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Foreign Policy

All articles with the "Foreign Policy" tag.

Published: Thu, 25 May 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Thu, 25 May 2017 04:49:10 -0400


Trump: Uniquely Qualified for an Israeli-Palestinian Peace Deal?

Tue, 23 May 2017 17:45:00 -0400

(image) For decades American presidents have tried, with varying degrees of effort and to varying degrees of success, to negotiate a peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Donald Trump, with his apparent lack of interest both in policy detail and in pretending the U.S. is a neutral party, could be uniquely qualified to accomplish what has eluded his predecessors.

Since the Camp David talks of the mid-1970s, the term "peace process" has mostly meant American-led negotiations. That in itself is a problem: When the U.S. takes too large a role in the talks, it removes the pressure from Palestinian and Israeli diplomats to arrive at a deal on their own. But Trump has shown little capacity for the kind of long-term, sustained attention that allows Israelis and Palestinians to abdicate their leadership.

That attention, full of "shuttle diplomacy" and frenetic attempts at legacy-building, rarely moves the peace process forward in a meaningful way. U.S. disengagement, by any avenue, could create the space for real progress.

Trump has also shown little interest in upholding some of the fictions of American diplomacy. When he declares that his administration will "always stand with Israel," he adds none of the nuance of the Obama era, when such language of friendship was constantly coupled with promises to hold Israel accountable. Trump's rhetoric matches the reality on the ground: Since Israel is one of the top recipients of U.S. military aid, negotiators won't see Washington as a neutral party even if the U.S. would like to assume that role.

Trump has, in fact, said he wanted to remain neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Let me sort of be a neutral guy," he said at one campaign stop last year. "I don't want to say whose fault is it. I don't think it helps." This desire did not stop Trump from making unabashedly pro-Israel statements during the campaign or since taking the presidency. With any other politician, a desire for neutrality would be incompatible with statements of unqualified friendship. But Trump is not a typical politician, and his propensity to make contradictory statements without even attempting to reconcile them has arguably destroyed the credibility of his presidency.

Whatever else that might do, it could have the salutory effect of giving Israeli and Palestinian negotiators the impression that they're on their own. A long series of active and respected American presidents have been unable to move the peace process forward. Maybe an inactive president with little credibility is just the jumpstart the negotiations need.

Trump's Saudi Trip Wasn't a Break From Tradition

Mon, 22 May 2017 19:02:00 -0400

Want to see the disconnect between America's actual foreign policy and the way many media professionals imagine it? Check out Anne Applebaum's Washington Post column calling Donald Trump's stop in Saudi Arabia a "bizarre and un-American visit." Applebaum complains that Saudi Arabia, a longstanding beneficiary of U.S. largesse, was a "very strange choice for a first trip abroad" because the last four presidents made their first foreign stops in Mexico or Canada instead. This critique is more about optics than substance, but she's right to see a shift here. The last five presidents, not four—and six of the last seven—had their first foreign excursions in either Canada or Mexico. Ronald Reagan never visited Saudi Arabia. George W. Bush didn't go there until the last year of his presidency. Barack Obama, on the other hand, visited in June 2009, not much later in his presidency than Trump, although he had made nine other foreign trips before then. Obama also visited the kingdom a record four times. (No other president had visited more than twice.) This shift doesn't reflect a specific policy goal of the Trump (or Obama) administration so much as a broader realignment of American priorities. Counterterrorism has taken on an ever more central role in U.S. foreign policy, and Saudi Arabia is America's largest Muslim-majority ally in the Middle East, despite its record of supporting the sort of Islamist extremism that contributes to terrorism. The U.S. has a long history of linking up with murderous dictatorships when it suits America's short-term foreign policy goals, with little regard for potential blowback. The unquestioned alliance with Saudi Arabia is part of that proud tradition. Applebaum complains that Saudi Arabia was Trump's first stop overseas, but what's really troubling is that the president has abandoned his campaign rhetoric questioning such relationships. Applebaum is aware of Saudi support for Islamism; indeed, her second complaint is that Saudi Arabia is a "strange place to speak out against Islamic extremism" because the government there subsidizes certain strains of extremism. True enough, though there really isn't a perfect venue for a speech on Islam. Obama delivered his first-year Islam speech in Cairo, the capital of a secular murderous dictatorship—and also went to Saudi Arabia first to, in his own words, seek the king's counsel on Islam. A similar amnesia afflicts Applebaum when she objects to Trump's participation in the sword dance, a traditional Saudi ritual. "[U]ntil now," she claims, "American presidents made it clear that, while we have to deal with Saudi leaders, we don't endorse their culture. Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others in the delegation did exactly that, by participating in this sinister all-male dance." There's just one problem with that take: George W. Bush also participated in the sword dance when he visited Saudi Arabia. And U.S. presidents regularly "endorse" Saudi culture by participating in various cultural activities while there. It's U.S. spending, not a sword dance, that underwrites the Saudis' reactionary and repressive regime; it's U.S. spending, not a medal or a bow, that raises thorny questions about how much responsibilty we bear for Riyadh's repression at home or its brutal war in Yemen. But acknowledging that means acknowledging that the U.S.-Saudi relationship is a longstanding, bipartisan project, and not simply the product of a single American president who appears enamored with strongman leaders. After complaining that the Trump administration appeared to embrace repressive Saudi culture, Applebaum also manages to complain about Tillerson denouncing human rights violations in Iran. "Yes, Americans are often hypocritical about where and when they promote human rights," she writes. "But to denounce human rights in Iran while standing in Saudi Arabia, a place where there is no political freedom and no religious freedom, brought hypocrisy to a whole new level. Better not to have said anything at all." Saudi Arabia and Ir[...]

Trump To Muslim World: Peace Only Possible "if your Nations Drive Out the Terrorists and Extremists"

Sun, 21 May 2017 15:50:00 -0400

President Donald Trump's speech in Saudi Arabia was in many ways window-dressing to a new, $110-billion arms deal with one of the most repressive regimes on the planet. But his 30-minute talk, televised widely through the Arab and Muslim worlds, is an interesting statement that's worth spending serious time with. If Candidate Trump was openly scornful of Islam, often denouncing it as an inherently violent religion, he's singing a different tune now, saying he's not interested in how countries conduct their internal affairs as long as they don't export terrorists. America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens. We are not here to lecture—we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership—based on shared interests and values—to pursue a better future for us all. Beyond in the rejection of what he would call a globalist worldview, Trump seems to be signaling a return to a non-humanitarian dimension to U.S. foreign policy. The problem is that he specifically justified his ineffective bombing of a Syrian airstrip on humanitarian grounds (that the Assad government had used prohibited chemical weapons on innocent civilians). More important, while he sounded somewhat non-interventionist as a candidate at times, he also pledged to "bomb the shit" out of Muslim terrorists in the Middle East and Afghanistan, a promise he has shown signs of keeping, even beyond Syria. It's worth pointing out, too, that even when the U.S. government has embraced or eschewed humanitarian motivations for foreign policy, it has never been constrained by such declarations. To pretend, for instance, that Bill Clinton's various interventions and actions were motivated by humanitarian concerns rather than vulgar domestic politics requires a suspension of disbelief beyond that of the most-devoted fan of Starlight Express or Cop Rock. Yet from a libertarian perspective at least, it's good to hear a president rhetorically lay out a foreign policy that is basically limited to defending American interests rather than saving the world (how many countries and innocent people must die to prove America is virtuous?). Same, too, with getting overly involved with the internal workings of foreign countries. America should always be a place of refuge for people fleeing tyranny and oppression, and our government can and should exert influence to liberalize and open-up repressive hellholes. But the past 15 years of U.S. interventions (and if we're being honest, most of our overseas adventuring before that) have clearly failed. Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson's campaign may have floundered due to some misstatements about the Syrian civil war, but he was right in saying the United States should use trade, cultural exchange, and diplomacy to affect other countries. We simply don't have the knowledge or resources to bully or beat the world into our shape. Military intervention, regime change, and all the rest should be last resorts and exceptionally rare. The nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children. It is a choice between two futures—and it is a choice America CANNOT make for you. A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. Out. DRIVE THEM OUT of your places of worship. DRIVE THEM OUT of your communities. DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land, and DRIVE THEM OUT OF THIS EARTH. For our part, America is committed to adjusting our strategies to meet evolving threats and new facts. We will discard those strategies that have not worked—and will apply new approaches informed by experience and judgment. We are adopting a Principled Realism, rooted in common values and shared interests. Our friends will never question our [...]

The Dangers of President Trump's Incompetence

Tue, 16 May 2017 13:35:00 -0400

Let us not engage in overwrought responses to the likelihood that President Donald Trump abruptly revealed classified information from an ally to a couple of Russian officials who were in the Oval Office last week. There is a lot to chew over, and there are a lot of people with a lot of competing agendas who either want to scream that Trump is going to bring about a literal apocalypse or alternatively want to insist that everything is just fine and Trump didn't do anything wrong. This morning National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster held a press briefing and repeated several times that everything Trump said was "wholly appropriate" in the context of his meeting. Rather than turning to the now established drum circles that accompany every outrageous Trump story (and the beating is particularly loud with this one), let's instead apply a healthy dose of Occam's razor both in analyzing what happened with Trump's disclosures and what likely consequences may come. Let's dispense with conspiracy theories and Nth-dimensional chess games and keep things simple. The president likely said things he should not have. While President Trump has the authority to declassify and release all sorts of information (including, by the way, any evidence that he was actually wiretapped or surveilled by the feds), some connected to the intelligence community are particularly concerned that Trump revealed extremely secretive operational activity provided by an ally that has the potential to reveal to the Islamic State where we're getting information and potentially jeopardize the identities of people involved. It's also worth noting the history of freak-outs from the intelligence community and its advocates that every piece of leaked information—even from whistleblowers—is a threat to somebody's life, even when that turns out to be untrue or unprovable. That's what we were told about both Edward Snowden (who is still stuck in Russia to avoid federal charges) and Pvt. Chelsea Manning (who gets out of prison tomorrow). We are really not in a position to determine that Trump's disclosures actually threaten anybody's lives or that the Russians have any interest in jeopardizing anti-ISIS efforts. The president is dumb, is boastful, and lacks any sort of discipline. There really is no point in trying to pretend that what's obviously true about Trump is otherwise. He brags constantly, claims utterly bizarre things (like that he invented the economic metaphor "priming the pump"), has little attention span to speak of, and understands little of how government actually functions. There is no point in pretending he's not a severe narcissist even if you agree with some of his policy proposals (like deregulation). There are still consequences for these personality flaws that have to be analyzed. The alarm bell being rung here is therefore a warning that, yes, Trump is very capable of causing a heck of a lot of damage without even being aware of what he's doing. The follow-up story on Trump's babbling is not so much on "OMG, more evidence of Russian collusion!" And thank God for that. Rather the concerns here are that Trump's loose lips will sink intelligence relationships with other countries and intelligence sources. They may be reluctant to share information with the United States and this could potentially make it harder to fight terrorism. But that itself still falls within the area of speculation, and honestly many American allies in these political hotspots are dependent on the United States as the 500-pound gorilla in the room with the capability of magnifying force. Are countries like Egypt and Jordan really going to share less with the United States because of Trump's mouth? It's really hard to imagine that happening. But there's a much simpler, and perhaps more dangerous, potential consequence. Trump will be cut out of intel and decision-making, and that's dangerous. There were news reports already that the intelligence community is deliberately withholding informat[...]

White House Statement on North Korea Missile Test Name Checks Russia. Good!

Sun, 14 May 2017 11:14:00 -0400

Last night, the North Korean regime tested yet another missile which, according to the Japanese ministry of defense, reached an altitude of more than 1,200 miles (the International Space Station, for comparison, is only 250 miles up), and traveled 500 miles in 30 minutes before dropping 250 miles outside of Japan's exclusive economic zone. Despite the longer range of the missile, U.S. Pacific Command said it could not reach the U.S. "The type of missile is being assessed and the flight was not consistent with an intercontinental ballistic missile," said a statement from Pacific Command spokesperon Maj. Rob Shuford. In its statement, meanwhile, the White House invoked Russia, pointing out that the missile dropped even closer to Russia than it did to Japan. The president "cannot imagine that Russia is pleased," the statement read, before moving on to standard boiler-plate about North Korea being a "flagrant menace for far too long" and about the U.S. maintaining its "ironclad commitment" to the security of South Korea and Japan. "Let this latest provocation serve as a call for all nations to implement far stronger sanctions against North Korea," the statement concluded. Many in the foreign policy and political commentariat reacted predictably, calling the reference to Russia "unusual," as Toronto Star foreign correspondent Daniel Dale did. But Russia is one of the six countries in the six-party talks (along with North Korea, South Korea, the U.S., China, and Japan) that China is trying to restart, and has a significant portion of its territory within the range of putative North Korean missiles. For more than a decade, the U.S. has assumed primary security responsibility for North Korea—taking the lead on diplomacy, on saber-rattling, and on developing missile defenses. But North Korea poses a more significant threat to countries far closer to it, and not just U.S. allies either. Since the beginning of his term, Trump has appeared to be trying to draw China into a more active role in containing North Korea. Drawing Russia in too is also a good idea. Eventual disengagement by the U.S. in favor of China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea assuming more responsibility would be even better. No doubt the mention of Russia in the North Korea statement piqued the interest of those peddling or buying into Trump-Russia conspiracies. Trump has done his part in fanning these flames too—allowing talk of a Trump-Russia investigation to influence his thinking process far more than it should. Referring to such an investigation in explanation of terminating the widely unpopular FBI Director James Comey was a spectacular own-goal. Yet Trump's thin skin aside, there's little evidence of "collusion" between Trump and Russia or that the former is somehow in the latter's pocket. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. has bombed the Russian-allied government in Syria, demanded Russia return Crimea to Ukraine before sanctions are lifted, and rejected Exxon-Mobil's request to continue business in Russia. If Putin paid for Trump (and there's no real evidence to suggest that), he should get his money back. In the meantime, Democrats who have become Russia hawks should look back to 2012, heed the advice of President Obama, and stop treating Russia like it's still a Cold War boogeyman. One of Trump's most consistent messages in an often confusing and contradictory campaign was that the U.S. could no longer afford to be the world's policeman. On NATO, Trump buckled quickly, sending Defense Secretary James Mattis to urge Europe to spend more on its own defense but then allowing European leaders to call his bluff and eventually embracing NATO as no longer "obsolete." On Syria, Trump volunteered U.S. military power to act as the enforcement mechanism for the convention on chemical weapons, without any international body even asking him to do so, let alone with him demanding payment for it. On North Korea, there is still the opportunity for a non[...]

South Korea's New President Gives Trump Opportunity to Keep Campaign Promises

Wed, 10 May 2017 10:36:00 -0400

Moon Jae In, the Democratic Party candidate who supports rapprochement with North Korea, declared victory in yesterday's presidential election in South Korea, which he won by a large margin. The dovish Moon, who has been skeptical of U.S. power in the region, presents an opportunity for President Trump to follow through on his campaign-era promise of re-evaluating U.S. defense commitments in places like the Korean penninsula. Moon will be the first Democratic president since Roh Moo-hyun left office in 2008—and the center-left Democrats have been more supportive of normalizing relations with North Korea (known as "sunshine policy"), with the hopes of eventual reunification, than their center-right counterpart. He had long been the frontrunner of the 2017 campaign, even before Park Guen-hye's impeachment pushed the election date up by seven months. Moon previously ran against Park in 2012, losing by three and a half percent. The South Korean president-elect also repeatedly expressed concern over a missile defense system (THAAD) deployment agreed to between President Barack Obama and Park last year. Deployment began earlier this year and was completed overnight late last month amid protests, leading some in South Korea to believe the U.S. was trying to make it "difficult, if not impossible" to reverse the deployment, as The Washington Post reported. "I don't believe the U.S. has the intention [to influence our election], but I do have some reservations," Moon told The Washington Post. "It is not desirable for the [interim] South Korean government to deploy THAAD hastily at this politically sensitive time, with the presidential election approaching, and without going through the democratic process, an environmental assessment or a public hearing," Moon said before the election.- "Would it happen this way in the United States? Could the administration make a unilateral decision without following democratic procedures, without ratification or agreement by Congress?" The agreement over THAAD between Obama and Park was not ratified by Congress, while the U.S.'s accelerated deployment of the missile defense system runs counter to some of President Trump's rhetoric (something American and international observers will probably have to get used to). Trump floated the idea that South Korea should pay the U.S. $1 billion for the THAAD deployment, consistent with his campaign trail pronouncements about South Korea, and other U.S. allies, free-riding on U.S. defense. A couple of days later national security adviser H.R. McMaster assured his South Korean counterpart that the U.S. would pay for the system. Namhee Lee, the co-director of the Center for Korean Studies at UCLA, warns against reading too much into U.S. politics as a factor in the South Korean election. "This election was about the citizens in South Korea who were upset about the previous government's corruption, misuse of power, the collusion between the state and the conglomerates, and growing inequalities in society," she explained to Reason. "Obviously South Koreans are concerned about North Korea's nuclear build-up and Trump's erratic behavior/statements," Lee said, "but apparently only one out of four in the Korean electorate thinks that North Korea and THAAD is the most important issue facing the incoming administration." "But it is true the election of Moon would help to defuse tensions in the region," she continued, as he would resume the sunshine policy of his Democratic predecessors, which would build trust and create the conditions "for gradual change in the North's political and economic systems, which would then lead to coexistence and eventually to peaceful unification of two Koreas. Moon has been against the deployment of THAAD and, as Gye Woon Jeon, president of Students for Liberty in South Korea told Reason, has also demanded the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Korea. "In terms of North Korean nuclear weapons, instead of so[...]

Trump’s Mixed Messages on North Korea Show Importance of Congress’ Role in War Making

Wed, 03 May 2017 09:35:00 -0400

The Trump Show's™ latest story line involves North Korea and the authoritarian country's recent missile tests. Just as he did during the campaign, Donald Trump is wont to take diametrically opposite positions on any issue with abandon. Now the world's his stage. Last week, President Trump told Reuters he believed there was a chance of a "major, major conflict with North Korea." The comments came on the heels of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson opening the door to potential negotiations with the North Korean regime, as The New York Times noted. "Viewed in the most charitable light, Mr. Trump was, in his own nondiplomatic way, building pressure to force the North to halt its nuclear and missile tests," The New York Times suggested, "the first step toward resuming the kind of negotiations that Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has begun to talk about." Then Monday, Trump offered that he'd be "honored" to meet with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, and was open to such a meeting "under the right circumstances." Trump's phrasing re-enforced the notion that Trump has a thing for authoritarian world leaders—such praise highlights his own authoritarian tendencies. But the U.S. has also long had a thing for authoritarian world leaders, and a deep history of supporting authoritarian regimes. There is a case to be made for some strategic ambiguity—that a sort of wildcard foreign policy can create negotiating room and force reflection on long-held and long-uninterrogated assumptions about foreign policy. But Trump's statements don't appear to add up to anything strategic. It's a higher-energy, more frenetic version of the same kind of aimless, interventionist, and ultimately destructive and counterproductive, foreign policy pursued by Barack Obama. For example, while President Trump floated the idea that the South Korean government would have to pay for the U.S. missile defense system the two countries agreed last year the U.S. would deploy in the region, his national security advisor, and the interim South Korean government (elections are next week), insisted that would not be the case. The system went live in South Korea this week. The leading presidential candidate in South Korea, Moon Jae in, has said he would review the system's deployment. H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security advisor, says the Trump administration continues to insist American allies pay more for their defense. Trump's comments could make it more likely for Moon to keep his promise of review if elected. In the first month of the Trump administration, Defense Secretary James Mattis went to Europe to tell its leaders that American taxpayers could no longer "carry a disproportionate share of the defense of western values," particularly on NATO, which Trump had long critiqued on the campaign trail European leaders more or less called Trump's bluff, and the president eventually decided NATO was "no longer obsolete." Such heel-turns turn Trump's pronouncement into little more than noise. That noise is dangerous largely thanks to Congress. On Face the Nation Sunday, asked if another North Korean nuclear test would yield a military response, President Trump said he didn't know, highlighting the importance of Congress asserting its war-making powers. After Obama committed the U.S. military to intervention in Libya, Congress voted against an authorization of the actions, but also rejected a bill by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) which would have defunded the Libya effort. The legislative tool exists, but if there wasn't the political will to use it in a Republican-led Congress against an unconstitutional action by a Democratic president, it's unlikely to be used now. The U.S.-backed intervention in Libya led to the overthrow of Col. Qaddafi less than a decade after he volunteered to surrender his alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to avoid the fate of Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Hussein's insistence o[...]

What's the Deal With Presidential Foreign Policy Doctrines Anyway?

Tue, 02 May 2017 07:00:00 -0400

We have been hearing a lot about the Trump Doctrine, lately. A week ago, for example, Reince Priebus, the White House Chief of Staff, said that "President Trump's decision to launch cruise missiles at Syria in response to a deadly chemical attack was part of a new 'Trump doctrine' governing his foreign policy." The president, Priebus continued, "is really establishing… a Trump doctrine in setting some certain lines of where we're not going to allow people like [Syrian President Bashar] Assad to go, but at the same time making it clear that we're not interested in long-term ground wars in the Middle East." Whether Trump's foreign policy views amount to a coherent doctrine is doubtful. Let's not forget that candidate Trump railed against bombing of Syria when President Obama occupied the Oval Office. Similarly, Trump promised to declare China to be a currency manipulator on "day one" of his presidency, only to reverse himself later. Other flip-flops include Trump's attitude to Russia. The president, famously, wanted a good relationship with Putin, but soured on the Russian strongman following the U.S. bombing of Syria—Russia's ally. He also changed his view on the relevance and utility of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which he once saw as "obsolete," but now considers a "bulwark of international peace." Of broader relevance, I think, is the existence of presidential doctrines in the first place. Since the Truman Doctrine at the start of the Cold War, America's foreign policy establishment, not to mention the rest of the world, awaits with bated breath the permutations of U.S. foreign policy each time America swears in a new Commander in Chief. Will the United States "pay any price, bear any burden… to assure the survival and the success of liberty" (Kennedy Doctrine) or will it "look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for its defense" (Nixon Doctrine)? Will America live with communism (détente) or roll it back (Reagan Doctrine)? Are we a country of regime-changers and nation-builders (Bush Doctrine) or do we avoid doing "stupid shit" (Obama Doctrine). One never really knows what the new guy will do, but we assume that it will be different from what the previous guy did. This is a weird way to conduct foreign policy. Nations, typically, don't have "doctrines." They have national interests. The British national interest, sticking close to America and preventing Europe from being dominated by a single power, does not change depending on the monarch or the prime minister. The French national interest (to annoy the Americans, even if it means cozying up to Russia) does not change whether Francois Mitterrand or Jacques Chirac walks the corridors of the Élysée Palace. And the Russians will stop at nothing to keep their access to the Black Sea (Crimea) and the Mediterranean (Syria). One possible way of explaining the changing priorities of U.S. foreign policy is that America is actually relatively secure. It dominates the Western Hemisphere, where it has no competitor, and is separated from most of the world's major hot spots by two vast oceans. Our foreign policy, in other words, is dominated less by our vital national interests and more by the whims our ruling class. Murder of "beautiful babies," which motivated Trump's bombing in Syria, was an act of inhumanity. But going after Assad, who is fighting a war against the Islamic State savages, did not further American national interests in any meaningful way. Our presidential doctrines, in other words, paper over the fact that America, unlike any other state in modern history, enjoys extraordinary latitude when choosing how to interact with the rest of the world. That is our blessing and our curse.[...]

Trump, Like His Predecessors, Refuses to Call Armenian Genocide a ‘Genocide’

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 13:45:00 -0400

Today is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day—or, as it has been known by the U.S. government since 1975, National Day of Remembrance of Man's Inhumanity to Man. That linguistic downgrade is symbolic, as the political drama around April 24 ever since has been whether the U.S. president will finally, in his Remembrance Day message, risk incurring the wrath of key NATO ally Turkey by calling the century-old Turkish-perpetrated genocide a "genocide." In a statement just before noon, President Donald Trump carried on the tradition of his predecessors by declining to use the G-word: Today, we remember and honor the memory of those who suffered during the Meds Yeghern, one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century. Beginning in 1915, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in the final years of the Ottoman Empire. I join the Armenian community in America and around the world in mourning the loss of innocent lives and the suffering endured by so many. As we reflect on this dark chapter of human history, we also recognize the resilience of the Armenian people. Many built new lives in the United States and made indelible contributions to our country, while cherishing memories of the historic homeland in which their ancestors established one of the great civilizations of antiquity. We must remember atrocities to prevent them from occurring again. We welcome the efforts of Turks and Armenians to acknowledge and reckon with painful history, which is a critical step toward building a foundation for a more just and tolerant future. Trump's statement is almost indistinguishable from what Barack Obama said in 2016. But at least Trump, unlike Obama (and Hillary Clinton, and Samantha Power…and John Kerry, and George W. Bush and Bush's dad) didn't make pious promises on the campaign trail to at long last call genocide by its proper name, only to sell the Armenian diaspora down the Bosphorus within months of gaining power. There is no doubt that replacing the phrase "mass atrocities" with the word "genocide" would cause a tremendous amount of upset in bilateral U.S.-Turkish relations, given how much of Ankara's diplomacy is bent on this one issue. (Turkey categorizes the Armenian dead as casualties of war rather than victims of targeted ethnic slaughter, and does not take kindly to anything that sullies the reputation of Kemal Ataturk, the post-Ottoman founder of the country.) There is also no significant doubt among historians that what happened from 1915-24 was indeed a genocide. I have long argued that the promise-breaking on this issue by humanitarian interventionists such as Power (whose nickname used to be "genocide chick") illustrates a fundamental paradox at the heart of both neoconservatism and the Responsibility to Protect: In order to uphold the high-minded principles you are invoking while attacking another country, it becomes logistically necessary to flagrantly violate them. Trump, who campaigned on a set of foreign policy ideas that fall much closer to the tradition of realism, demonstrates in his continuation of his predecessors' policies a truth about realpolitik: It is situational and transactional on its face. You can't be a hypocrite if you dispatch with the idealism up front. Is there another option? In the real world, probably not. Nonetheless, I prefer the Vaclav Havel-influenced approach of former U.S. ambassador to Armenia John Marshall Evans, a career diplomat who was shepherded into retirement after daring to utter the G-word: Just call things by their proper names. Pathologies tend to compound over time when indulged instead of confronted. And yes, those include pathologies nurtured in Washington as well. UPDATE: The Genocide Chick speaks! I am very sorry that, during our time in office, we in the Obama administration did not recognize the #A[...]

Trump's Empty Bluster and Bombing

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 00:01:00 -0400

When terrorism raises its head, governments often take steps that are supposed to make us safer—banning tiny knives from airplanes, putting metal detectors at stadium entrances, issuing "orange" alerts. Skeptics dismiss these measures as "security theater." They're a show, not a genuine obstacle to terrorists. The Trump administration, obsessed with imagery, has adapted this approach to national security. The president tweets bellicose warnings to North Korea. The vice president goes to South Korea to don a bomber jacket and stare implacably across the Demilitarized Zone. An aircraft carrier steams toward the Sea of Japan—or rather, Trump claims it's doing so even as it heads the opposite direction, thousands of miles away. Anyone who heard Donald Trump brag about his choice for defense secretary knows that half the appeal of James Mattis was his nickname, "Mad Dog," which the president used every chance he got. Had Mattis been known as "Peewee" or "Mouse," he would have been passed over. With all the noise and spectacle, this presidency often seems less like an attempt at governance and more like a rehearsal for a Broadway musical. It's just not clear whether it will be a comedy or a tragedy. Some of the props are real. When the military dropped the biggest conventional bomb in the U.S. arsenal on an Islamic State position in Afghanistan, it came as a surprise. But you know the Pentagon had Trump at "mother of all bombs." Once he heard about it, he had to use it. The problem is that these gestures are no substitute for strategies. This sortie was meant to highlight our power in a way no one could miss. But what happens if you drop your biggest bomb and it doesn't win the war? Those on the other side conclude that they can take the worst you can inflict. The rest of the world sees the same thing. It's known as shooting your bolt. The most important question in fighting a war is often, "Then what?" It's one of many questions Trump doesn't spend hours contemplating. He certainly didn't let it delay his missile strike on a Syrian air base, which was supposed to punish President Bashar Assad's use of chemical weapons. That attack sent a couple of signals. The first is that if Assad resorts again to chemical weapons, the U.S. may respond with military force. The second is that if the Syrian dictator uses other methods—as he has done in killing some 100,000 civilians—he has nothing to worry about. Assad can take a hint. In the week after the missile strike, according to the Voice of America, the Syrian Network for Human Rights noted an increase in his use of cluster munitions, incendiary weapons and barrel bombs, which killed at least 98 civilians, 24 of them children. The 22,000-pound bomb that hit a network of caves used by the Islamic State in Afghanistan was said to have killed 96 enemy fighters while causing no civilian casualties. The latter claim invites skepticism. George W. Bush and Barack Obama both declined to use this weapon because of its indiscriminate effects. Bush considered it for taking out Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. In the end, the danger to innocent bystanders was deemed so great that it was left on the shelf—until now. Trump clearly thinks that worrying about civilian casualties makes you look weak. But indifference to collateral damage doesn't mean he will succeed in Afghanistan or Syria. One huge conventional bomb, or two or five, won't defeat the Islamic State—which isn't even our chief enemy in Afghanistan. And deploying it against the Taliban, who have a wider and deeper presence, would doubtless spawn more terrorists than it would kill. The missile strike and the giant bomb drop both amount to an admission of impotence. We can't win in Syria without dispatching a large number of ground troops, and so far Trump is not willing to do that. We hav[...]

Is Certification of Iran's Compliance With the Nuclear Deal a 'Coming of Age' for the Trump Admin?

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 20:05:00 -0400

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson certified to Congress that Iran was complying with Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, before a statutory midnight deadline, while also insisting Iran remained "a leading state sponsor of terror through many platforms and methods" and indicating that the Trump administration would evaluate the JCPOA-related suspension of sanctions and whether it was "vital to the national security interests of the United States." "President Trump… has realized that tearing up a highly complex and multinational agreement is not a wise thing to do at this time," Farideh Farhi, an independent scholar and affiliate graduate faculty member at University of Hawaii-Manoa, told Reason. "Note that under the Nuclear Agreement Review Act, the president has to provide certification every 90 days. Had the Trump administration not done so, it would have triggered legislative procedures and potential reimpositions of sanctions, which would then declare the U.S. intent to renege on its JCPOA obligations," she added. Tillerson's certification also "indicates that the Trump administration has had a sort of… coming of age, to realize that this nuclear deal is not such a terrible deal that President Trump was declaring during the campaign," Emad Kiyaei, a policy advisor with the American-Iranian Council, a non-profit whose mission is to provide a "sustainable dialogue and a more comprehensive understanding of US-Iran relations," told Reason. During the presidential campaign, Trump called the Iran deal a "disaster" and the "worst deal ever negotiated," although he did not challenge the premise of making the deal in the first place, and unlike many of the other Republican candidates, did not promise to rip it up on his first day in office. James Mattis, Trump's secretary of defense, expressed support for abiding by the Iran nuclear deal in his confirmation hearings. The Trump administration imposed new missiles-related sanctions on Iran in February, and the review announced this week opens the door for the Trump administration to reject the nuclear deal down the road. "By ordering a review process, the administration is hinting that it has not yet formulated an overall policy regarding how to deal with Iran," Farhi explained. "Given the fact that the Congress is contemplating sanctions on other grounds (reportedly now delayed until the results of Iran's May 19 presidential elections are known), clearly the desire to apply more pressure on Iran remains in Washington and may become the force that will push for a more aggressive posture towards Iran, eventually threatening the JCPOA." "For now, however, Obama's Iran policy remains in force by fiat and the inability of Iran hawks in Washington and the administration to decide exactly what to do," she added. Kiyaei warns that a shift away from the JCPOA would not be in the best interests of the United States, "nor will it help empower those within the Iranian administration that seek to bring the level of tensions between the two countries down." Instead, "it will empower those conservatives in Iran that seek to destabilize even a semblance of a better relationship with the U.S." "Sanctions equal more friction, and friction brings in power those who are going to be much more able to destabilize the Middle East in the image that they wish," Kiyaei explained, "which goes counter to the interests of the United States and its allies in the region, especially at a time when the Iranian elections are just a few weeks away." Kiyaei noted that harsher rhetoric from the Trump administration, actions like the travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries including Iran, and a disengagement from limited direct communications has already deteriorated U.S.-Iranian relations that had begun t[...]

U.S. Sending More Troops to Somalia—Continuing Escalation Kickstarted Last Year

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 21:20:00 -0400

The U.S. has deployed about 40 additional "regular" troops to Somalia, according to anonymous military officials, to "train and equip" the Somali military, continuing an escalation of the U.S. counter-terrorism campaign in Somalia that continued apace in the twilight of the Obama administration. The war in Somalia is a stark reminder of the consequences of a decade and a half of Congress' abrogation of its warmaking powers in favor of unilateral executive action—indefinite, worldwide war. Trump's election didn't temper President Obama's desire to expand the war in Somalia, even though on the campaign trail in 2016 he warned that Trump was "uniquely unqualified" to be president. In late November, the Obama administration deemed Al-Shabaab part of the conflict covered under the post-9/11 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF). That, The New York Times reported, strengthened the legal basis for airstrikes and other counterterrorism operations in Somalia that were becoming more frequent. Al-Shabaab, which became an affiliate of Al-Qaeda in 2012, emerged after a 2007 U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia to oust the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), with which a nascent Somali government refused to negotiate, from power. The Somali government reportedly requested that the U.S. deploy additional troops to help it fight Al-Shabaab. Last October, the government requested an explanation for an air strike it said killed nearly two dozen soldiers and civilians. Last March, a U.S. airstrike killed 150 alleged militants in Somalia—the U.S. insisted there was an unspecified "imminent threat" to U.S. troops in the country. In reporting the current U.S. troop deployment, some outlets, like the BBC, say only U.S. "counterterrorism advisors" were in the country previously—these are actually "special forces," or U.S. troops. The BBC did report on the presence of U.S. forces in Somalia after the March 2016 airstrike. Somalia was one of the seven countries in the first iteration of Trump's travel ban aimed at majority-Muslim countries. While the U.S. "withdrew" from Somalia in 1994 after volunteering to lead the United Nations task force sent in the wake of the collapse of the Siad Barre government, it has reinserted itself in the last decade plus under the auspices of fighting terrorism. Obama's decision late last year to pull operations in Somalia under the post-9/11 AUMF reveals the fiction what kind of a fiction the authorization is, given the U.S. had returned to Somalia for counterterrorism long before the decision. In 2010, Obama declared via an executive order, renewed by Trump this month, a "national emergency" in Somalia to deal with the "extraordinary threat to national security" violence in the country posed. During the 2002 vote on the post-9/11 AUMF, only one member of Congress voted no, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) She warned of endless war. Today, despite some bipartisan push, the Congress is unwilling to entertain a new AUMF. The last time it passed one was in 2003, to authorize the war in Iraq. Now the U.S. is engaged in military operations in more than half a dozen countries, including Iraq, under the auspices not of the of the 2003 AUMF but the post-9/11 one, to fight the Islamic State (ISIS). Back in Somalia, ISIS has tried to convince Al-Shabaab to switch their allegiance from Al-Qaeda to ISIS, as well as conducting terror attacks of their own, with Somali security forces engaging ISIS fighters in hostilities for the first time late last year. U.S. troops are joining this fray.[...]

Trump Admin Rhetoric Taking U.S.-North Korea Crisis to a Dangerous New Place, Says Kim Jong Il Biographer

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 20:21:00 -0400

The U.S. is preparing to launch a pre-emptive military strike if it appears that a nuclear weapons test by North Korea is imminent, NBC News reported last night, further ratcheting up rhetoric about the totalitarian hermit regime. Michael Malice, author of Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il, explained to Reason that the U.S. and North Korea were in a fundamentally new and more dangerous place today because of a number of actions taken on the U.S.'s part. "We've never said we're done talking to them before," Malice noted, referring to Rex Tillerson's comments last month that the U.S. was done negotiating and that its "policy of strategic patience" had ended. Malice also mentioned the U.S. sending the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson to the Korean Peninsula, as a specific show of force, as something new—the U.S. has generally sent ships to the region only for military exercises. "We're openly discussing assassinating Kim Jong Un," Malice continued, pointing to a Drudge Report headline linked to an NBC News report that mentioned the option to "target and kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and other senior leaders in charge of the country's missiles and nuclear weapons and decision-making" as one of three options the National Security Council presented President Trump, along with deploying nuclear weapons in South Korea and covert action to disrupt North Korea's nuclear weapons program. "This was never a headline before," Malice explained, "and the idea that any country is going to be happy while the Americans, who are really tough, are musing about killing their leader, is kind of whacky." Malice compared the situation to last week's missile strikes on Syria: "We were more aggressive against North Korea in the last couple of weeks than we had been in Syria, and we hit Syria, and that's new." Malice said the administration was telegraphing that it was moving to Plan B, "and I'm scared of what that's going to be." Earlier this week Trump told the Wall Street Journal that after listening to the president of China "for 10 minutes" he realized the North Korea situation was "not so easy." Trump continued: "I felt pretty strongly that they [China] had a tremendous power over North Korea… but it's not what you would think." The U.S. sent the Carl Vinson to the region the next day. Earlier this month, Tillerson said the U.S. had "no further comment" on North Korea's missile tests. I wrote that this was a good thing if it meant not paying attention to North Korea, which thrives on such attention. Yet since then, the administration has lavished the regime in it. North Korea, Malice explained, sees itself as a "shrimp among whales" and its leaders "revel in giving the finger to bigger parties" like Russia, the U.S., Japan, and even China. Malice said that Trump's more confrontational posture toward North Korea makes Kim Jong Un more likely to launch a nuclear weapons test, "100 percent." "First of all, if you, Ed, are threatening me, Michael, as a person, you're a bigger guy, my best move is to not escalate," Malice explained, "but it is to have a strong bluff to get you to back off." Malice pointed out that Trump should be intimately familiar with this concept. "Trump said this himself: you have to hit back," Malice said. "He wouldn't even let Meryl Streep off the hook." "I don't think Trump's informed about North Korea, and I don't think he's in a position to be informed," Malice explained. "You can't sit someone down with no foreign policy experience and give them a 30 minute speech and he gets it." The North Korean regime has been feeding its population a steady diet of propaganda about "U.S. imperialists." "They have been told for 70 years that the U.S. wants to conquer them since th[...]

Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Switcheroos: The New Fifth Column, With Michael Weiss

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 18:17:00 -0400

(image) Michael Weiss, editor in chief of the Russia-watching Interpreter magazine, and author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, has long been one of the most knowledgeable observers of Great Game international politics. Last night, after one of the most eventful weeks in modern foreign policy history, what with President Donald Trump's showy switcheroos on Syria, Russia, China, and NATO, and his noisy belligerence toward North Korea, Weiss joined for 45 minutes of a 133-minute (!) version of The Fifth Column, the weekly podcast of Kmele Foster, Michael C. Moynihan, and myself. You can listen right here:

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Also earning mentions: Masshole marathoners, "Black Ron Paul," the Maple Syrup Mafia, and much more. You can further service your Fifth Column needs at iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play,, @wethefifth, and Facebook.

BONUS ANNOUNCEMENT: I am scheduled to appear on tonight's All in With Chris Hayes on MSNBC with guest-host Joy-Ann Reid at 8 pm ET, to talk about our coming conflict with North Korea.

MOABs, Russkies, Prog Rock, Jesus, Jackie Robinson, and the F-word: Matt Welch Hosts on Sirius XM 9-12 AM ET

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0400

(image) This morning from 9-12 ET I will be guest-hosting on Sirius XM Insight's Stand UP! with Pete Dominick show, which you can find at 121 on your channel-finder. (I will also be hosting next Monday and Tuesday at the same time, and in fact hosted Tuesday of this week as well.) It's a loose-limbed and interactive format, so call anytime at 1-877-974-7487 to give me some ideological backup (and fashion critiques), though of course it will also be jam-packed with guests. To wit:

* Delaware Dave Weigel, the beloved if commenter-controversial former Reasoner-turned WashPost politics guy. We will be talking mostly about his marvelously named forthcoming book The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock, with maybe some politics sprinkled in.

* Michael Weiss, editor in chief of The Interpreter, and author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror. We will be talking about the Russkies.

* Benjamin K. Bergen, cognitive scientist and author of the new What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves. We will be talking about self-censorship in book titles.

* Michael G. Long and Chris Lamb, academics and co-authors of the new book Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography: The Faith of a Boundary-Breaking Hero. We will be mashing up Good Friday and Jackie Robinson.

* And finally, Michael Brendan Dougherty of The Week and The Slurve. We will be discussing our own personal Jesuses.