Sitting Down With Iran
In an open letter to senior leadership in Congress dated Jan. 13, Bishop Oscar Cantú, chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, made the case for patience in the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran. He also wisely urged “avoidance of any measures that might jeopardize the prospects for a diplomatic solution that can advance peace in the region.”
Unfortunately, just such an ill-advised measure was put forward by Senate leaders on March 9 in a letter to Iranian leadership warning that any deal with the United States could be undone when President Obama leaves office. The letter was a reckless gesture, but we hope it will not derail the negotiations.Iran’s religious leaders remain committed to the talks, and the P5-plus-1 team of negotiators is still hoping to reach the framework of an agreement before the deadline on March 31.
There is no valid path forward other than negotiation. As Secretary of State John Kerry said, “Folks, simply demanding that Iran capitulate is not a plan.” Critics worry that the current proposal, which reportedly would allow inspections, limit Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear fuel and force them to surrender fuel stockpiles in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, would expire in 10 or 15 years. Yes, Iran could start compiling weapons again at that time. But a lot could happen before then, too. The campaign for nuclear nonproliferation will progress only if negotiators stay the course. Patience is not a word one associates with U.S. foreign policy, but in this case it is a virtue to be embraced.
Early Life Support
When it comes to closing the opportunity and achievement gaps for children born into poverty, research shows that the earlier the intervention comes, the better. That is the theory behind Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting, “one of the most innovative government programs you’ve probably never heard of,” according to the Brookings Institution. The federal program, implemented as part of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, provides grants to states to expand home visits by nurses, social workers and parent educators to low-income pregnant mothers to help them create more nurturing environments in the vital first years of childhood. Absent Congressional action, however, funding for the program will end on March 31.
That would be a shame. Few government programs can boast the kind of clinically proven results achieved by the best home visiting programs. Randomized controlled trials have found quality programs reduce child neglect and abuse as well as mortality rates for infants and mothers. And the positive effects can last for years. The program has also been found to reduce participating families’ later dependence on government welfare.
In his budget for fiscal year 2016, President Obama requested $500 million to support home visiting programs and $15 billion over the next 10 years. Studies show that such an investment in infant and maternal well-being would be more than recouped by cost savings down the road. The Catholic Church teaches that life starts at conception. So should our generous support for expecting mothers living in poverty.
Gasoline on the Fire?
After the grisly executions of Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa by Islamic State militants, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Japan that he would “make the terrorists pay the price.” Not exactly surprising political rhetoric, especially considering the circumstances. But coming from the leader of a nation whose modern constitution was conceived with the idea of turning it back from some of the military outrages of its own recent past, the comment was noted with concern.
Mr. Abe has already taken steps to unravel Japan’s post-war pacifism; in July, he pushed through new legislation that allows Japan to join allies in a collective response to mutual threats. That move sidestepped the intent of the 1947 Constitution’s Article 9, which renounces war “as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”
Article 9 also commits Japan to maintain its military at a purely defensive level. Having reduced the article’s tactical grip, is Mr. Abe considering re-establishing Japan as a regional military power? Japan’s defense budget, though dwarfed by China’s spending, reached a record 4.98 trillion yen ($42 billion) in 2015.
The United States has encouraged Mr. Abe’s martial impulses with an eye on China and North Korea—perhaps unwisely. The imprudent militarist strain that is a part of the psyche of every nation state is a cultural charcoal that may require very little to be breathed into deadly fire. Mr. Abe is fanning the flame. A world that has yet to figure out how to bless its few peacemakers will be diminished, if not endangered, if he succeeds.