraq have freer economies.

Clearly, we are at the beginning of the process and Obama and Kerry have to make sure that Israel is protected from any mischief, nuclear or otherwise. But Israel also has to solve its own problem with settlements and a two state solution to the Palestinian problem. Interesting times indeed.

The Republicans, and some influential Democrats such as Charles Schumer of New York, have lined up against the Iran agreement and the Republicans continue to hope and pray that people don't sign up for health care. In addition, the House has said that they won't be voting on the immigration bill this year (though most Americans support a path to citizenship), and this while Chris Christie is considering supporting a Dreamer bill in New Jersey (or at least the idea of one). As long as the GOP hard right continues to play hardball, the Democrats will begin to look better and better as we move towards November. Something to be thankful for?

You bet.

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