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Foreign Policy

All articles with the "Foreign Policy" tag.

Published: Fri, 17 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Fri, 17 Nov 2017 20:27:06 -0500


Trump Trip to Asia Mostly a Welcome Shift in U.S. Foreign Policy

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 14:34:00 -0500

President Donald Trump doesn't think he's getting enough credit for his 12-day, five-country trip to Asia. He has a point. Trump's diplomatic efforts in Asia are a repudiation of Barack Obama's "Asia pivot," which sought to contain China's rise by expanding American influence in the region. The Obama approach prompted China to take a more confrontational stance vis a vis the United States—an effect that apparently caught the Obama administration by surprise even though it shouldn't have. Trump's reset can reduce tensions in the region while giving U.S. allies an incentive to take more responsibility for their own stability and security. Japan and South Korea, for example, have both recently committed to increasing their own military expenditures. And while China insists its decision to send a high-level envoy to North Korea (the first such trip this year) was "common practice" and "unrelated" to the American president's visit, Trump has pushed regional stakeholders to take a more active role in defusing tensions with North Korea. China may not have the total control over North Korea's foreign policy that Trump imagined before he assumed the presidency, but it did have more room to cooperate with the West. And while several Asian countries announced a trade deal without the U.S., which withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership three days into Trump's presidency, that's not necessarily bad news either. Trump's anti-trade rhetoric is indisputably harmful, and the lack of any news about any kind of bilateral deals at the end of his long trip is not a good sign for the future of such pacts. But a continental trade deal that doesn't include the U.S. could be a stronger arrangement than one that did. After all, the original Trans-Pacific Partnership also excluded China. Given that China is the second largest economy in the world, its exclusion never made sense from a trade perspective. But it made sense if the TPP was another tool to contain China. In the trade deal's current form, it is far better positioned to eventually include the U.S. and China, as it will be better able to avoid geopolitically motivated pressure from the U.S. The foreign minister of Japan insists the new deal will "serve as a foundation for building a broader free-trade area" across Asia; a deal perceived (rightfully) as a tool of U.S. foreign policy would not have such a bright future. Trump did not spend his Asia trip lecturing other countries about the importance of liberal democracy and human rights, to the chagrin of some observers. Yet such lectures are usually meant more for the domestic U.S. audience than audiences overseas. Just as Americans don't appreciate even the perception of being lectured by foreign countries like Russia, so it goes in other countries. (That said, it would be nice if Trump would refrain from actively praising a nation's human rights abuses.) The U.S. can promote human rights and liberal democracy much more effectively through leading by example and through fostering self-reliance rather than dependence among its allies. Liberal values are their own best spokesperson—witness China's eagerness to advocate for free trade and globalization where Trump won't. If Trump's perceived disinterest in international governance leads other countries to decide they too should take ownership of the world order rather than relying on the U.S., we will all be better for it.[...]

Another Grim Report About the Afghanistan War. Is There Anyone Who Cares?

Wed, 01 Nov 2017 14:43:00 -0400

(image) For a particularly grim portrait of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, which started 16 years ago last month, read the latest quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

Before we discuss what's in that document, let's pause to note what's not in it. Information that these reports used to include—how many Afghan troop casualties there have been, how large the Afghan armed forces are, how well they're recruiting, how well they're equipped—is missing this time. This administration apparently believes that Americans need to be kept in the dark about the conduct and progress of the war, so as to let military leaders make the decisions they want.

Nonetheless, the information that the SIGAR report does provide makes a powerful case that any advantages to the U.S. presence in Afghanistan expired long ago. The Afghan government now controls less territory and population than at any point since SIGAR started tracking that data. More than 10 percent of Afghans now live in areas "under insurgent control or influence," according to the report. This has happened even though the U.S. has dropped more munitions in Afghanistan than at any time since 2012. (The U.S. alone conducted more than 2,400 air strikes in the country this year.)

Meanwhile, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) says civilian casualties in air strikes conducted by the U.S. and its allies have gone up 50 percent since last year. Two-thirds of those casualties are women and children. (UNAMA attributes 177 civilian casualties this year to coalition air strikes. The United States military disputes that estimate, saying it has confirmed only 43 civilian casualties.)

The last year has also seen a big increase in so-called "insider attacks" on U.S. and Afghan personnel by other Afghan personnel—there were 54 through August 15 of this year, 26 more over the same period last year. Another recent SIGAR report finds that over the last 12 years, more than 47 percent of the foreign military trainees who have gone AWOL after being brought to the U.S. were from Afghanistan. In 2016, 13 percent of Afghan trainees brought to the U.S. went AWOL. This casts yet more doubt on the effectiveness of the intervention, which in recent years has been premised on the need to train Afghan forces.

Perhaps the president's decision to be less transparent about the war will motivate his opponents to do something about it. Or perhaps we'll just sink deeper into the quagmire. So far, the war is still mostly just forgotten.

It's Past Time for a New Vote on the War on Terror

Tue, 31 Oct 2017 14:00:00 -0400

(image) The White House is pushing back against the idea that it needs a renewed authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) to cover the ongoing military response to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The administration is apparently concerned that a new AUMF would impose limits on its military actions around the world.

Well, yes. That's the whole point.

The AUMF passed after 9/11 was meant to target Al Qaeda, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and their "associated forces"—the groups the U.S. held responsible for the September 11 attacks. Since then, the executive branch has invoked the AUMF to justify almost every military intervention that Washington has undertaken.

The two major exceptions are the Iraq War of 2003–2011, for which President George W. Bush sought and received a specific AUMF, and the intervention in Libya, which saw President Barack Obama waving away his lack of authorization by citing support from the United Nations and other international bodies. Both misadventures show why it's important for Congress to assert its role in the war-making process.

In the first case, the Iraq-specific AUMF helped to define the administration's rationales and goals for war, and it placed members of Congress on the record for or against the conflict. This made it easier to hold the administration accountable to its own terms, and it gave voters some insight into their representatives' stances.

The lack of an AUMF in Libya, on the other hand, made it even more difficult for Congress to exercise substantive oversight of the conflict. It also ensured that there would be little to no accountability for anyone in the Obama administration for the failures in the Libya campaign and the mess the U.S. helped to make.

Unfortunately, if a Republican-controlled Congress was unable to exert any oversight over the wars of a Democratic president they campaigned against in almost every other policy domain, and who said he welcomed a new AUMF, it's even less likely to do any of those things with a Republican president in charge.

This is particularly disappointing given that both Obama and the 114th Congress knew pretty early last year that there was a 99.99 percent chance the next president would be either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Obama spent the campaign warning Americans that Trump was "uniquely unqualified" for the office of the president, while Republicans had spent years up to that point investigating Clinton's blunders in Libya and elsewhere. Yet they did nothing to impose those missing limits.

Even after the "uniquely unqualified" Trump was elected, Obama made no effort to impose any limits on his successor. Instead he declared that the 9/11 AUMF also covers U.S. operations in Somalia. As he has elsewhere in the war on terror, Trump then ramped up the intervention.

At this point Trump, who on the campaign trail said he'd be open to an AUMF—Trump took a lot of positions on the campaign trail, not all of them consistent with one another—may be the only one who could make congressional oversight or limits on the war on terror possible. Not by supporting for such a move again (that's highly unlikely) but by alienating members of Congress enough that they finally assert their constitutional role.

The most recent effort to pass a new AUMF is being led by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who last tried to pass a new AUMF in mid-2015.

Don't Send Arms to Ukraine

Thu, 26 Oct 2017 16:40:00 -0400

(image) Ukrainian politicians anticipate that the Trump administration will soon decide to send "lethal aid" to their country, which is embroiled in an armed conflict with Russia along its eastern border, Foreign Policy reports.

Sending arms to Ukraine would be a terrible idea. It would needlessly escalate tensions between Russia and the West while inviting Moscow to ramp up their own intervention in Ukraine.

The idea is one that the U.S. has avoided since the conflict began in 2014. Former Obama officials say they wanted to send lethal aid to Ukraine but were thwarted by Barack Obama and his national security advisor, Susan Rice. Abstaining from sending arms then "became the de facto policy, and then the urgency slipped away," Max Bergmann, an Obama-era State Department official, told Foreign Policy.

Nevertheless, the U.S. spent $300 million on "non-lethal defense aid" to Ukraine in 2016 alone.

Last year, the Trump campaign worked to remove a plank from the GOP platform that called for sending lethal aid to Ukraine. That move, which made the GOP platform less bellicose and brought it in line with the Democrats' stance on the matter of aid to Russia, was smeared as a "pro-Russia" move.

Not even European officials, who have a very vested interest in limiting the Russia's influence in Eastern Europe, particularly support the idea of sending lethal arms to Ukraine.

Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany and the longest serving head of government in the European Union, has opposed arming Ukraine to fight Russia-backed separatists as far back as 2015.

European leaders were similarly wary of sanctions the U.S. imposed on Russia earlier this year, fearing such measures could put Europe's energy supply at risk.

And that's the crux of it: The U.S. has no vested national security interest in what happens in Ukraine. Regional players like the European Union do. If they decide arming Ukraine is in their best interest, they have the power to do so. The United States should not insert itself into the situation, not to "prove" the Trump administration isn't beholden to the Kremlin nor to assert its dominance vis a vis Russia.

As a candidate, Trump appeared to understand the U.S. was involved in all kinds of international drama it had no business in. He should resist efforts within his administration to ramp up Washington's involvement in other people's conflicts.

Presidents Are Reckless With Soldiers’ Lives

Wed, 25 Oct 2017 00:01:00 -0400

The widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four U.S. soldiers killed in Niger on October 4, says she was "very angry" when Donald Trump told her during a condolence call last week that her husband "knew what he signed up for." The president's critics say that remark was insensitive, but the more important point is that it was not true. How can any member of the armed forces know what he is signing up for when presidents of both parties deploy the military so promiscuously, usually for reasons that have little or nothing to do with defending the country? The problem is not that Trump is tactless about soldiers' deaths but that he and his predecessors have been reckless with their lives. "I didn't know there was 1,000 troops in Niger," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, confessed on Sunday. With U.S. special forces operating in so many countries—138 last year—it can be hard to keep track. Last week Defense Secretary Jim Mattis explained that the U.S. troops in Niger are "supporting the French-led and the African troops, in the campaign to throw ISIS and the terrorists, the radicals, those who foment instability and murder and mayhem, off their stride." He did not mention that a previous U.S. intervention, against Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, had contributed to the instability by sowing chaos in a neighboring country and sending arms and extremists across the border. Is the mission that killed La David Johnson and three of his comrades, which began nearly five years ago, making Americans safer? Is anyone in the Trump administration or Congress even asking that question? By now the cost of military inertia should be painfully clear to anyone who is paying attention. The war in Afghanistan, which unlike the operation in Niger was initially a response to an attack on the United States, has dragged on for 16 years now, claiming the lives of more than 2,400 American military personnel. Luke Coffey, director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation, notes that the two main goals of that war—denying Al Qaeda a safe haven and punishing the Taliban regime for harboring terrorists—were accomplished "by the summer of 2002." Yet Coffey predicts that the United States will have a military presence in Afghanistan for "at least" another 16 years, which he argues is justified by the need to shore up the country's rickety government. More than 4,500 American service members have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, which was based on a purported threat from weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. As the RAND Corporation's Brian Michael Jenkins noted several years ago, "the costly removal of a brutal tyrant who threatened his own citizens and neighboring countries won no applause, earned no gratitude, established no reliable ally, and produced no lasting strategic benefit." These death tolls do not include the thousands of Afghans and Iraqis killed in those wars, the 50,000 or so Americans who were wounded, or the cost to U.S. taxpayers, which may ultimately total as much as $6 trillion. These burdens are all the more appalling in light of the fact that the Iraq war from its inception and something like 97 percent of the war in Afghanistan had nothing to do with national defense. Before he was elected president, Trump decried the senselessness of these wars. "We should have never been in Iraq," he said, while he described the war in Afghanistan as "a total and complete disaster" that "wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure." Now that he lives in the White House, Trump is committed to continuing both of those disastrous mistakes. As commander in chief of troops that were active in more than 70 percent of the world's countries last year, he will have many opportunities to make new ones. © Copyright 2017 by Creators Syndicate Inc.[...]

U.S. Withdrawal From UNESCO Is a Good Start

Tue, 24 Oct 2017 07:00:00 -0400

The Trump administration announced earlier this month that the United States will be leaving the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at the end of 2018. The United States previously withdrew from UNESCO in 1984, because of "corruption" and what it saw as the organization's "ideological tilt toward the Soviet Union [and] against the West." George W. Bush, in his wisdom, reversed Ronald Reagan's decision in 2002. The State Department has long complained about the organization's anti-Israeli bias and the U.S. stopped paying America's membership fee after UNESCO admitted Palestine as an independent member in 2011. The stated causes of the United States decision to withdraw aside, it is difficult not to marvel at the goings on at the United Nations, and the U.S. should look at other U.N. organizations to exit. The U.N. Human Rights Council, for example, currently includes Qatar, which imposes the death penalty for such crimes as apostasy and adultery and flogging for alcohol consumption. Venezuela, which censors its press, and tortures and kills its political prisoners, is on the council. So is China, which does not permit basic human freedoms, including those of religion, speech and assembly, and occupies Tibet. Rwanda, which kills the ruling regime's opponents at home and abroad, is in, and so is Saudi Arabia, a medieval kingdom that, among countless other transgressions against civilized norms of behavior, beheads homosexuals. And then there's the World Health Organization, which last week appointed the 93-year-old Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe, as its "goodwill ambassador." Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Ethiopian director-general of the organization, has previously praised Zimbabwe for "its commitment to public health" and said that Zimbabwe "was a country that "places universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies to provide healthcare to all." After a public outcry, Adhanon rescinded Mugabe's appointment. That said, let's ponder the WHO action for a moment, since, in the long line up of the world's most destructive leaders, Mugabe surely belongs to the top five. First, consider the gaping abyss between the rhetoric of universal health coverage and the reality of life in many countries. Critics of the U.S. healthcare system often point to some God-forsaken nation that claims to "provide healthcare to all." The American left has for decades lauded Cuba as an example of a free and universal healthcare system for its citizens, ignoring that country's ramshackle hospitals, primitive medical instruments, lack of basic medicines, phlegmatic staff, dirty linen, and lack of food. Michael Moore even made a Goebbelesque propaganda movie about it. Second, consider the actual legacy of Mugabe's rule on the health of ordinary Zimbabweans. There are, of course, many examples to choose from, but the following is pertinent for it involves the well-fed and handsomely remunerated invertebrates who stalk the hallways of the United Nations and staff the organization's many offices throughout the world. In 2005, the Mugabe government nationalized Zimbabwe's water supply, then quickly ran out of money to treat the water and maintain the infrastructure. The government ended up shutting down the water supply altogether and people had to drink from ponds and sewers. In 2008, cholera broke out. The United Nations stepped in to help the cash-strapped country, but moved at a glacial pace. The government's official line, after all, was that there was "no cholera" in Zimbabwe. Georges Tadonki, who headed the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Harare, noted that the United Nations "didn't want to anger the host government, which was trying to convince the world in general and Africa in particular that all was well in Zimbabwe." Agostinho Zacarias, who headed the overall U.N. mission in Zimbabwe, refused to give the[...]

Rand Paul Throws Incredible Shade At Lindsey Graham for Being a Warmonger

Mon, 23 Oct 2017 18:50:00 -0400

Rand Paul unloaded on Lindsey Graham today, in the way that only Twitter in the Trump Era can:

His comment was in reaction to the senior senator from South Carolina's stunning, but perhaps unsurprising, admission that Graham didn't know the U.S. had more than 1,000 troops in Niger in the war on terror.

(image) If only he were a Reason reader, he might!

Paul's broadside is a substantive and stark reminder of how much the war on terror has transformed U.S. military policy and how far the Republican party has drifted from the heady days of 2013, when a veritable "civil war" seemed about to break out over non-interventionism's place in conservative philosophy.

Paul is absolutely right: the U.S. military is engaged in counter-terrorism operations, fighting too many wars in too many places around the world. And the almost complete lack of interest in a substantive engagement of foreign policy in the mainstream political debate compounds the problem.

Despite a U.S. military presence across West and Central Africa as well as Somalia, the only African country mentioned in any of the presidential debates was Libya, the site of one of the Obama administration's greatest foreign policy blunders, borne of needless interventionism.

Barack Obama eventually admitted the haphazard nature of the intervention was his administration's "worst mistake." Notably, Hillary Clinton, his first secretary of state and the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, avoided drawing any lessons or admitting any mistakes.

Earlier this month, when news of the U.S. fatalities in Niger first broke, I predicted the U.S. war in West Africa would quickly recede from the public consciousness again. But for President Trump botching public and private remarks about the dead soldiers, it probably would have.

Before the election, I suggested Trump might be a less alarming candidate than Clinton because "at least with Trump you might have a Congress motivated to reassert its powers vis-a-vis the executive branch."

Paul and the other members of Congress skeptical of America's never-ending war on terror and string of aimless interventions have an opportunity to use Trump's clumsiness over the Niger deaths to expose the country's unchecked and—judging from Graham's reaction—largely unknown nature of this ever-expanding war.

Ex-Presidents We Want to Drink With: Podcast

Mon, 23 Oct 2017 16:15:00 -0400

Last week, Barack Obama and George W. Bush emerged from the mothballs to criticize Trumpian dog-whistling and strategic incivility. Jimmy Carter, however, said he thinks Trump gets a raw deal from the press and appears to be plugging for a diplomatic posting. Was bipartisanship really better before Donald showed up? Did it accomplish anything?

On today's podcast, Reason's Nick Gillespie, Katherine Mangu-Ward, and Matt Welch discuss these issues, and the slain-soldier spat between Trump, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), which seems to be distracting the public from bigger, bloodier problems. Also: why Republicans can't sat they're anti-tax but not actually in favor of fiscal discipline, why Matt Welch may be pro-pirate, and which former U.S. presidents Katherine Mangu-Ward would like to drink with. The conversation was moderated by Andrew Heaton.

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The Truth About Niger

Sun, 22 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400

Predictably, the news media spent most of last week examining words Donald Trump may or may not have spoken to the widow of an American Green Beret killed in Niger, in northwest Africa, in early October. Not only was this coverage tedious, it was largely pointless. We know Trump is a clumsy boor, and we also know that lots of people are ready to pounce on him for any sort of gaffe, real or imagined. Who cares? It's not news. But it was useful to those who wish to distract Americans from what really needs attention: the U.S. government's perpetual war. The media's efforts should have been devoted to exploring—really exploring—why Green Berets (and drones) are in Niger at all. (This is typical of the establishment media's explanation.) That subject is apparently of little interest to media companies that see themselves merely as cheerleaders for the American Empire. For them, it's all so simple: a U.S president (even one they despise) has put or left military forces in a foreign country—no justification required; therefore, those forces are serving their country; and that in turn means that if they die, they die as heroes who were protecting our way of life. End of story. Thus the establishment media see no need to present a dissenting view, say, from an analyst who would question the dogma that inserting American warriors into faraway conflicts whenever a warlord proclaims his allegiance to ISIS is in the "national interest." Patriotic media companies have no wish to expose their audiences to the idea that jihadists would be no threat to Americans who were left to mind their own business. Apparently the American people also must be shielded from anyone who might point out that the jihadist activity in Niger and neighboring Mali is directly related to the U.S. and NATO bombing of Libya, which enabled al-Qaeda and other Muslim militants to overthrow the secular regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi. That Obama-Clinton operation in 2011, besides producing Qaddafi's grisly murder and turning Libya into a nightmare, facilitated the transfer of weapons and fanatical guerrillas from Libya to nearby countries in the Sahel — as well as Syria. Since then the U.S. government has been helping the French to "stabilize" its former colony Mali with surveillance drones and Green Berets based in Niger. Nice work, Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. (Citizen Trump was an early advocate of U.S. intervention in Libya.) Need I remind you that the U.S./NATO regime-change operation in Libya was based on a lie? Obama later said his failure to foresee the consequences of the Libya intervention was the biggest mistake of his presidency. (For more on the unintended consequences for the Sahel, see articles here, here, and here.) So the media, which pretends to play a role in keeping Americans informed, have decided the people need not hear the truth behind the events in Niger. Instead, "reporters" and "analysts" perform their role as cheerleaders for the American Empire by declaring the dead men "heroes" and focusing on the tragedy that has befallen their families. Public scrutiny of the military operation is discouraged because it thought to detract from the Green Berets' heroism. What makes them heroes? They were killed by non-Americans in a foreign land while wearing military uniforms. That's all it takes, according to the gospel of what Andrew Bacevich calls the Church of America the Redeemer and its media choir. But are they really heroes? We can question this while feeling sorrow for the people who will never see their husbands, sons, brothers, and fathers again. Reporters and analysts who emote over alleged heroism base their claim on the dubious proposition that the men were "serving their country" and "protecting our freedom." A brief examination, however, is enough to show this is not so, although[...]

Everything That's Wrong with Political Twitter in Two Tweets (Niger Edition)

Thu, 19 Oct 2017 15:45:00 -0400

(image) As Ed Krayewski has pointed out, Niger, where four American commandos were recently killed, is a scandal, not least of which because there's no clear, compelling national interest to justify a U.S. presence that started in 2005.

That's when George W. Bush dispatched forces to train local military and to support French efforts to combat terrorism. In 2013, Barack Obama sent more troops, for the same basic reasons. In the wake of the new deaths, Bonnie Kristian writes,

Donald Trump seems content to stay the course of under-the-radar escalation. A major U.S. base is under construction to serve as a hub for drone activity throughout the region, while American boots on the ground in Niger are significantly occupied with the arrival of extremists from neighboring Libya, which remains in chaos since the U.S.-facilitated ouster of strongman Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

The three most recent U.S. presidents thus deserve responsibility for putting Americans in harm's way. But their ability to do so without facing any sort of serious reproach is abetted by the awful one-upmanship that grips political Twitter like grim death itself. For example:

I happen to know and like Stephen Miller and I recommend you follow him on Twitter (he's not the ethno-nationalist who works for President Trump). But the exchange between him and MSNBC's Joy Reid sums up much if not everything wrong with not just Twitter but politics in general. People are so driven by tribal loyalties that virtually all they care about is pulling a gotcha on somebody from the other side of the left-right, liberal-conservative, Democrat-Republican divide. It doesn't matter if you're both wrong and it doesn't matter if fewer and fewer of us want to be associated with either of those sides.

We will not have truly 21st-century politics and policies until we leave behind political groupings that had burned out even before the end of the 20th century. Certainly we will not have a foreign policy that can fake even the smallest coherence until we move beyond petty, stupid, and inaccurate blame-gaming.

The Real Insult to the Troops Is Rudderless Military Adventurism

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 15:57:00 -0400

(image) Several pundits, members of Congress, and former Obama officials have worked themselves up over President Donald Trump's latest perceived slight to military families. But the far greater and more persistent slight comes from a rudderless U.S. foreign policy whose pointless military interventions lead inevitably to needless deaths.

Had Trump not botched the landing so tremendously on calling the families of the four soldiers killed in Niger two weeks ago, the incident, and America's presence in the landlocked West African country, would have been forgotten by most Americans.

Instead, we've plunged into a he-said/she-said over what exactly Trump told the widow of one of the soldiers killed in Niger. The widow's congresswoman, Democrat Frederica Wilson, was in the car while Trump was on speakerphone and claims he told the woman her husband "knew what he signed up for." Trump denies it; the soldier's mother backs up Wilson's account. All of which ignores the question of what exactly the U.S. is doing in Niger in the first place.

U.S. operations in Niger, ongoing since the Bush II era, have been a bipartisan failure of strategy and accountability. Troops were first sent to Niger in 2005 to "assist" French and local counterterrorist efforts. The Bush administration never bothered to seek congressional authorization, nor to claim that the post-9/11 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) covered the effort. When Obama sent additional troops to the country in 2013, that move came with no congressional input or substantive public debate either.

Most members of Congress are more comfortable getting outraged at Trump being a boor than asserting their constitutional role in making U.S. war policy. The best way to honor soldiers' sacrifices is to put some limits on America's war machine.

For 16 years now, successive presidents have used the post-9/11 AUMF to wage war around the world. The U.S. deployed troops first to Afghanistan—now home to the longest war in American history—and then to the Philippines, Georgia, Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq (for the ISIS mission), Syria, Somalia, and who knows where else.

The only member of Congress to vote against the AUMF was Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who warned presciently that the bill would be a blank check for the executive branch to wage war around the world. Her most recent effort to set an expiration date on the 2001 AUMF was killed by the House Republican leadership without a debate or a vote on the floor.

Congress' unwillingness to check the executive's military actions is far more disrespectful to the troops than anyone's careless words can be on their own, even the president's.

North Korea Threatens Nuclear War 'At Any Moment' As U.S.-South Korea Run Joint Military Drill

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 15:50:00 -0400

North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations warned yesterday that nuclear war "may break out at any moment" on the Korean peninsula, and the deputy ambassador claimed that the "entire U.S. mainland" was now within the regime's firing range. Undercutting the second claim, an unnamed North Korean official told CNN that Pyongyang would not be ready for diplomacy until it had a missile that could reach "all the way to the East Coast." This latest round of tough talk comes as the U.S. and South Korea conduct a five-day military drill in the waters around the peninsula. The drill, which involves 40 naval ships and submarines, live-fire exercises, and anti-submarine training, is reportedly meant to prepare for a potential "naval provocation" by North Korea. Next week the U.S. military will conduct another drill, this one to prepare "service members and their families to respond to a wide range of crisis management events such as noncombatant evacuation and natural or man-made disasters," according to a rare statement from U.S. Forces Korea (motto: "We go together"). The military characterized the drill as routine. Everything about this situation has been routine: the posturing, the threats, the drills, the rejection of authentic dialogue. And while the American end of that routine is now filtered through the Trump Show presidency, the fundamentals remain largely, and frustratingly, the same. There have been some marginal improvements. The U.S. effort to engage China's help with Korea marks a break from the "Asia pivot," which was largely an attempt to contain China and which predictably prompted Beijing to take a more confrontational posture. It's important to keep the North Korean threat in context. Military intervention is an ugly prospect for the U.S., for China, and for other regional powers. It is also an ugly prospect for North Korea. An extended quagmire is small comfort to the regime's leaders if they hang at the start of it. The U.S., and China, have the capability to destroy North Korea with nuclear weapons. The U.S. has signaled as much to North Korea for years, though not with language as bombastic as Donald Trump's. The United States has also, since the cessation of the Korean war, guaranteed the security of South Korea and Japan. Here, too, Trump has taken a different approach. While his equivocation about American security commitments has rattled foreign capitals, it has also encouraged American allies to take more responsibility for their own defense. South Korea's new center-left president, Moon Jae-In, has called for engagement and eventual reunification with North Korea. This summer he introduced a military budget that he said prioritized "self-reliance," In the meantime, Japan, long constrained by post-World War II restrictions, scrapped its self-imposed defense spending cap. There is no easy solution to the North Korea crisis, or it would have been resolved by now. But the path to a solution is fairly clear. Regional powers responsible for their own security will have a stronger, clearer incentive to deescalate tensions and find a resolution when they don't think they have the option of depending on a deus ex machina from afar.[...]

U.S. Foreign Policy Can't Be a Choice Between McCain and Trump

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 11:05:00 -0400

Suffering from cancer and in his 80s, Sen. John McCain is closing out a long, storied career in military service and politics. True to his reputation as a free-talking "maverick," he is not going gentle into that good night, but blasting his own party's leader, Donald Trump. At yesterday's Liberty Medal ceremony, McCain let it rip when it came to attacking the president's vision of America in the world today: To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain "the last best hope of earth" for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history. McCain is surely correct that Trump's iteration of America First is not only "half-baked" but disastrous to Americans, especially when it comes to issues such as free trade and immigration, where the United States has long been a shining city on a hill, opening our markets to imports (and hence exports) and especially to people born elsewhere. "We live in a land made of ideals," said McCain, historically though not consistently a defender of immigrants, "not blood and soil." Yes to all this: The United States is not so exceptional that it will continue to flourish if it walls itself off from the world via isolationism when it comes to commerce and people from other countries. But McCain was not simply—or even primarily—talking about trade and immigration policy. Over the span of his career, he has been one of the most consistently bellicose members of the House and the Senate, rarely if ever finding a reason not to go to war with one country or another. In 2013, he denounced Sen. Rand Paul and other non-interventionists as "wacko birds" because the Kentuckian raised clear and serious concerns about drone strikes on American citizens and the surveillance state. McCain pushed mightily not only to arm supposedly moderate rebels in Syria, but to put boots on the ground there too. As much as any single person in power other than Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump, he is responsible for the rolling disaster that has been U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century. For all the blood we have spilled so far in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere since 2001, we have accomplished virtually nothing positive and the end of our involvement is nowhere in sight. Yet McCain's answer to virtually all global conflicts is to escalate and, if possible, send troops along with bombs, missiles, and other forms of military support. "We have done great good in the world," McCain said in his speech, That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don't. The senator is certainly right that Donald Trump's foreign policy (to the extent he has anything resembling one) is incoherent—half-baked and spurious to a fault. Yet Trump so far is from isolationist (remember his humanitarian bombing in Syria?) or a peacenik president (as some libertarians once hoped). Like McCain throughout his career, Trump is calling for massive and perpetual military spending and it's clear that he sees diplomacy as secondary to the flexing of American might as the best way to keep order around the globe. In fact, McCain shares with Trump (who dodged the Vietnam draft via college and medical deferments) the belief that the United States is the indispensable nation and the center of the known universe. T[...]

Anti-Trump Republicans Need to Re-Examine Their Own Reckless Foreign Policy

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 12:55:00 -0400

(image) There will come a day, hard as it is to visualize right now, when Donald Trump will no longer be president. When we make it to that finish line, hopefully without any intervening mushroom clouds or global cataclysms, will we have decisively avoided what Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) recently warned might be "World War III"?

Not so fast, I argue in today's L.A. Times. Corker, while more of a self-styled "realist" in comparison to uberhawkish fellow Trump apostate Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), nonetheless has wanted to arm the Ukranians, "get Assad," and make the usual terrible Republican sports metaphors about life-and-death foreign policy decisions. "More often than not," Corker complained about Barack Obama in 2014, "the president doesn't hit singles and doubles; he just balks."

There is a default interventionism in both Washington and the media, and it seems to be concentrated extra hard among Trump's most strident GOP critics, such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich. And if you don't think Republicans have been saying crazy things about using "the threat of extinction" against North Korea for a good quarter century, you haven't been paying attention. From the column:

Conservative NeverTrumpers — or should we call them the Unfitters since the man's in office?— may be broadly correct about the president's erratic temperament, shoddy management and aggressive incoherence on the world stage. But too many lack any sense of self-awareness, let alone regret, about how their foreign policy preferences have contributed to the global instability Trump is exacerbating. […]

The anti-Trump interventionists may be right about the unique dangers this president poses, not just through his chaotic foreign policy but also his retrograde 19th century ideas about trade and immigration. But for decades there has been a default Washington posture of aggressive meddling into the whole world's affairs, and downright belligerence toward many rogue states. Trump won't be around forever, but until that foreign policy tradition is confronted and questioned anew, the dangers he poses will live on.

Corker Against World War III Now That Trump Is for It

Mon, 09 Oct 2017 11:16:00 -0400

Sen. Bob Corker is getting a lot of kudos from progressives for his recent criticisms of President Donald Trump. On Sunday, the Tennessee Republican called the White House an "adult day care"—you know, the kind of place where people stick elderly people with dementia—and said the president is steering America toward "World War III." Corker "admits what others won't say about Trump," cooed Vanity Fair, in what has been a common framing: He's a maverick! But despite this show of supposed resistance, there's not really much daylight between Corker and Trump. Corker supported Trump during the 2016 election (and has voted with him 90 percent of the time since, for what it's worth). And he hasn't always been so averse to World War III. He's a longtime defender of American intervention and war in the Middle East, and now wants to sell or supply billions worth of weapons to Ukraine and Saudi Arabia. I. Love. Bob. Corker. — Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) October 8, 2017 This tweet from @SenBobCorker has become an instant hit on Twitter. My feed is filled with retweets and reactions. — Peter Daou (@peterdaou) October 8, 2017 Golden throne tweet response, level awesome. — PaiysleeResists❄ (@Paiyslee) October 8, 2017 Tough but fair. — Neera Tanden (@neeratanden) October 8, 2017 A Republican Senator. (FYI - Corker supported gutting Obamacare and so much other ugliness. He's not a hero, but the tweet is wild.) — Shaun King (@ShaunKing) October 8, 2017 The senator spoke at Trump campaign rallies leading up to the Republican National Convention in July 2016, said Trump could could "change the trajectory of this country" for the better, and lamented the "caricature" that "the media" was making of him. That Corker began speaking out against Trump once Trump took aim at him isn't exactly a display of heroism. Though their animosity has been ongoing for a few months, Corker's latest comments come in the wake of Trump calling him a "negative voice" in Congress who was "largely responsible for the horrendous Iran deal." In a series of Sunday-morning tweets, Trump also said that Corker "begged" for Trump's endorsement but he had said "NO," that Corker couldn't win without the endorsement, and that he had also rejected Corker's pleas to be Secretary of State. And it's not just that Corker has been, at best, very slow to see Trump's shortcomings. A rich construction company owner before being elected, Corker also came to power with a little help from feeding racial resentment. He supported access to legal abortion until it wasn't fashionable for him to do so anymore, and is willing to buck party lines for pet big-government policies. Last May, "a Republican who knows Corker well" described him to Politico as an independent "tough guy" who was "frustrated by being in the Senate and not getting anything done," "not afraid to buck the old guard," and "no dummy: He jumped out on the Trump thing early." And then when it was no longer politically advantageous, he jumped off—at least publicly. As James Fallows writes at The Atlantic, Corker's comments may be "doing more than his colleagues have," but they're not worth much if not followed by some sort of concrete distancing actions. Maybe Corker could start by pushing for limits on executive power—for changes that would make it harder for Trump, or any other president, to cause an international catastrophe. Or at least he might stop backing foreign-policy moves that could have their own globally catastrophic consequences.[...]