Published: Mon, 24 Apr 2017 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Mon, 24 Apr 2017 12:47:00 -0400
Thu, 20 Apr 2017 00:01:00 -0400When terrorism raises its head, governments often take steps that are supposed to make us safer—banning tiny knives from airplanes, putting metal detectors at stadium entrances, issuing "orange" alerts. Skeptics dismiss these measures as "security theater." They're a show, not a genuine obstacle to terrorists. The Trump administration, obsessed with imagery, has adapted this approach to national security. The president tweets bellicose warnings to North Korea. The vice president goes to South Korea to don a bomber jacket and stare implacably across the Demilitarized Zone. An aircraft carrier steams toward the Sea of Japan—or rather, Trump claims it's doing so even as it heads the opposite direction, thousands of miles away. Anyone who heard Donald Trump brag about his choice for defense secretary knows that half the appeal of James Mattis was his nickname, "Mad Dog," which the president used every chance he got. Had Mattis been known as "Peewee" or "Mouse," he would have been passed over. With all the noise and spectacle, this presidency often seems less like an attempt at governance and more like a rehearsal for a Broadway musical. It's just not clear whether it will be a comedy or a tragedy. Some of the props are real. When the military dropped the biggest conventional bomb in the U.S. arsenal on an Islamic State position in Afghanistan, it came as a surprise. But you know the Pentagon had Trump at "mother of all bombs." Once he heard about it, he had to use it. The problem is that these gestures are no substitute for strategies. This sortie was meant to highlight our power in a way no one could miss. But what happens if you drop your biggest bomb and it doesn't win the war? Those on the other side conclude that they can take the worst you can inflict. The rest of the world sees the same thing. It's known as shooting your bolt. The most important question in fighting a war is often, "Then what?" It's one of many questions Trump doesn't spend hours contemplating. He certainly didn't let it delay his missile strike on a Syrian air base, which was supposed to punish President Bashar Assad's use of chemical weapons. That attack sent a couple of signals. The first is that if Assad resorts again to chemical weapons, the U.S. may respond with military force. The second is that if the Syrian dictator uses other methods—as he has done in killing some 100,000 civilians—he has nothing to worry about. Assad can take a hint. In the week after the missile strike, according to the Voice of America, the Syrian Network for Human Rights noted an increase in his use of cluster munitions, incendiary weapons and barrel bombs, which killed at least 98 civilians, 24 of them children. The 22,000-pound bomb that hit a network of caves used by the Islamic State in Afghanistan was said to have killed 96 enemy fighters while causing no civilian casualties. The latter claim invites skepticism. George W. Bush and Barack Obama both declined to use this weapon because of its indiscriminate effects. Bush considered it for taking out Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. In the end, the danger to innocent bystanders was deemed so great that it was left on the shelf—until now. Trump clearly thinks that worrying about civilian casualties makes you look weak. But indifference to collateral damage doesn't mean he will succeed in Afghanistan or Syria. One huge conventional bomb, or two or five, won't defeat the Islamic State—which isn't even our chief enemy in Afghanistan. And deploying it against the Taliban, who have a wider and deeper presence, would doubtless spawn more terrorists than it would kill. The missile strike and the giant bomb drop both amount to an admission of impotence. We can't win in Syria without dispatching a large number of ground troops, and so far Trump is not willing to do that. We haven't won in Afghanistan even with large numbers of ground troops. Trump's loud but ineffectual tactics confirm to Assad and the Islamic State that winning matters more to them than it does to us. The North Koreans likewise understand that he has [...]
Wed, 19 Apr 2017 20:05:00 -0400Secretary of State Rex Tillerson certified to Congress that Iran was complying with Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, before a statutory midnight deadline, while also insisting Iran remained "a leading state sponsor of terror through many platforms and methods" and indicating that the Trump administration would evaluate the JCPOA-related suspension of sanctions and whether it was "vital to the national security interests of the United States." "President Trump… has realized that tearing up a highly complex and multinational agreement is not a wise thing to do at this time," Farideh Farhi, an independent scholar and affiliate graduate faculty member at University of Hawaii-Manoa, told Reason. "Note that under the Nuclear Agreement Review Act, the president has to provide certification every 90 days. Had the Trump administration not done so, it would have triggered legislative procedures and potential reimpositions of sanctions, which would then declare the U.S. intent to renege on its JCPOA obligations," she added. Tillerson's certification also "indicates that the Trump administration has had a sort of… coming of age, to realize that this nuclear deal is not such a terrible deal that President Trump was declaring during the campaign," Emad Kiyaei, a policy advisor with the American-Iranian Council, a non-profit whose mission is to provide a "sustainable dialogue and a more comprehensive understanding of US-Iran relations," told Reason. During the presidential campaign, Trump called the Iran deal a "disaster" and the "worst deal ever negotiated," although he did not challenge the premise of making the deal in the first place, and unlike many of the other Republican candidates, did not promise to rip it up on his first day in office. James Mattis, Trump's secretary of defense, expressed support for abiding by the Iran nuclear deal in his confirmation hearings. The Trump administration imposed new missiles-related sanctions on Iran in February, and the review announced this week opens the door for the Trump administration to reject the nuclear deal down the road. "By ordering a review process, the administration is hinting that it has not yet formulated an overall policy regarding how to deal with Iran," Farhi explained. "Given the fact that the Congress is contemplating sanctions on other grounds (reportedly now delayed until the results of Iran's May 19 presidential elections are known), clearly the desire to apply more pressure on Iran remains in Washington and may become the force that will push for a more aggressive posture towards Iran, eventually threatening the JCPOA." "For now, however, Obama's Iran policy remains in force by fiat and the inability of Iran hawks in Washington and the administration to decide exactly what to do," she added. Kiyaei warns that a shift away from the JCPOA would not be in the best interests of the United States, "nor will it help empower those within the Iranian administration that seek to bring the level of tensions between the two countries down." Instead, "it will empower those conservatives in Iran that seek to destabilize even a semblance of a better relationship with the U.S." "Sanctions equal more friction, and friction brings in power those who are going to be much more able to destabilize the Middle East in the image that they wish," Kiyaei explained, "which goes counter to the interests of the United States and its allies in the region, especially at a time when the Iranian elections are just a few weeks away." Kiyaei noted that harsher rhetoric from the Trump administration, actions like the travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries including Iran, and a disengagement from limited direct communications has already deteriorated U.S.-Iranian relations that had begun to improve under the Obama administration. "The lack of communication, the return to this sort of decades of policies of coercion and further sanctions and so forth, unfortunately, will not bode well in reducing the friction and animosity between [...]
Fri, 14 Apr 2017 21:20:00 -0400The U.S. has deployed about 40 additional "regular" troops to Somalia, according to anonymous military officials, to "train and equip" the Somali military, continuing an escalation of the U.S. counter-terrorism campaign in Somalia that continued apace in the twilight of the Obama administration. The war in Somalia is a stark reminder of the consequences of a decade and a half of Congress' abrogation of its warmaking powers in favor of unilateral executive action—indefinite, worldwide war. Trump's election didn't temper President Obama's desire to expand the war in Somalia, even though on the campaign trail in 2016 he warned that Trump was "uniquely unqualified" to be president. In late November, the Obama administration deemed Al-Shabaab part of the conflict covered under the post-9/11 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF). That, The New York Times reported, strengthened the legal basis for airstrikes and other counterterrorism operations in Somalia that were becoming more frequent. Al-Shabaab, which became an affiliate of Al-Qaeda in 2012, emerged after a 2007 U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia to oust the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), with which a nascent Somali government refused to negotiate, from power. The Somali government reportedly requested that the U.S. deploy additional troops to help it fight Al-Shabaab. Last October, the government requested an explanation for an air strike it said killed nearly two dozen soldiers and civilians. Last March, a U.S. airstrike killed 150 alleged militants in Somalia—the U.S. insisted there was an unspecified "imminent threat" to U.S. troops in the country. In reporting the current U.S. troop deployment, some outlets, like the BBC, say only U.S. "counterterrorism advisors" were in the country previously—these are actually "special forces," or U.S. troops. The BBC did report on the presence of U.S. forces in Somalia after the March 2016 airstrike. Somalia was one of the seven countries in the first iteration of Trump's travel ban aimed at majority-Muslim countries. While the U.S. "withdrew" from Somalia in 1994 after volunteering to lead the United Nations task force sent in the wake of the collapse of the Siad Barre government, it has reinserted itself in the last decade plus under the auspices of fighting terrorism. Obama's decision late last year to pull operations in Somalia under the post-9/11 AUMF reveals the fiction what kind of a fiction the authorization is, given the U.S. had returned to Somalia for counterterrorism long before the decision. In 2010, Obama declared via an executive order, renewed by Trump this month, a "national emergency" in Somalia to deal with the "extraordinary threat to national security" violence in the country posed. During the 2002 vote on the post-9/11 AUMF, only one member of Congress voted no, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) She warned of endless war. Today, despite some bipartisan push, the Congress is unwilling to entertain a new AUMF. The last time it passed one was in 2003, to authorize the war in Iraq. Now the U.S. is engaged in military operations in more than half a dozen countries, including Iraq, under the auspices not of the of the 2003 AUMF but the post-9/11 one, to fight the Islamic State (ISIS). Back in Somalia, ISIS has tried to convince Al-Shabaab to switch their allegiance from Al-Qaeda to ISIS, as well as conducting terror attacks of their own, with Somali security forces engaging ISIS fighters in hostilities for the first time late last year. U.S. troops are joining this fray.[...]
Fri, 14 Apr 2017 20:21:00 -0400The U.S. is preparing to launch a pre-emptive military strike if it appears that a nuclear weapons test by North Korea is imminent, NBC News reported last night, further ratcheting up rhetoric about the totalitarian hermit regime. Michael Malice, author of Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il, explained to Reason that the U.S. and North Korea were in a fundamentally new and more dangerous place today because of a number of actions taken on the U.S.'s part. "We've never said we're done talking to them before," Malice noted, referring to Rex Tillerson's comments last month that the U.S. was done negotiating and that its "policy of strategic patience" had ended. Malice also mentioned the U.S. sending the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson to the Korean Peninsula, as a specific show of force, as something new—the U.S. has generally sent ships to the region only for military exercises. "We're openly discussing assassinating Kim Jong Un," Malice continued, pointing to a Drudge Report headline linked to an NBC News report that mentioned the option to "target and kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and other senior leaders in charge of the country's missiles and nuclear weapons and decision-making" as one of three options the National Security Council presented President Trump, along with deploying nuclear weapons in South Korea and covert action to disrupt North Korea's nuclear weapons program. "This was never a headline before," Malice explained, "and the idea that any country is going to be happy while the Americans, who are really tough, are musing about killing their leader, is kind of whacky." Malice compared the situation to last week's missile strikes on Syria: "We were more aggressive against North Korea in the last couple of weeks than we had been in Syria, and we hit Syria, and that's new." Malice said the administration was telegraphing that it was moving to Plan B, "and I'm scared of what that's going to be." Earlier this week Trump told the Wall Street Journal that after listening to the president of China "for 10 minutes" he realized the North Korea situation was "not so easy." Trump continued: "I felt pretty strongly that they [China] had a tremendous power over North Korea… but it's not what you would think." The U.S. sent the Carl Vinson to the region the next day. Earlier this month, Tillerson said the U.S. had "no further comment" on North Korea's missile tests. I wrote that this was a good thing if it meant not paying attention to North Korea, which thrives on such attention. Yet since then, the administration has lavished the regime in it. North Korea, Malice explained, sees itself as a "shrimp among whales" and its leaders "revel in giving the finger to bigger parties" like Russia, the U.S., Japan, and even China. Malice said that Trump's more confrontational posture toward North Korea makes Kim Jong Un more likely to launch a nuclear weapons test, "100 percent." "First of all, if you, Ed, are threatening me, Michael, as a person, you're a bigger guy, my best move is to not escalate," Malice explained, "but it is to have a strong bluff to get you to back off." Malice pointed out that Trump should be intimately familiar with this concept. "Trump said this himself: you have to hit back," Malice said. "He wouldn't even let Meryl Streep off the hook." "I don't think Trump's informed about North Korea, and I don't think he's in a position to be informed," Malice explained. "You can't sit someone down with no foreign policy experience and give them a 30 minute speech and he gets it." The North Korean regime has been feeding its population a steady diet of propaganda about "U.S. imperialists." "They have been told for 70 years that the U.S. wants to conquer them since the 1860s," Malice explained. In 1866, the American armed merchant marine steamer General Sherman was attacked and eventually destroyed when it arrived in Pyongyang without permission. "When the media reports on U.S. ships approaching Korea, or Til[...]
Fri, 14 Apr 2017 18:17:00 -0400
(image) Michael Weiss, editor in chief of the Russia-watching Interpreter magazine, and author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, has long been one of the most knowledgeable observers of Great Game international politics. Last night, after one of the most eventful weeks in modern foreign policy history, what with President Donald Trump's showy switcheroos on Syria, Russia, China, and NATO, and his noisy belligerence toward North Korea, Weiss joined for 45 minutes of a 133-minute (!) version of The Fifth Column, the weekly podcast of Kmele Foster, Michael C. Moynihan, and myself. You can listen right here:
src="https://www.podbean.com/media/player/yjhht-69b8c2?from=site&vjs=1&skin=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0" width="100%" height="315" frameborder="0">
Also earning mentions: Masshole marathoners, "Black Ron Paul," the Maple Syrup Mafia, and much more. You can further service your Fifth Column needs at iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, wethefifth.com, @wethefifth, and Facebook.
BONUS ANNOUNCEMENT: I am scheduled to appear on tonight's All in With Chris Hayes on MSNBC with guest-host Joy-Ann Reid at 8 pm ET, to talk about our coming conflict with North Korea.
Fri, 14 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0400
(image) This morning from 9-12 ET I will be guest-hosting on Sirius XM Insight's Stand UP! with Pete Dominick show, which you can find at 121 on your channel-finder. (I will also be hosting next Monday and Tuesday at the same time, and in fact hosted Tuesday of this week as well.) It's a loose-limbed and interactive format, so call anytime at 1-877-974-7487 to give me some ideological backup (and fashion critiques), though of course it will also be jam-packed with guests. To wit:
* Delaware Dave Weigel, the beloved if commenter-controversial former Reasoner-turned WashPost politics guy. We will be talking mostly about his marvelously named forthcoming book The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock, with maybe some politics sprinkled in.
* Benjamin K. Bergen, cognitive scientist and author of the new What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves. We will be talking about self-censorship in book titles.
* Michael G. Long and Chris Lamb, academics and co-authors of the new book Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography: The Faith of a Boundary-Breaking Hero. We will be mashing up Good Friday and Jackie Robinson.
* And finally, Michael Brendan Dougherty of The Week and The Slurve. We will be discussing our own personal Jesuses.
Thu, 13 Apr 2017 12:45:00 -0400As Donald Trump's bombing of a Syrian air base last week testifies, nothing stifles political dissent in America more quickly and completely than military action. Suddenly, even the Democratic congressional leadership of Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi is linking arms with a president they regularly assail as incompetent and unqualified. The mainstream media fell into line, too, with 83 percent of major newspapers supporting the action by one tally. Out of the 46 largest newspapers that editorialized on Syria, only one—The Houston Chronicle—opposed the air strike. Where does such a mind-set come from? This is especially important since it's not clear that political and cultural elites are speaking for the majority of Americans when pushing a pro-intervention line. Indeed, one of Donald Trump's most-potent populist attacks during his presidential campaign sprung directly from suspicion of leaders being dangerously out of touch with what typical Americans felt. Iraq and Libya, he averred during the 2016 race, were flawed because they put the interests of "globalists" ahead of actual American interests. At least since the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States can't be fairly characterized as a non-interventionist country, but it's also fair to say that our country's foreign policy after World War II was not necessarily an expression of the vox populi. Foreign policy isn't something that should be put to a majority vote, of course, but when your whole political persona is speaking for the "forgotten" men and women of America, it's worth thinking about (this is also true, incidentally, when it comes to free trade and liberal immigration laws, which are also supported by majorities of voters). At Hot Air, Allahpundit notes that even as one poll shows "52 percent of Republicans" strongly or somewhat support using ground troops to remove Bashar al-Assad from Syria, a plurality of Americans (44 percent to 41 percent) are plainly against such action. Other polls, such as CBS, show virtually no support for anything more than random, "humanitarian" airstrikes (which of course are anything but). The CBS polls says just 17 percent of us support the use of troops to unseat Assad. YouGov, meanwhile, finds massive and swift growth in the percentage of Republicans who believe that the United States "has a responsibility to intervene in trouble spots." Four years ago, just 18 percent of Republicans agreed with such a sentiment. As of last week, 51 percent does. Which suggests that foreign policy is much more about domestic politics. While there is a strong pro-interventionist, neoconservative caucus within the Republican Party (think John McCain, who rarely meets a bombing or invasion program he doesn't fall in love with), partisan politics often does a better job of explaining where voters and leaders stand on anything. That is, until the bombs start exploding and the bullets start buzzing. Then you get 83 percent of newspapers rallying around the flag pole and otherwise mortal enemies linking arms and singing "Kumbaya," albeit in the name of war. And you get commentaries like this by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry in The Week: Whether you like it or not, America is the world's lone superpower, and its military dominance over the rest of the world has, despite all its flaws, produced an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity. The phrase "world policeman" is usually taken as a pejorative, but it is actually extremely apt: A policeman should not be a nanny or a busybody, but, by god, if he sees a thug punching a grandmother, he should intervene. It is actually the antithesis of that other pejorative word, "empire." In political theory terms, a policeman enforces a minimal rule set — what you must not do — whereas an empire enforces a maximal rule set — what you must do. A world empire would be a disaster, but a world policeman is a wonderful thing. And since th[...]
Thu, 13 Apr 2017 00:01:00 -0400Americans are a generous and selfless people, ever eager to improve the lives of foreigners cursed to live in less fortunate places. In fact, we are the nicest folks who would ever invade your country and leave it in ruins. President Donald Trump's heart was long thought to be two sizes too small. But he was suddenly so moved by the sight of Syrian children caught in a nerve gas attack that his nobler impulses overcame him. These were victims he didn't care enough about to admit to the United States as refugees. But he cared enough to blow up some stuff at a Syrian air base on their behalf. The Syrian attack is the latest case of using the American military for humanitarian intervention—a term that has become a virtual oxymoron, like "Midwestern skiing" or "national unity." Our presidents have a long practice of using soldiers and warplanes to heal conflict and a long record of opening new wounds. One early example was Operation Restore Hope in Somalia, ordered in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush to help alleviate a famine brought on by a civil war. How did that work out? Reported The Economist last year, "After a quarter-century of costly foreign intervention, Somalia is still Africa's most-failed state"—plagued by war, terrorism and, yes, famine. In 1999, President Bill Clinton bombed Yugoslavia, a response to the Serbian-dominated government's persecution of ethnic Albanians in the province of Kosovo. The NATO air campaign, however, spurred the Serbs into a frenzy of ethnic cleansing and killed some 500 Serbian civilians in raids that "violated international humanitarian law," according to Human Rights Watch. President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq was justified as a favor to the oppressed people of Iraq, who had been brutalized by Saddam Hussein and were expected to greet us as liberators. But in toppling Saddam, we unleashed deadly chaos that persists even now. A 2013 study led by public health professor Amy Hagopian of the University of Washington concluded that the Iraq war and occupation caused nearly a half-million Iraqi deaths. That's not counting the turmoil in Syria, another regrettable byproduct of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In Libya, President Barack Obama acted against the alleged prospect of mass slaughter by dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Our intervention played a central role in turning Libya into what it is today: yet another failed state, a cauldron of anarchy and a hotbed of terrorists. Our assumption that nothing could be worse than Gadhafi turned out to be overly optimistic. Trump's air raid confirms that the main thing Americans have learned from history is that our leaders don't learn from history. He and his advisers say Bashar Assad's savagery could not be excused. But the only savagery that has prompted retaliation involved chemical weapons. As long as he limits himself to conventional forms of slaughter, the administration has made clear, he can expect to be left alone. If Trump elected to expand our military involvement, on the other hand, the likely consequence would be more bloodshed rather than peace. If the president were serious about humanitarian concerns, he would not be trying to cut the foreign aid budget—which has a better record than military force of actually helping the afflicted. George W. Bush set out to curb AIDS in Africa with a program that has saved millions of lives through prevention and treatment. So what does Trump propose? He proposes to cut U.S. funding for that program by $300 million this year. He is lavishing money on efforts that have proved destructive while shorting those that have worked. As a humanitarian, he's got things backward. "International public health programs are almost certainly the most cost-effective way to save lives abroad," wrote Dartmouth College political scientist Benjamin Valentino in Foreign Affairs in 2011. "Measles alone killed more than 160,0[...]
Wed, 12 Apr 2017 11:53:00 -0400Now that White House Spokesman Sean Spicer has apologized for saying yesterday that "Hitler…didn't even sink to using chemical weapons," that means that stupid Nazi analogies in the service of making political points about foreign policy are finally déclassé, right? Ha ha, (jumps out of window). No, the real lesson of Spicernacht is that you have to package your even-Hitlerism with at least one layer of abstraction. Better to talk about Neville Chamberlain (the guy who appeased Hitler), or the Munich Agreement (in which Hitler was appeased), than rely solely on the H-man himself. Then you can get on with the real business, which is advocating that the U.S. military kill more people in the name of saving them. Here's the skeezy Trump television apologist Jeffrey Lord, for example, writing in The American Spectator: What President Trump delivered to Syria the other night was one of the oldest messages in human history, a message that unfortunately repeatedly gets forgotten. The message: There is peace through strength. And if a peaceful nation warns a bully to stop its bullying behavior — woe betide the peaceful nation if it doesn't carry through with its warning. The most vivid example of this, of course, was British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's repeated appeasement of Nazi Germany's Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. Or retired Brigadier General Anthony J. Tata, writing at The Hill: In the wake of Tuesday's Syrian chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians, President Barack Obama will be remembered as America's modern day Neville Chamberlain, the infamous United Kingdom Prime Minister who appeased Nazi Germany in 1938 by signing the Munich Agreement, setting the stage for the holocaust. […] If Obama's passivity in the face of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) deployed in Syria in 2013 lends to Chamberlain comparisons, President Donald Trump's military action against Syria this week compares favorably to Winston Churchill, Chamberlain's effective wartime successor. Or Clifford May in the Washington Times: In the last century, most Americans recognized, in some cases with enormous reluctance, that there was no good alternative to doing whatever was necessary to rout the Nazis and communists, enemies whose goal was to kill off the democratic experiment. In this century, jihadists and Islamists harbor the same ambition. We can attempt to appease them. We can try to make ourselves inoffensive to them. We can keep our hand extended, hoping that in time they will unclench their fists. Or we can decide instead to plan for a long war that will end with the defeat of these latest enemies of America and the rest of the civilized world. If Mr. Trump has grasped that within his first 100 days, he's not off to such a bad start. The world has thankfully seen no Hitler since Hitler, despite the worst efforts from the Soviet Union, Pol Pot, and the grotesque crime family in North Korea. Yet if we suspended Godwin's bogeyman from the national foreign policy lexicon, hawks would have to find some new language to oppose the Iran nuclear deal, advocate taking out Assad, or even lamely attempt to retroactively justify the Iraq War. As I wrote in this space 14 freaking years ago, "Munich i.e., the consequences of appeasing fascist aggression in the 1930s was invoked in the late 1940s on behalf of establishing the containment of Soviet power and influence as the organizing principle of American foreign policy," former Armed Services Committee staffer Jeffrey Record wrote in a March 1998 Air War College paper entitled Perils of Reasoning by Historical Analogy: Munich, Vietnam, and American Use of Force Since 1945. "It was subsequently invoked on behalf of the Truman administration's decision to fight in Korea; on behalf of containment's militarization and extension to Asia and the Middle East; and on behalf of th[...]
Tue, 11 Apr 2017 14:10:00 -0400
Last Friday, April 7, I was on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, arguing against the U.S. missile attack against a Syrian air base. Joining me in opposition to the strike (and Bill O'Reilly) was the Cato Institute's Emma Ashford, whom I had interviewed early that day (take a look and listen here).
My basic brief against this intervention is here.
Click twice to get the video moving.
src="https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fnick.gillespie.940%2Fposts%2F10154606215381491&width=500" width="500" height="457" frameborder="0">
Mon, 10 Apr 2017 00:01:00 -0400In the worldview Donald Trump brought to the White House, all problems are easy. Fix the economy by getting tough with China. End illegal immigration by building a wall. "Totally obliterate" the Islamic State. Even after the humiliating failure of an effort in the House to repeal and replace Obamacare, Trump declared: "I know that we're all going to make a deal on health care. That's such an easy one." Trump apparently thinks the same thing about one of the knottiest questions he has encountered—Syria. After a chemical weapons attack blamed on President Bashar Assad, Trump didn't spend much time agonizing before using cruise missiles against a Syrian air base. It's a response that creates new dangers without solving old problems. He obviously never read up on Dwight Eisenhower, who said: "No easy problems ever come to the president of the United States. If they are easy to solve, someone else has solved them." Syria is one of those no one has solved, mainly because it is virtually impossible. The country has been a charnel house since 2011, when an armed uprising elicited savage responses from Assad—bombing hospitals, torturing opponents and starving civilians. In 2012, Barack Obama threatened U.S. retaliation if Assad used chemical weapons. When he used them anyway, Obama changed his mind, recognizing that major military measures had scant prospect of success but an excellent chance of catastrophe. The options in Syria did not become more viable merely because Trump finally took note of what's happening. In fact, they have gotten worse. Russia now has ground and air forces in Syria, fighting on the side of the regime. Hawks accused Obama of facilitating Assad's brutality by standing aside. But it was not until Trump arrived that this nerve gas attack occurred. Maybe Assad felt emboldened after the administration indicated his regime is "a political reality that we have to accept," as press secretary Sean Spicer said March 31. In that case, Trump is not compensating for Obama's mistakes so much as his own. It's hard to have any confidence that this decision was made in a careful way, with a clear sense of purpose and a full understanding of the risks. The suddenness of Trump's shift indicates he gave no more thought to his new position than he did to his previous, opposite one. The important questions are: What will the strike accomplish, and where will it lead? One taste of the lash isn't likely to shake Assad's grip on power or deter him from killing his own people on a large scale—possibly even with chemical weapons. National security adviser H.R. McMaster admitted Friday that the dictator "will maintain the certain capacity to commit mass murder with chemical weapons, we think, beyond this particular airfield." The administration is trying to thread a very small needle. "This was not a small strike," McMaster insisted, while noting that it was also "not of a scope or a scale that it (went) after all such related facilities." The exquisite calibration suggests Trump and his advisers want to reassure both the American people ("I'm tough!") and the Russians ("Really, it's nothing"). It indicates he has no intention of bringing down Assad. Maybe someone told him that without Assad, the chaos and bloodshed in Syria would not abate but expand and intensify. Apparently, Trump is averse to full-scale intervention, which would carry the risk of direct combat with Russians in the air or on the ground. But as the signs on ski slopes say, hazards exist that are not marked. Once the U.S. inserts itself into the fight against Assad, the chance of a misstep increases. With a little bad luck, we could find ourselves at war not only with the Syrian government but with a nuclear superpower. Why take the risk? Even if conflict with Russia could be avoided, maki[...]
Fri, 07 Apr 2017 18:14:00 -0400I'm scheduled to appear tonight on The O'Reilly Factor, where I'll be arguing that there are no good reasons for the United States to be bombing Syria and otherwise escalating our involvement in that country's civil war. The show airs at 8 P.M. Eastern Time and I should be appearing around 8:30 or so. Let's run through some of the arguments against the missile strke and, as important, further U.S. involvement: As Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said in a statement earlier today, it's disgusting for a country to use chemical weapons and the Assad regime has no redeeming qualities. But those facts don't mean the United States is somehow encumbered to enter a conflict in which we have already demonstrated near-complete incompetence. Have we already forgotten how quickly the (at-the-time secret) arms we provided to "moderate rebels" almost immediately ended up in the hands of al Nusra? In a concise-yet-encyclopedic article at The Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty notes that pro-interventionist Americans are living in a dream world in which we'll be able to depose Assad, spread liberal democracy to Syria, and keep ISIS and other jihadists in check. All while playing nice with Russia and Iran, a regional power we made much stronger by unseating Saddam Hussein. Good luck with all that. In what is surely one of his least-convincing falsehoods, President Trump justified the missile strike on an airbase by saying, "It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the use of deadly chemical weapons." This is simply nonsensical. It would be a better world, yes, had chemical weapons never been invented. But why does using gas to kill scores of people necessitate a categorically different answer than killing thousands or more via conventional weapons? The Syrian government has killed north of 100,000 rebel and anti-state fights. If those deaths don't necessitate an American response (and they don't), why should Assad's use of chemicals? It's important to note that the president, like others before him, refused to seek congressional approval for what is clearly an act of war. Even the most-expansive reading of the war powers granted the president under the Constitution can justify such an attack on a country that posed no immediate danger to us. This should concern all of us regardless of our evaluation of this particular act. And it hardly makes things better to pretend that the authorization passed on September 14, 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks is the controlling legislation here: The president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons. As Eli Lake wrote for Reason back in 2010, As long as this authorization of force remains the law of the land, any change in the legal conduct of our open-ended, undeclared war will be, at most, cosmetic. Although it's true that President Obama appears more reluctant to use these extraordinary powers than his predecessor, he is nonetheless asserting, enthusiastically at times, that he has such powers. And because so much of the American war on terror is conducted in secret, it is difficult to know what Obama is and is not doing to wage it. But if the missile strike is misguided, at least it was ineffective. AFP's White House correspondent Andrew Beatty reports that "the base hit by Trump yesterday is already being used again to launch air strikes." Donald Trump would hardly be the first leader to use a military action to b[...]
Fri, 07 Apr 2017 15:10:00 -0400
"It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the use of deadly chemical weapons," said President Donald Trump in explaining a U.S.-missile strike on a Syrian airbase. That might sound good and even noble in theory, explains Emma Ashford of the Cato Institute, but the plain truth is that he's wrong. What's worse, it's far from clear what either the United States or other countries in the region will do next.
The essential lesson that George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump keep forgetting is that military interventions, especially in other countries' civil wars, often makes things worse, Ashford tells Nick Gillespie.
Produced by Austin Bragg. Cameras by Todd Krainin and Mark McDaniel.
Fri, 07 Apr 2017 15:00:00 -0400The images were gutting. Silenced children and crushed families in the aftermath of Tuesday's deadly chemical weapon attack in Syria's Idlib province. These are also the sorts of images that leave us repeating "never again," that all but audibly demand a more substantive response than words. President Trump responded the following day with a 59-missile strike on a Syrian government airbase after announcing he was considering military intervention. The slaughter, which claimed more than 80 lives, was an "affront to humanity," Trump had said on Wednesday. "These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated." Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said moves toward Syrian regime change are "underway." The Trump administration's steps toward military intervention have received support from expected quarters. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday called for the U.S. to ground the Assad regime's air force, while Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) made explicit his case for regime change. "Bashar al-Assad must ultimately go," he said, suggesting a large-scale invasion of Syria may be necessary because "we cannot be safe as long as the Assad-Iran-Russia axis is in charge" in Damascus. On the other side of the aisle, Democratic congressional leaders (implausibly, given this administration's escalation in Syria) criticized Trump for putting the U.S. on the "sidelines," suggesting his overtures to Assad's allies at the Kremlin enabled this attack. Now, they argued—differing in tone but not in goal from their GOP counterparts—it is time for the U.S. via the U.N. to intervene. Missing in all this is even a trace of realism and reason. The impulse to intervene is more than understandable in the face of such violence, but if the last decade and a half of foreign policy failures tell us anything, it is that the road to Raqqa is paved with good intentions. A well-meant desire to insert the full might of the American military into the chaos of Syria is no guarantor of successful regime change. No serious person can promise such a simple triumph, not now, 14 years after our intervention in Iraq and ouster of another cruel and ostensibly secular Mideast dictator. As much as we might wish it, U.S. intervention cannot even bring the promise of fewer civilian casualties than would accrue without our presence. And the lesson of the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Libya is that a U.S.-fostered power vacuum may even make Syria's suffering worse. Beyond these heavy practical considerations are issues of grand strategy and legality. As Michael Brendan Dougherty notes at The Week, the primary question we must ask after the Idlib attack is not "'Must this be stopped?' We know the answer to that question: Of course it ought to be." No, the primary question, the conservative columnist correctly argues, is should "the emotion generated by these pictures elicit our consent for the United States military, under President Trump, to intervene even more aggressively on behalf of al Qaeda in Syria, under the legal authority of a 2001 act of Congress declaring war on al Qaeda?" This is, in practice if not in rhetoric, what the bipartisan Washington establishment has hurried to demand. Regime change in Syria as currently conceived is an executive war of choice, launched without constitutionally-mandated congressional authorization and serving as de facto assistance to rebel groups marked by their uncertain ideology and shadowy ties to the perpetrators of 9/11. We need not concede an inch of moral approbation to the Assad regime to recognize these very real complications the regime change narrative ignores. Trump once made that distinction himself. "What will we get for bombing S[...]
Wed, 05 Apr 2017 16:40:00 -0400
I'm always happy to see someone taking on the myth that America pursued an "isolationist" foreign policy between world wars one and two. So I recommend Andrew Bacevich's latest piece for The American Conservative, which makes the point concisely:
(image) The oft-repeated claim that in the 1920s and 1930s the United States raised the drawbridges, stuck its head in the sand, and turned its back on the world is not only misleading, but also unhelpful....Here, by way of illustrating some of those relevant facts, is a partial list of places beyond the boundaries of North America, where the United States stationed military forces during the interval between the two world wars: China, the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, Panama, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. That's not counting the U.S. Marine occupations of Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic during a portion of this period. Choose whatever term you like to describe the U.S military posture during this era—incoherent comes to mind—but isolationism doesn't fill the bill.
Bacevich, by the way, is responding to a Richard North Patterson column that doesn't merely mention isolationism; it invokes "the isolationism in Europe and America which precipitated World War II." Bacevich is too kind to dwell on that phrase "isolationism in Europe," but I'll be scratching my head over it for a while. Does Patterson mean the Munich agreement? That would be a bizarre use of the word isolationist, but every other possible reference I can think of is even stranger.