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Foreign Policy

All articles with the "Foreign Policy" tag.

Published: Sat, 20 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Sat, 20 Jan 2018 06:48:33 -0500


Trump Turns One

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 09:30:00 -0500

The 45th president does not tend to elicit measured evaluations. Since even before his formal entry into national politics in 2015, Trump has acted as a powerful magnet on the body politic—attracting and repelling onlookers with equal force. A year ago, as we prepared to see a former reality television star sworn into the highest office on Earth, predictions abounded regarding the effects he was about to have on the country and the world. On one side were confident assertions that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act, bring back manufacturing jobs, and end political correctness once and for all. On the other were fears that he was a racist and a dimwit who would certainly abuse the powers of his station and might well start a nuclear war. On the Trump presidency's first birthday, the reality is less extreme than either set of prognosticators envisioned. The Republican Party under his leadership managed one major legislative accomplishment—tax reform that cut the corporate rate and is projected to add nearly $1.5 trillion to the debt—and failed after months of wrangling to enact an Obamacare replacement. Tensions with foreign governments from Iran to Russia to North Korea continue to simmer. The stock market has followed a dramatic upward trajectory, yet anger continues to grow over perceived wealth and income inequality. With the midterm elections now 10 months away, political polarization seems to hit new highs daily, but in many ways the checks and balances of our federalist system are working to keep even the current unscrupulous White House occupant from actualizing his most ambitious plans. As the 365-day mark approaches, have we reached a milestone worth celebrating or taken just another step in our national descent to unthinkable places? Reason asked 11 experts to weigh in on Trump's record so far. From positive signs on transportation policy and regulatory rollback to a worrying rise in nationalist sentiments and redoubled efforts to cleanse the United States of undocumented immigrants, the answers were a mixed bag, highlighting just how much uncertainty awaits the country in the year to come. —Stephanie Slade TAXES AND HEALTH CARE: Victory, Sort of, Maybe Peter Suderman At the beginning of 2017, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan told GOP lawmakers that the new Congress would repeal Obamacare and pass deficit-neutral tax reform by August. At summer's end, Republicans, despite holding majorities in both chambers, had accomplished neither. But eventually they would accomplish parts of each. In March, the House was set to hold a vote on legislation that would have repealed much of the Affordable Care Act while setting up a new system of related federal tax credits. Ryan was initially forced to pull the bill from the floor due to lack of support, but after making a series of tweaks intended to provide states with more flexibility, the body passed a health care bill in May. GOP leaders congratulated themselves for making progress on the issue, but the plaudits were premature. The bill stalled out in the Senate. By September, the Obamacare repeal effort was dead and Republicans had moved on to more comfortable territory: rewriting the tax code. At the center of the new effort was a significant cut to America's corporate tax rate, which at 35 percent was the highest in the developed world. Donald Trump had campaigned on slashing it to 15 percent. The GOP aimed for 20. At first, the tax effort went much like the health care effort. There were disagreements between the House, which hoped to partially offset any revenue losses with spending cuts, and the Senate, which gave itself permission to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion. Republican senators also disagreed among themselves: Jeff Flake (R–Ariz.) and Bob Corker (R–Tenn.) worried about sinking the country further into the red, for instance, while Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) and Mike Lee (R–Utah) wanted a potentially pricey increase in the child tax credit. Moderates like Sen. Susan Collins (R–Maine) meanwhile reserved judgment for other reasons—such as[...]

Stop Making Iran Protests About American Politics: Podcast

Tue, 02 Jan 2018 15:15:00 -0500

Today's Reason Podcast, which features myself, Nick Gillespie, Katherine Mangu-Ward, and Peter Suderman, begins with a discussion about the dramatic protests in Iran: their significance, the context, the vast amount that we don't know, the bad Twitter takes, the America-centric focus, and what Washington should do specifically about what few existing policies directly affect the situation in Tehran and throughout the Islamic Republic. We also argue about legal (but heavily regulated) weed in California and elsewhere; President Donald Trump's recent comments on North Korea, Pakistan, and DACA; and whether cheesy '80s movies about nuclear holocaust (think The Day After and Testament) are worth rewatching. Audio production by Ian Keyser. Relevant links from the show: * "What Feminists—and Islamists—Don't Get About Burqas" * "Unplugging the Doomsday Machine: Daniel Ellsberg on nukes, leaks, and the lost documents he copied along with the Pentagon Papers" * "The Myth of the Playground Pusher: In Tennessee and around the country, 'drug-free school zones' are little more than excuses for harsher drug sentencing." * "Government Almost Killed the Cocktail: 80 years after Prohibition, the Dark Ages of drinking are finally coming to an end." * "The Democratic Way of Prohibition: How the party of pot smokers ended up standing in the way of pharmacological freedom" Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.[...]

Ron Paul: A Popular Libertarian Candidate in 2020 Is 'Very Possible'

Wed, 27 Dec 2017 14:56:00 -0500

(image) Distrust in America's foreign and monetary policies, unrelieved by the election of Donald Trump, is going to be a "big opening" for libertarians in 2020, former Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul told the Washington Examiner.

Trump was able to co-opt much of the messaging of an establishment that has maintained a bipartisan consensus on these issues without offering much of substance to voters committed to the values of freedom.

"The appearance of the libertarian movement has been set back partially because of Trump, but intellectually we've been doing well," Paul said. "We as libertarians have some work to do before [voters] are going to accept a true-blue libertarian, but I think moving in that direction and having a popular candidate is very possible" in 2020.

Paul called the economic upturn this year "a bit of an illusion," and said U.S. monetary policy benefits those connected to government, creating the most pernicious form of "inequality."

"It's a bubble economy in many, many different ways and it's going to come unglued," said Paul, who has previously blamed the Federal Reserve for what he sees as a bitcoin bubble.

"We're on the verge of something like what happened in '89 when the Soviet system just collapsed," Paul told the Examiner. "I'm just hoping our system comes apart as gracefully."

The Examiner noted that Paul doesn't think the U.S. will break up the way that the Soviet Union did, but rather that the U.S. will have to deal with its unsustainable foreign policy and the Fed-driven monetary policy that helps fuel it.

"I think our stature in the world and our empire will end, and that's when, hopefully, the doors will be open and [people will] say, 'Hey, maybe these libertarians have some answers to this'," Paul told the Examiner. "If they only hear our message, I know they would choose liberty and sound money and freedom and peace over the mess we have today."

Paul's criticism of Trump's foreign policy is understandable. Trump was never the non-interventionist some (at times even Paul's son, Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul) made him out to be.

"I think the foreign policy is a total disaster," Paul told the Examiner."Trump's approach sounds good one day but the next day he's antagonizing everyone in the world and thinks we should start a war here and there."

Paul also said he'd be delighted if Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been a disaster for civil liberties, although he's not optimistic the replacement would be any better.

Read the rest of the interview at the Examiner.

Donald Trump's National Security Speech Won't Change U.S. Foreign Policy

Tue, 19 Dec 2017 09:20:00 -0500

President Donald Trump gave a big national security speech yesterday, tied to the release of a written national security strategy. This marked a change from presidents Obama and Bush, who submitted their congressionally mandated national security strategies without an accompanying address. But the document itself is just as useless as its predecessors. U.S. foreign policy does not tend to comport with presidential rhetoric. Trump's national security strategy claims that the U.S. will avoid nation-building and needless interventions. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) took to Twitter to applaud this as a "realist foreign policy," something he has advocated himself for years. But there's precious little evidence that the Trump administration is actually interested in that kind of approach in the real world, as opposed to in their rhetoric. As Bonnie Kristian noted last week, Trump's "new" national security strategy is unlikely to change the American pattern of "promiscuous intervention," if for no other reason than that the administration has not yet attempted to change that pattern at all. From Afghanistan to Syria, the Trump administration has pursued a foreign policy that largely follows the contours set by the other post-9/11 presidents. Trump's Afghanistan policy boils down to less transparency about the quagmire, while in Syria the president ordered the bombing of government targets earlier this year while ramping up America's military presence in the country. Trump has also expanded the war on terror in Somalia and around the Muslim world. The disconnect between Trump's national security strategy rhetoric and the reality runs the other way too. The strategy document, for example, identifies China as a competitor, which The New York Times describes as a "radical departure" from the language used in the Obama era, when China was presented more as a strategic partner. Yet you'd be hard pressed to point to any actual Obama-era policy that treated China more as a partner than as a competitor. The main point of Obama's "Asia pivot" was to contain China's influence. The Trans-Pacific Partnership excluded China, the largest Pacific economy other than the U.S. Trump, meanwhile, has made some attempts to improve diplomatic relations with China, engaging its leadership on issues like North Korea more substantively than his predecessor. He has also mostly avoided needless escalation in places like the South China Sea, where many countries, including China and some American allies, have mutually exclusive territorial claims. The Chinese have noted this discrepancy. "On the one hand, the U.S. government claims that it is attempting to build a great partnership with China," a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington said in a statement this morning. "On the other hand, it labels China as a rival." There were disconnects, even, between the national security strategy document and the speech Trump gave in support of it. Most prominently, the document appears to take a harder line against Russia, accusing it and China of being "revisionist powers" operating on the "edges of international law" to undermine the U.S. and change the status quo in their favor. In his speech, Trump said he hoped for a "great partnership" with those two countries "but in a manner that always protects our national interest." That phrase "national interest" does a lot of work in U.S. foreign policy. It's an ill-defined term that justifies all kinds of policy decisions, mostly interventionist ones. In Trump's incarnation, the national interest includes ensuring the U.S. is a "winner" in trade and other economic arenas. That imposes a zero-sum thinking that can only lead to the U.S. losing out. Attacks on free trade, while popular with some voters, are an exercise in killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Given Trump's decades-long history of pushing protectionism and trashing trade, this may be one of the few places where his foreign policy will end up matching his rhetoric. Th[...]

Trump's New National Security Strategy Not Likely to Alter the Pattern of 'Promiscuous Intervention'

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 12:30:00 -0500

The Trump administration is nearly ready to roll out its first National Security Strategy (NSS), a document that promises to make concrete the president's campaign-trail pledge of a dramatic about-face from the adventuresome and often counterproductive foreign policy of the post-9/11 era. The plan reportedly has the support of all relevant cabinet-level advisers, and, per Axios' scoop, is intended to serve "as a 'corrective' to the past 16 years of American foreign policy," a time in which Washington chronically "overestimated America's influence and importance and lost track of priorities." A more restrained approach focused strictly on core interests of defense instead of peripheral concerns like solving internal political conflicts in distant countries would be a welcome corrective. But unless the NSS inaugurates a radical departure from the Trump team's own foreign policy to date, this is a correction unlikely to be made. President Trump's first year in office has seen little in the way of foreign affairs innovation, unless we count his escalation of the status quo of his recent predecessors. The president's policy strength is asking good questions rather than providing good answers. It's a safe assumption this NSS will not repudiate the Trump team's record so far. Until that expectation is fulfilled, let's speculate a little about what the NSS is likely to be, and how it could still be made better. The plan has four broad themes, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster explained at the Ronald Reagan National Defense Forum in California this past weekend: "protecting our homeland, advancing American prosperity, preserving peace through strength … and finally enhancing American influence." McMaster declined to outline what those bromides mean, other than suggesting a continuation of what military historian Ret. Col. Andrew Bacevich has aptly labeled a "pattern of promiscuous intervention." In the last decade and a half, U.S. troops and taxpayers have paid a high price for that pattern. "When it comes to promised results—disorder curbed, democracy promoted, human rights advanced, terrorism suppressed—the United States has precious little to show," Bacevich wrote at Foreign Affairs last year. Those words are no less true today despite a new Oval Office occupant. "As if on autopilot, the Pentagon accrues new obligations and expands its global footprint, oblivious to the possibility that in some parts of the world, U.S. forces may no longer be needed, whereas in others, their presence may be detrimental," Bacevich wrote. Tellingly, McMaster touted Trump's August speech on Afghanistan, echoing "the American people's frustration … over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money, and most importantly, lives trying to rebuild countries in our own image instead of pursuing our security interests." This promising start was fatally undermined when Trump immediately announced his intention to maintain exactly that foreign policy of frustration for unknown generations to come. Trump absurdly imagined the risk in exiting Afghanistan after 16 years is that we might do it too hastily. He observed that "the American people are weary of war without victory," only to set the impossible victory of bombs over ideology as the United States' unachievable goal. He even decried nation-building, and then promptly promised to continue doing it under another name. McMaster likewise promised to "no longer confuse activity with progress," an admirable change, only to speak enthusiastically of busily trying to remake other nations in the United States' image with military intervention all around the globe. He praised Trump's decision to launch airstrikes on Syria's Assad regime despite the real risk of great power conflict it entailed, and in an interview format after his talk, he made a truly dangerous case for preventive war as an acceptable response to North Korea's provocations. Activity without progress abound[...]

The Logan Act Is Awful, and No, It’s Not Going to Take Down Trump’s Administration

Mon, 04 Dec 2017 13:45:00 -0500

Two University of Chicago law professors say a terrible, politically motivated federal law on the books for most of American history is a threat to Mike Flynn and President Donald Trump's administration. Eric Posner and Daniel Hemel today at The New York Times raise the specter of the Logan Act, one of the dumber federal laws written during an era where America was not as quick as it is today to protect the rights of citizens to speak freely. The Logan Act makes it a federal crime for a private American citizen to engage in any communication or correspondence with a foreign government that intervenes in a dispute with the United States and that government in order to "defeat" any measures by the U.S. Flynn, as part of Trump's transition team, stands accused of lying to the FBI about contacts with the Russian government and conversations intended to influence Russia's response to U.S. sanctions and its vote on a United Nations resolution condemning Israeli settlements. Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements Friday. The nature of Flynn's communications with a Russian diplomat have been known publicly for months now. Whether his behavior violated the Logan Act has been a point of discussion for most of the year, and according to Byron York at the Washington Examiner, partly a motivation for the investigation. Here's how Posner and Hemel describe the Logan Act: The statute, which has been on the books since the early days of the republic, reflects an important principle. The president is — as the Supreme Court has said time and again — "the sole organ of the nation in its external relations." If private citizens could hold themselves out as representatives of the United States and work at cross-purposes with the president's own diplomatic objectives, the president's ability to conduct foreign relations would be severely hampered. How neutral Posner and Hemel's description sounds! It's about protecting America's interests by trying to stop the president's role from being subverted by competing demands by other citizens. Their description is pure bullshit. The Logan Act is rooted in the private efforts of Quaker politician George Logan to negotiate peace between America and France during a little-remembered and undeclared naval war between 1798 and 1800. Logan reportedly did not claim to represent the United States or President John Adams. And it's not clear how much influence, if any, he had on the peace process. But he was a Jeffersonian Republican and a political opponent of the Federalists. His actions with France embarrassed the Federalists, who controlled Congress at the time. The Logan Act, then, was passed to punish political adversaries for attempting to get involved in international politics with agendas other than the president's. The Logan Act is not a law about preventing fraud, or treason, or subversion as Posner and Hemel suggest. It's a law for the expressed purpose of punishing political speech. Whenever it has been invoked it has been for exactly that reason. Logan Act accusations have always had strong stench of political opportunism behind them and very frequently (but not always) in response to peace-seeking activism. President Ronald Reagan invoked it against Jesse Jackson for traveling to Cuba and Nicaragua. GOP Rep. Steve King later tried to invoke it against Rep. Nancy Pelosi for communicating with the Syrian government. And it was invoked again toward the end of President Barack Obama's administration as Republican senators signed onto an open letter warning Iran that their deal with Obama could be undone by the next president. Even in Flynn's case, Flynn's communications with Russia were about discouraging them from overreacting to sanctions from the United States and trying to block a resolution that could have escalated tensions with Israel. Mind you, Flynn is no peacemonger, and there may well have been some extremely self-serving reasons for this [...]

CIA Director Tom Cotton: A Disaster for Foreign Policy or a Boon for Better Lawmaking?

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 12:30:00 -0500

There are new insider rumors that President Donald Trump's administration is going to see another shake-up at the top. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is not long for his job, according to multiple sources for Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman at The New York Times. The plan, the Times reports, would be for CIA Director Mike Pompeo to take over as secretary of state. Then they're considering installing Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) to lead the CIA. As always with the Trump administration, be wary when rumors of people quitting or getting fired hit the press. This is a leak-prone administration, and frequently what comes out through unnamed sources are half-baked ideas, trial balloons, or just people within the administration trying to influence the president's decisions by going to the press. It should not be a surprise if Tillerson gets dumped. He and Trump clearly have been at odds for some time. An entire news cycle in October was consumed with a report that Tillerson called Trump a "moron." Cotton is one of the bigger champions of allowing the federal government to engage in domestic surveillance without a warrant, so the idea of putting him charge of the CIA might make more than a few folks blanch. He's on board with the Senate Intelligence Committee's bill to formalize the use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Section 702 authorities to snoop on Americans to fight crimes, beyond the intent of the legislation. Cotton also is quite vocal about wanting regime change in Iran. Putting him in charge of the CIA could facilitate further American meddling in that country. We could see more voices for interventionism and even war from within the Trump administration. On the other hand, Cotton has a nasty record of taking any number of authoritarian, anti-liberty positions. Getting him out of the Senate could arguably be an improvement in terms of lawmaking. He has been a supporter of harsh mandatory minimum federal sentencing for drug crimes and has stood in the way of reforms of the criminal justice system. And about those harsh crackdowns on illegal immigrants in America—Cotton thinks we have too many legal immigrants, buying into the inaccurate talking point that low-skilled immigrant labor is what is keeping Americans' wages down. And he backs legislation to block online gambling. Cotton has been no friend of freedom as a senator. Cotton has been so in tune with Trump's worst authoritarian urges the administration might want to keep him where he is, given their challenges in building coalitions with lawmakers. Officials told The Times that there is concern that he's more valuable to Trump in the Senate. If Cotton leaves the Senate to head the CIA, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (a Republican) would name a replacement to serve until next fall. Hutchinson initially endorsed Marco Rubio as president and has not been terribly thrilled with the way Trump has been handling himself as president. Corrected to fix the misspelling of Tillerson's name.[...]

U.S. Ramps Up Drug War in Afghanistan

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 15:12:00 -0500

(image) Washington has spent more than $8 billion on counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan since 2002, and it has a record-breaking poppy season in 2017 to show for it. Naturally, it plans to double down

The top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, announced yesterday that U.S. airstrikes are now targeting drug labs in that country. This is the first time the U.S. has used F-22s, which cost $340 million apiece, in Afghanistan, and it's the first time U.S. forces have used their new power—granted by President Donald Trump in August—to order airstrikes against Taliban revenue streams. (Previously such strikes could be used only to defend U.S. or allied forces or positions.)

Seven drug labs were bombed in this week's campaign. The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that there are as many as 500 opium labs across Afghanistan.

Nicholson stressed that the drug war in Afghanistan won't make much of a dent on heroin use here, since only about 4 percent of America's supply of the drug comes from there.

The U.S. has eradicated thousands of hectares of poppy fields over the years, only to see poppy production continue to grow. In this way, the U.S. war on drugs is like the war on drugs writ large: It wastes a lot of money while failing to stem the tide of drugs. A U.N. report this year on poppy production in Afghanistan warned that the rise in production and productivity would lead to lower prices and higher quality opium available on the world markets. A 2013 study saw the same results for anti-drug measures in the U.S., Europe, and Australia.

Targeting opium labs is unlikely to be any more effective than targeting opium fields has been. After all, given the profit margins in the opium trade, rebuilding labs should not be a problem. The U.N. says this year's record crop could lead to increased funding to the terrorist groups that are intimately involved in opium farming. Duh.

In more than 40 years, the U.S. has essentially no success stories in the war on drugs—not domestically and not overseas. It has failed to put a dent in drug use; it has failed to curb supply; it has frequently failed even to drive prices up. Instead, it has precipitated an explosion of new, dangerous drugs for which there would not be a need had other drugs not been prohibited. (The drug war is a major reason crystal meth exists in the first place.)

Meanwhile, policy makers are struggling to find a reason to remain in Afghanistan. On Monday, Nicholson bragged that the U.S. was no longer on a time-based mission (though it's hard to imagine that was ever really true, given the length of the war so far). "The new U.S. strategy on Afghanistan is conditions based not time bound, which means we will eliminate terrorists until the end," he said.

Like the war on drugs, that could go on forever.

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

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[...]

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 ange[...]

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.