In “A Good Bad Deal?” The Moustache of Wisdom says it’s too late for a great accord on limiting Iran’s nuclear program, but maybe not a worthwhile one. Mr. Bruni, in “The Sunny Side of Greed,” asks are corporations as soulless and evil? He says not on the Confederate flag, same-sex marriage and a host of other recent issues. Here’s TMOW:
Sometime after the 1973 war, I remember seeing a cartoon that showed President Anwar el-Sadat lying flat on his back in a boxing ring. The Israeli prime minister, Golda Meir, wearing boxing gloves, was standing over him, with Sadat saying to Meir something like, “I want the trophy, I want the prize money, I want the belt.”
I’ve been thinking of that cartoon a lot lately as I listen to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, lecturing the United States and its five great power partners on his terms for concluding a deal that would restrict Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon for 10 to 15 years in return for lifting sanctions. But in that draft deal Khamenei has managed to preserve Iran’s basic nuclear infrastructure, albeit curbed, and has continually insisted that Iran will not allow international inspections of military sites suspected of harboring covert nuclear programs.
It’s still not clear if the last remaining obstacles to a deal will be resolved. But it is stunning to me how well the Iranians, sitting alone on their side of the table, have played a weak hand against the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain on their side of the table. When the time comes, I’m hiring Ali Khamenei to sell my house.
You’d never know that “Iran is the one hemorrhaging hundreds of billions of dollars due to sanctions, tens of billions because of fallen oil prices and billions sustaining the Assad regime in Syria,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment. And “it’s Ali Khamenei, not John Kerry, who presides over a population desperate to see sanctions relief.” Yet, for the past year every time there is a sticking point — like whether Iran should have to ship its enriched uranium out of the country or account for its previous nuclear bomb-making activities — it keeps feeling as if it’s always our side looking to accommodate Iran’s needs. I wish we had walked out just once. When you signal to the guy on the other side of the table that you’re not willing to either blow him up or blow him off — to get up and walk away — you reduce yourself to just an equal and get the best bad deal nonviolence can buy.
Diplomatic negotiations in the end always reflect the balance of power, notes the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy specialist Michael Mandelbaum, writing in The American Interest. “In the current negotiations … the United States is far stronger than Iran, yet it is the United States that has made major concessions. After beginning the negotiations by insisting that the Tehran regime relinquish all its suspect enrichment facilities and cease all its nuclear activities relevant to making a bomb, the Obama administration has ended by permitting Iran to keep virtually all of those facilities and continue some of those activities.”
How did this happen? “Part of the explanation may lie in Barack Obama’s personal faith in the transformative power of exposure to the global economy.” But, adds Mandelbaum, “Surely the main reason … is that, while there is a vast disparity in power between the two parties, the United States is not willing to use the ultimate form of power and the Iranian leaders know this.”
Before you denounce Obama as a wimp, remember that George W. Bush had eight years to address this problem — when it was smaller — with either military force or forceful diplomacy, and he blinked for eight years.
But is it still possible to get a good bad deal — one that, while it does not require Iran to dismantle its nuclear enrichment infrastructure, shrinks that infrastructure for the next 10 to 15 years so Iran can’t make a quick breakout to a bomb? A deal that also gives us a level of transparency to monitor that agreement and gives international inspectors timely intrusive access to anywhere in Iran we suspect covert nuclear activity? One that restricts Iran from significantly upgrading its enrichment capacity over the next decade, as the bipartisan group of experts convened by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy proposed last week?
Yes. A good bad deal along such lines is still possible — and that will depend on the details now being negotiated at this 11th hour. Such a deal would enable the president to say to a skeptical Congress and Israel that he has gotten the best bad deal that an empty holster can buy, and that it has bought time for a transformation in Iran that is better than starting a war whose fallout no one can foretell.
But beware: This deal could be as big, if not bigger, an earthquake in the Middle East as the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. And what both had in common is that we were totally unprepared to manage the aftershocks the morning after. The Arab world today has almost no geopolitical weight. Egypt is enfeebled, Saudi Arabia lacks the capacity to project power and Iraq is no more. An Iran that is unshackled from sanctions and gets an injection of over $100 billion in cash will be even more superior in power than all of its Arab neighbors. Therefore, the U.S. needs to take the lead in initiating a modus vivendi between Sunni Arabs and Persian Shiites and curb Iran’s belligerence toward Israel. If we can’t help defuse those conflicts, a good bad deal could very easily fuel a wider regional war.
Now here’s Mr. Bruni:
In the dire prophecies of science-fiction writers and the fevered warnings of left-wing activists, big corporations will soon rule the earth — or already do.
Fine with me.
They’ve been great on the issue of the Confederate flag. Almost immediately after the fatal shooting of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., several prominent corporate leaders, including the heads of Walmart and Sears, took steps to retire the banner as a public symbol of the South; others made impassioned calls for that.
And when Nikki Haley, the South Carolina governor, said that the Confederate flag at the State House should come down, she did so knowing that Boeing and BMW, two of the state’s major employers, had her back. In fact the state’s chamber of commerce had urged her and other politicians to see the light.
Eli Lilly, American Airlines, Intel and other corporations were crucial to the defeat or amendment of proposed “religious freedom” laws in Indiana, Arkansas and Arizona over the last year and a half. Their leaders weighed in against the measures, which licensed anti-gay discrimination, and put a special kind of pressure on politicians, who had to worry about losing investment and jobs if companies with operations in their states didn’t like what the government was doing.
And if it were up to corporations, we’d have the immigration reform we sorely need. Early last year, the United States Chamber of Commerce publicized a letter that urged Congress to act on “modernizing our immigration system.” It was signed by 246 enterprises large and small, including Apple, AT&T, Caterpillar, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Google, McDonald’s, Marriott and Microsoft.
Are these companies acting in their own interests? Absolutely. They’re trying to make sure that laws and local customs don’t prevent them from attracting and retaining the best work force. They’re burnishing their brands in a manner that they hope will endear them to customers.
But those efforts, coupled with whatever genuine altruism and civic obligation some corporate leaders feel, have produced compelling recent examples of companies showing greater sensitivity to diversity, social justice and the changing tides of public sentiment than lawmakers often manage to.
Corporations aren’t paralyzed by partisan bickering. They’re not hostage to a few big donors, a few loud interest groups or some unyielding ideology.
“They’re ultimately more responsive to a broader group of voters — customers — than politicians are,” said Bradley Tusk, whose firm, Tusk Strategies, does consulting for both private corporations and public officials.
“If you’re a politician and all you care about is staying in office, you’re worried about a small group of voters in your district who vote in the primary,” he told me, referring to members of the House of Representatives. “If you’re a corporation, you need to be much more in sync with public opinion, because you’re appealing to people across the spectrum.”
And so, he added, “Ironically, a lot of corporations have to be far more democratic than democratically elected officials.”
Newsweek observed as much in a story published this week, noting that inclusiveness “may not be good politics in this day of polarization and micro-targeting, but it seems to be good business. And that is making the business community the sort of ‘big tent’ political force that neither major political party can claim to be.”
Major financial institutions were well ahead of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other Democratic politicians when it came to same-sex marriage. The leaders of these banks and hedge funds lent their voices and considerable sums of money to its legalization in New York in 2011.
And Amazon, Starbucks, Nordstrom and other companies in Washington State worked to ensure passage of a marriage-equality referendum there back in November 2012.
Under the stewardship of Howard Schultz, Starbucks alone has been a paragon of corporate munificence and social consciousness in areas ranging from higher education to race relations. Back in 2011, Schultz used his corporate pulpit to bemoan congressional sclerosis and try to exert more cooperation among Democrats and Republicans on debt reduction; he succeeded in getting more than 100 other chief executives to pledge to withhold political donations until Congress made bipartisan progress.
Between 2010 and 2014, Unilever increased the fraction of materials it got from farms with sustainable practices to roughly one-half from less than one-fifth. And the software company Infor participated in a multimillion-dollar program to provide free tickets to “Selma” for American schoolchildren.
The list goes on. And while it doesn’t erase the damage that corporations wreak on the environment or their exploitation of workers paid too little, it does force you to admit that corporations aren’t always the bad guys. Sometimes the bottom line matches the common good, and they’re the agents of what’s practical, wise and even right.