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Foreign Policy

All articles with the "Foreign Policy" tag.

Published: Tue, 28 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Tue, 28 Feb 2017 03:16:42 -0500


Foreign Policy Confusion in the Age of Trump

Mon, 27 Feb 2017 09:38:00 -0500

Two panels on Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) dramatically underscore the tensions over foreign policy among conservatives in the Donald Trump era. The first was conversation on foreign policy realism sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute (CKI) and the second was a panel on "China's expansion." There were a number of other panels and addresses related to foreign policy during the conservative conference, mostly focused on threats abroad, like North Korea, China, and Russia, and threats at home (from abroad), but rarely advocating constraint. (Disclosure: Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website, receives support from CKI and David Koch sits on its board of trustees). Addressing the main hall earlier in the day on Friday, John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, defined a conservative foreign policy as one that addressed "foreign threats and ideologies and protecting American interests around the world." The phrase "American interests" (or "national security interests") in that statement, and statements like it, is doing a lot of work in the definition because it remains mostly undefined and therefore malleable to whatever particular agenda whoever is using it wants to advance. At the CKI conversation, where American Conservative's Daniel McCarthy interviewed CKI Vice President of Research & Policy William Ruger, Ruger explained that within the context of foreign policy realism, national interests are "narrowly defined," largely around territorial integrity. Ruger also explained that there wasn't really such a thing as conservative foreign policy. Instead, "there are foreign policies that fit for a time, a place, a threat environment that make sense to secure a state." Ruger highlighted the compatibility between foreign policy realism and conservatism, saying that contemporary foreign policy suffered from Friedrich Hayek's knowledge problem and and ignored constraints like human nature, balance of power, geography, and even unknown unknowns, relying instead on a hubris exemplified by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albrights's statement that the U.S. stands taller and can "see further" than other countries (it can't). "Conservatives should recognize those things," Ruger told the audience. "because they're fundamentally a part of realism and conservative principles." Ruger stressed that "isolationism and the foreign policy of the Weekly Standard" were not the only options. "There are many options between those two." Ruger also rejected the idea that realist foreign policy was isolationist, pointing out that it relied on free trade, because of the understanding that economic power is tied to military power, and that realism would also "suggest certain views about grand strategy—the use of military power to secure our ends—but it does not say that we have to stick our head in the hands." "The United States should stand up in its diplomacy and rhetoric for values of democracy and liberties," Ruger added. It should not, he explained, seek out monsters abroad to slay, pointing out that America's founders recognized that foreign policies of meddling had the effect of threatening the experiment of liberty at home, in part by "giving up the advantages of the new world [and the constraint of geography] by getting embroiled in the old." War, the founders understood, "would make us more like those old, corrupt European countries, and less the glorious city on a hill." "The United States used to have a more realist foreign policy," Ruger explained, "From Washington's farewell address to 1898 and the Spanish-American war, the U.S. pursued a very restrained, very realist, very prudentialist foreign policy. The United States eschewed general peacetime alliances, and did not intervene aggressively abroad, particularly for liberal causes." He pointed out the U.S. declined to get involved in the European revolutions of the late 18th century, because its leaders "differentiated between those things that were necessary for America's safety, [...]

Pentagon Considering 'Boots on the Ground' to Fight ISIS in Syria

Fri, 24 Feb 2017 13:55:00 -0500

The Defense Department will not rule out putting additional U.S. troops on the ground in war-torn Syria when it presents President Trump with a range of options to fight ISIS next week. At Washington D.C.'s Brookings Institution yesterday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said, "We've been given a task to go to the president with options to accelerate the defeat of ISIS specifically, but obviously other violent extremist groups as well," according to McClatchyDC. Dunford added, "We're going to go to him with a full range of options from which he can chose." As a candidate, Trump said he would "bomb the shit out of ISIS," but also criticized his opponent Hillary Clinton's predilection for military interventionism. To date, the president has maintained a confounding duality when it comes to the use of military force, one that remains muddled by his call for "safe zones" in Syria to help stanch the flow of refugees, but which will ultimately require a military presence on the ground to enforce. Moreover, such a presence could find itself in conflict not only with ISIS and other radical Islamist groups, but also Syrian and Russian military forces. About 500 U.S. special forces troops are already operating inside Syria (a holdover from the Obama administration and the representation of a broken promise by President Obama). Military action in the form of airstrikes against ISIS polled well among Americans last year (about 72 percent), but putting U.S. ground troops in Syria fared far worse—with only about 42 percent in favor. Secretary of Defense James Mattis was non-committal last week when asked if he would recommend ground troops in Syria to President Trump, but in 2014 he publicly took issue with Obama's ISIS strategy. Business Insider quotes Mattis as saying: Whichever strategy is chosen, we should be reticent in telling our adversaries in advance any timeline that governs us or which of our capabilities we will not employ. Specifically, if this threat to our nation is determined to be as significant as I believe it is, we may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they will not see American 'boots on the ground': if a brigade of our paratroopers or a battalion landing team of our Marines could strengthen our allies at a key juncture and create havoc/humiliation for our adversaries, then we should do what is necessary with our forces that exist for that very purpose. The U.S. military is not war weary, our military draws strength from confronting our enemies when clear policy objectives are set and we are fully resourced for the fight. Mattis has frequently been described as one of Trump's more "sane" cabinet members and, as a retired Marine general, is intimately familiar with the horrors of war. That said, he's an Iran hawk who thinks there are "an increasing number of areas where we're going to have to confront Russia." "Mad Dog" Mattis may very well be the right person to remind President Trump that soldiers are not toys and "safe zones" need to be made safe by the threat of deadly force. But if Trump is presented with a range of options that include a robust U.S. military presence in one of the world's worst war zones, don't bet against the "non-interventionist" president rejecting the use of what Hillary Clinton used to call "smart power."[...]

When Did WW3 Start? Let's Talk About Sanctuary Cities and the Radical Left Instead

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 14:35:00 -0500

"When did World War 3 start?" asked an afternoon CPAC panel featuring Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. He was relevant because the panel was the first of two on WW3. Today's was on "the threat at home" and tomorrow will be "the threat abroad." The panel didn't turn out that way. "How many people feel scared?" panel moderator Ginni Thomas of the Daily Caller asked the audience at the beginning of the panel. "Can I get an amen?" Security, she noted, was a primary reason many people vote. Clarke spoke first because, according to Thomas, he had the most Twitter followers, which was how Thomas determined the order. Clarke focused mostly on sanctuary cities and border security, saying the time had come to begin to "aggressively enforce the rule of law in America." "Sanctuary cities are havens for criminals," Clarke insisted, ignoring the history of sanctuary cities as a policy supported by law enforcement to secure the cooperation of illegal immigrants in criminal investigations. Clarke never got around to explaining how illegal immigration connected to WW3. He did not bring up, for example, overblown claims popular in the right-wing echo chamber about terrorist fighters crossing in from Mexico. Instead, Clarke suggested prosecuting one mayor for the sanctuary city policy, saying that would have a chilling effect on other sanctuary city officials. The second panelist, New Zealand author Trevor Loudon, led with the WW3 hook. "WW3 started about 1400 years ago, and it got a big boost during the Bolshevik revolution," Lauden suggested, because of Islamists and communists. He went on to praise the U.S. for defending freedom in the South Pacific during World War 2. The U.S. "keeps all of the world stable and all of the world free," Loudon insisted, repeating tired talking points about Barack Obama's foreign policy aiding U.S. enemies and hurting U.S. allies, a strange point to hold on to during the nascent Trump administration, given President Trump's willingness to talk tough to traditional U.S. allies like Australia or NATO. Loudon pivoted to the "radical left" plan to undermine America, tying anti-Trump protests to that effort. He called on attendees to support Trump through social media if they "cared about America," saying the medium made it possible to combat all kinds of radicals. Former CIA employee Claire Lopez, of the Center for Security Policy, spoke third, talking about "civilization jihad." "We are not fighting terrorism," Lopez insisted, "we are fighting the forces of Islamic jihad and sharia." She insisted the U.S. was fighting for individual liberty, equality for all, human dignity, and the consent of the governed, saying those concepts were "anathema and even blasphemy" for Islamists. Fears over sharia law, however, are anathema to some of the ideals Lopez herself said the U.S. fought for. It went downhill from there. Lopez claimed, without providing any specifics, that the government and national security apparatus, and even local law enforcement, were "deeply penetrated" by the Muslim Brotherhood, a common right-wing bugaboo. The last speaker was acting Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Olhausen. How did she fit into the theme of World War 3? She came to speak about intellectual property and warn about the effort to "devalue" intellectual property rights in the U.S., which she said discouraged investment at home and encouraged intellectual property theft abroad. Olhausen mentioned China in passing as one of those countries, but did not make it her focus nor did she place China within a working theory of a World War 3 that had already started, sticking to more generic descriptions of the U.S. being "under attack" by those who would steal intellectual property. "It's gonna be fight every day, I'm up for it," David Clarke said during the concluding remarks. "Are you?" The panel was disappointing. The framework of a putative World War 3 can be an interesting one through which to think through U.S. foreign policy issues and options. One could argue WW3 start[...]

How Trump Will Reshape Foreign Policy

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 11:00:00 -0500

"I think [Trump] kind of has a zero-sum view of the world," says Cato Institute Senior Fellow Trevor Thrall. "'We're going to win, and we're going to beat people up hard to do it.'"

Reason TV's Nick Gillespie sat down with Thrall to discuss the Trump Doctrine, its potential effect on global stability, and America's role as an indispensable nation.

Camera by Todd Krainin, Joshua Swain, and Mark McDaniel. Edited by Austin Bragg.

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Bipartisan Group Wants Congressional War Votes on ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Yemen

Mon, 20 Feb 2017 13:18:00 -0500

In a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and a group of 19 members of Congress from both parties, including Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and Justin Amash (R-Mich.), urged an immediate vote on authorizations for the use of military force (AUMFs) against the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, as well as a separate one for participation in Yemen's civil war. Many of the representatives signing the letter led efforts to get an AUMF vote for the last four years, as they noted. "We believe that the failure of Congress to address these issues with a debate and vote on an AUMF during the final three years of the Obama Administration established a dangerous precedent for the presidency," McGovern wrote in the letter, "one where the President of the United States may deploy or threaten deployment of U.S. troops to any region for any purpose without the consent and explicit authorization of Congress." The letter specifically expressed alarm about the Pentagon considering deploying ground troops to northern Syria to engage with ISIS. It also brought up the ground operation in Yemen last month, the first in that country since December 2014 and comments President Trump and Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor, made about "deploying U.S. troops in Yemen to confront Iranian forces." The state-controlled press in Yemen has accused the Houthi rebels who knocked the U.S.-backed Yemen government out of the capital of Aden of being backed by Iranians, a view the Trump administration appears to support. The letter says Trump and Flynn's comments "added urgency to the need for action on the part of the Congress." "We urge you to immediately ask President Trump to send to Congress a request for an AUMF that addresses the fight against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, Iraq, and the surrounding region; and a separate AUMF regarding deployment of U.S. troops in Yemen," McGovern wrote to Ryan. "If these are not immediately forthcoming, we ask that the leadership of the House bring before this body its own draft AUMFs for consideration, debate and a vote." A number of bills in Congress have attempted unsuccessfully to sunset the 2001 authorization for the use of military force against associated forces responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. McGovern has also tried unsuccessfully to attach amendments to other bills to prohibit U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria without a specific AUMF. President Obama insisted he wanted an AUMF for ISIS, but also that he did not need one for the U.S. to conduct military operations around the world. The Department of Justice has argued that the operations are covered under the 2001 AUMF—ISIS is a successor organization to an Al-Qaeda affiliate. ISIS and Al-Qaeda franchises and allies exist from Nigeria to the Philippines, providing the president wide latitude to commit U.S. military forces around the world. The original 2001 AUMF was opposed by just one member of Congress, Lee, who warned at the time that the measure amounted to a blank check for open-ended war. There was a separate AUMF passed in 2002 for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but none since then. A new AUMF would invite questions about what precisely a new AUMF would permit the U.S. to do in a war against ISIS or other terror groups around the Muslim world, and why the U.S. was doing it—President Obama and Congress preferred to avoid those questions. Obama became the first president in U.S. history to preside entirely during a time of war. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) suggested a Trump presidency could encourage Congress to reassert its war powers. Trump said in an O'Reilly interview last year he'd be open to asking Congress for an ISIS AUMF. He has not yet done so. McGovern's letter urges Ryan to ask the president to do that. The McGovern letter was also co-signed by Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Tom Cole (R-Ok.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), Peter DeFaz[...]

Trump's Strange Coziness With the Kremlin

Mon, 20 Feb 2017 00:01:00 -0500

Donald Trump assured Americans Thursday that he is not acting in covert concert with Vladimir Putin. "I have nothing to do with Russia," he said during his news conference, insisting, "The whole Russian thing, that's a ruse." Those statements followed the firing of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, after it was reported that Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his pre-inauguration phone conversations with the Russian ambassador. Flynn's deception was notable because it suggested he had something to hide. When BuzzFeed published a secret dossier on Trump that contained all sorts of disturbing allegations, the fear was that the Russian strongman had the means to blackmail the incoming president. But the salacious bits were so outlandish that they discredited the entire story. Given his record, the fact that Trump denies something automatically raises strong suspicions that it's true. Maybe it's not. But here's the crucial question: If Trump were in fact being directed by Putin, would he be doing anything different from what he has done? Trump has taken a friendlier and more optimistic view of the regime in Moscow than anyone in American politics. As a candidate, he welcomed Russia's military intervention in Syria on behalf of a vicious dictator. He said he would consider recognizing Russia's seizure of Crimea and lifting the sanctions imposed in response to it. He bragged that Putin had called him "brilliant," and he extolled Putin as a stronger leader than Barack Obama. He invited the Russians to hack into Hillary Clinton's email. It's already hard to remember how bizarre this once would have seemed for any American politician—particularly a Republican and particularly a president. Distrust of Russia has been a bone-deep instinct among Republicans since Warren G. Harding's day. One of their most durable themes was that they were tougher and less gullible about Russia than the Democrats. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan made their names as implacable foes of Soviet communism. Trump had nothing obvious to gain during the campaign from offering a rosy view of Putin. The voters who proved decisive to his victory—working-class whites, particularly men—had no history of affection for the Kremlin; just the opposite. There is nothing in conservative ideology that argues for overlooking the human rights abuses and state-dominated economy that characterize Putin's country; again, nothing could be less compatible. If a Democratic candidate had taken a similar posture five, 20, or 50 years ago, Republicans would have vilified him as a cowardly appeaser. Nor does Trump's indulgent posture serve any obvious American interest. The United States doesn't help itself by excusing Putin's aggression against Ukraine, which could lead him to destabilize other pro-Western nations on his borders. Weakening NATO likewise would reduce our influence in Europe while ceding leverage to Russia. The Trump record goes beyond mere statements. The New York Times recently reported that phone records indicate members of his campaign team "had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election." Trump has denied it, but Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov confirmed the campaign was in regular communication with his government. U.S. intelligence agencies say the Kremlin was behind the hacking of computers at the Democratic National Committee. Flynn had been a regular guest on Putin's TV propaganda organ, RT. Trump's first campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, had done an abundance of business in Russia. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson got the Order of Friendship medal from Putin. And we know very little about Trump's personal business interests in Russia—which Donald Jr. once said were significant—because he won't release his tax returns. He made it plain Thursday that he was angrier at the press for reporting Flynn's lie than he was at Flyn[...]

The Deep State's 'Political Assassination' of Michael Flynn Was an Epic Abuse of Power (Reason Podcast)

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 17:15:00 -0500

"Libertarians, in particular, should be really worried" about having a class of people with secret knowledge about our foreign policy than isn't available to "the average American," says Bloomberg View columnist Eli Lake. "These are the classic dangers of statism."

In our latest podcast, Lake—a self-described "big neocon, Putin-hating, war hawk on Russia"—talks about his recent column, "The Political Assassination of Michael Flynn," which argues that the mandarins of the national security state misused their access to sensitive information to undermine a member of a democratically elected government.

Click below to listen to the conversation—and subscribe to our podcast at iTunes so you'll never miss an episode.

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Talking Trump, Michael Flynn Resignation, and Civil-Asset Forfeiture: Nick Gillespie on Keith Larson

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 17:19:00 -0500

Earlier today, I was on the Keith Larson Show, talking Donald Trump, civil-asset forfeiture reform, and the how resignation of Michael Flynn is making the "Deep State" more visible and hence more vulnerable (for more on that, go here).

Take a listen below, via SoundCloud. My appearance starts around the 1:01:00 mark.

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Donald Trump Doesn't Care If Israel and the Palestinians Make Peace

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 13:15:00 -0500

We've long known that President Donald Trump has no filter, yet his every utterance now carries the weight of U.S. policy behind it. That's why one of Trump's signature flippant remarks at a joint press conference yesterday alongside Israeli Prime Ministery Benjamin Netanyahu was so extraordinary. With a few sentences, Trump appeared to have changed the policy embraced by the past two American presidents from supporting the "two-state solution"—a contiguous democratic Palestinian state made up of land in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, living in peace beside the Jewish state of Israel—to a more vague policy resembling indifference. Trump said: So I'm looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like...I'm very happy with the one that both parties like. I could live with either one. I thought for a while that two state looked like it may be the easier of the two, but honestly if Bibi and if the Palestinians, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I'm happy with the one they like the best. This is either startling naivete, ignorance of the tortured 50-year history of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and the many U.S.-led negotiations to bring about an end to that occupation, or simply something Trump hasn't thought through but popped off on the subject anyway. Regardless, anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict knows that getting both parties to be "happy" with any final agreement has long proved fruitless. A single state made up of Israel and the occupied territories that includes full citizenship and voting rights for Palestinians would immediately end the idea of a "Jewish state." So that's a non-starter for most Israelis. Yet, a single state where the Palestinians lack self-determination is by definition an apartheid state. So if a two-state solution is the only solution, and Netanyahu demands (as he did yesterday standing beside Trump) that "in any peace agreement Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River," then Israel continues to occupy the majority of the nominal Palestinian state and we're right back where we started. For Trump to shrug off the gulf between the status quo and what it would take for the U.S. to help faciliate a lasting peace—which every president since Jimmy Carter has failed to do—by saying "I could live with either one," implies Trump won't ask much, if anything, of the Israelis and Palestinians to make what Trump once called "the ultimate deal." In the relatively early days of the 2016 Republican presidential campaign, Trump distinguished himself from both fellow Republicans and the very pro-Israel Democrat Hillary Clinton by promising to be "sort of a neutral guy" while leading Mideast negotiations. After taking heat from candidates of both parties, Trump walked his neutrality back about a month later, telling CNN, "I would love to be neutral if it's possible. It's probably not possible because there's so much hatred." But neutrality has long been the official U.S. policy toward the negotations, even if U.S. military aid to Israel dwarfs the amount given to all other countries. Trump being pressured on the campaign trail to abandon that posture demonstrates that all of America's foreign policy and political issues are not exclusively the fault of Donald Trump. Shortly before leaving office, President Barack Obama increased U.S. military aid to Israel from $3.1 billion to $3.8 annually, a deal which is locked in for 10 years. The deal removed a previous provision allowing Israel to spend about a quarter of that aid on companies within the Israeli defense industry, meaning all of those billions in U.S. government aid to Israel will now come right back to United States as a subsidy to the U.S. miliary industrial complex. While this aid to Israel didn[...]

Left Mocks Wife of Venezuelan Political Prisoner; Right Celebrates Venezuelan Media Ban

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 12:01:00 -0500

Last night, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) brought Lilian Tintori, the wife of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, with him to the White House. Afterward, President Trump tweeted a photo of himself with Tintori, Rubio, and Vice President Mike Pence (pictured right), and a message that the Venezuelan government should let Lopez out of prison immediately. Lopez was jailed in 2014 after being accused by the authorities of inciting violence during a round of mass protests against the socialist government of Venezuela. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government banned CNN from the country after a report on alleged passport fraud at the Venezuelan embassy in Iraq or another on school food shortages. The responses from the increasingly normalized fringes of the left and right to these two stories came through the prism of domestic politics—helping to reveal how U.S. foreign policy is often subordinated to petty partisan domestic concerns. ThinkProgress' Ian Millhiser asked on Twitter if Tintori was Rubio's wife and why she was dressed as a pirate. The same evening the photo and message, which identified Tintori, was tweeted out, it became an internet artifact of it its own, separated from its original tweet. TPM's Josh Marshall tweeted asking whether Tintori had been captured and "was is Marco off the island?" Such thought leaders may not see a serious president in Trump, but the president's lack of seriousness doesn't make U.S. foreign policy any less so. The U.S. has spent years funding opposition groups in Venezuela, with the result largely being to give the Maduro government more of a pretext to use the U.S. and opposition support for (classically) liberal values as a reason to dismiss, delegitimize, and suppress opposition political movements. President Obama declared Venezuela a "national security threat" in 2015, imposing sanctions on a number of government officials and calling on the government to release Lopez and other opposition leaders. The White House recognized at the time how the U.S. posture toward Venezuela was being used. "We've seen many times that the Venezuelan government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela," read a White House statement. "These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan government to deal with the grave situation it faces." The most effective foreign policy tool to alleviate the suffering of Venezuelans—the encouragement of free trade with and within South America while offering a deregulated environment for new products like cryptocurrency that afford people more freedom despite governments' efforts—doesn't seem a likely decision in the protectionist Trump administration. Trump said on the campaign trail the U.S. had to be on the side of oppressed people in Venezuela and across South America, pointing out its socialist government had ruined Venezuela. Maduro in 2015 resisted comparisons to Trump by some opposition leaders after he closed several border crossings and deported hundreds of Colombians. Earlier this week, President Trump imposed new sanctions on a Venezuelan vice president, accusing him of being involved in drug trafficking. Trump supporters, meanwhile, this week celebrated the same socialist government Trump decries—because of its ban of CNN. Gateway Pundit, a peddler of fake news that nevertheless has acquired White House press credentials, reported the story under the headline "Venezuela Kicks CNN Out for Making Up Fake News," citing a report that attributed the ban to the story on school food shortages. Maduro was "just the latest world leader to call them out for being downright dishonest," according to Gateway Pundit, which joins far left apologists in denying the self-inflicted ho[...]

Is Michael Flynn's Resignation a Sign of the Deep State's Power, or a Sign of Its Vulnerability?

Wed, 15 Feb 2017 10:10:00 -0500

Like Scott Shackford, I'm pro-leaks about government activities, especially when they serve to reveal covert actions and limit the power of the state. Revelations by the likes of William Binney, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden have all served this purpose even as they have proved catastrophic (in various degrees) to the leakers themselves. The resignation of President Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, after it became clear he lied about contact with the Russian ambassador before Trump's inauguration, is not so cut-and-dried, though. According to all reports, transcripts of calls involving Flynn showed considerable contact between Flynn and Russian state actors. Flynn was ostensibly cashiered because he lied to Vice President Mike Pence, which is a good-enough reason to can any employee. But as Eli Lake writes at Bloomberg View, that explanation is hardly convincing for an administration that is constantly bullshitting about everything from the size of the president's crowds to his business acumen. Something more is at work here, says Lake, and attention must be paid: It's not even clear that Flynn lied. He says in his resignation letter that he did not deliberately leave out elements of his conversations with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak when he recounted them to Vice President Mike Pence. The New York Times and Washington Post reported that the transcript of the phone call reviewed over the weekend by the White House could be read different ways. One White House official with knowledge of the conversations told me that the Russian ambassador raised the sanctions to Flynn and that Flynn responded that the Trump team would be taking office in a few weeks and would review Russia policy and sanctions. That's neither illegal nor improper.... Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do. In the past it was considered scandalous for senior U.S. officials to even request the identities of U.S. officials incidentally monitored by the government (normally they are redacted from intelligence reports). John Bolton's nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was derailed in 2006 after the NSA confirmed he had made 10 such requests when he was Undersecretary of State for Arms Control in George W. Bush's first term. The fact that the intercepts of Flynn's conversations with Kislyak appear to have been widely distributed inside the government is a red flag. Hopefully those conversations will be made public so that Americans can decide for themselves whether Flynn crossed various lines (Democrats are calling for the release). In the meantime, what we're left with is a pretty fearsome display of power by "deep state" actors in the intelligence community (IC) who were clearly threatened by Flynn, a temperamentally off would-be reformer of IC practices who had been fired by President Obama. Whether that amounts to what Lake calls "a political assassination" and Damon Linker calls a "soft coup" at The Week is open to debate. But one thing that seems pretty clear is that what we are witnessing is a clash between two major sources of power within the government—the executive branch and the IC—at war with each other. Lake again: In normal times, the idea that U.S. officials entrusted with our most sensitive secrets would selectively disclose them to undermine the White House would alarm those worried about creeping authoritarianism. Imagine if intercepts of a call between Obama's incoming national security adviser and Iran's foreign minister leaked to the p[...]

Pro-Snooping GOP Rep. Claims Shock at Federal Surveillance of Flynn’s Russia Call

Tue, 14 Feb 2017 14:15:00 -0500

Why it seems like it was less than a year ago that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was actively trying to kill off proposed legislation that would require the federal government to get warrants to collect data on Americans. It was less than a year, actually: last June. Back then there was a bipartisan push to try to require some more due process in National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance of Americans. Nunes used the deadly attack on the nightclub in Orlando to argue against it, claiming it would hamper the government in its fight against the war on terror. But while he was opposed to protecting you and me from unwarranted government surveillance, apparently Nunes does think that the feds recording a call between ex-National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and a Russian ambassador in December is beyond the pale. From The Washington Post: The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said Tuesday that the most significant question posed by the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn is why intelligence officials eavesdropped on his calls with the Russian ambassador and later leaked information on those calls to the press. "I expect for the FBI to tell me what is going on, and they better have a good answer," said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is conducting a review of Russian activities to influence the election. "The big problem I see here is that you have an American citizen who had his phone calls recorded." No, that's not actually the problem, oddly enough. As just about every story about the Flynn-Russia scandal has noted, the intelligence agencies regularly record phone calls between Russian diplomats and whomever they're talking to. This is actually one of the things most Americans expect foreign surveillance to encompass. Nunes is blurting out the classic "shocked to find gambling going on here" rejoinder, even complaining, "Where are all the privacy groups screaming now?" There is the matter of how the Flynn call got leaked, the political implications, and the reality of faceless operators within the intel community using their tools to affect executive branch decisions. Being pro-leak (and I'm extremely pro-leak) shouldn't blind a person to the political agendas behind them (it's worth pointing out, though, that increased government transparency would diminish the potential of this secretive political maneuvering). Right before President Barack Obama left office, his administration increased the authority of several federal agencies to share raw data collected from the very kind of foreign intelligence surveillance that happened in this case. National security surveillance journalist Marcy Wheeler noted that possibly thanks to this change in policy, the FBI would not need to get warrants in cases like this because it involves counterintelligence with another country. It takes a particular bit of chutzpah to—after insisting that average American citizens shouldn't have formalized legal protections from unwarranted data collection—declare that a person heavily connected to the incoming presidential administration should expect his conversations with high-level Russian officials to be secret. Note that I'm not arguing that it's wrong for Flynn to have had conversations or even wrong to have suggested sanctions might be eased (sanctions often suck as policy and so does the Logan Act). It is, however, incredibly cynical for the head of the House Intel Committee to play so completely and thoroughly dumb about what actually legal, authorized foreign surveillance looks like.[...]

Critiquing Trump’s First War on Terror Raid? That’s ‘Emboldening the Enemy.’

Thu, 09 Feb 2017 12:25:00 -0500

Donald Trump campaigned partly on blasting the way previous presidents (both George W. Bush and Barack Obama) have handled the war on terror. They were disasters, he says. They were examples of America "not winning" anymore. Criticism of the management of the war on terror was a regular feature of his presidential campaign. But he's president now so STFU with that sort of thing. We know that many things went wrong with the first terror-focused military raid ordered under the Trump presidency in Yemen. A Navy SEAL, Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens, was killed in the raid, as were several civilians, including the American-born 8-year-old daughter of terror organizer Anwar al-Awlaki. Whether the collateral damage of the raid designates it as a failure is the subject of an open debate right now, one that President Trump suddenly is not interested in having. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) declined to see the raid as a success, pointing to Owens' death and the loss of an expensive plane as problems. He has since backtracked just a little bit and acknowledged that some objectives may have been fulfilled, while not willing to declare a raid where a Navy SEAL died as a "success." White House Spokesman Sean Spicer declared previously that anybody seeing the raid as anything less than a success owed the deceased Owens an apology. This is typical posturing—politicians attempting to deflect criticism away from their leadership and control over military action by suggesting that it is an attack on those who were injured or killed while carrying it out. A little less normal, but is very clearly now going to be a feature of this administration, is Trump turning to Twitter to complain about it. Suddenly, now that he is president it's the criticism of the war on terror that's the problem! Sen. McCain should not be talking about the success or failure of a mission to the media. Only emboldens the enemy! He's been losing so.... — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2017 ...long he doesn't know how to win anymore, just look at the mess our country is in - bogged down in conflict all over the place. Our hero.. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2017 Critiquing Trump's choices in fighting the war on terror is "emboldening the enemy." One suspects that we're going to see this get trotted out a lot, completely oblivious and uncaring that Trump's foreign policy platform during the campaign revolved around doing the very same thing he's complaining about now. And there's so much more criticism to come. He complains about America getting "bogged down in conflict," an attitude toward foreign military interventionism during the campaign that not a few libertarians appreciated. But today, again Trump complained that America's military action in Iraq didn't result in getting control over any oil wells. It's an overly simplistic attitude. Critics point out that it would violate international law. Trump probably doesn't care about that, but it would certainly get American even further "bogged down" in the politics and management of the country.[...]

Foreign Policy is Not For the Courts to Determine

Thu, 09 Feb 2017 00:01:00 -0500

Last week, in a public courtroom in the federal courthouse in Seattle, the states of Washington and Minnesota — after suing President Donald Trump, alleging injury caused by his executive order that suspended the immigration of all people from seven foreign countries — asked a federal judge to compel the president and all those who work for him to cease enforcing the order immediately. After a brief emergency oral argument, the judge signed a temporary restraining order, which barred the enforcement of the president's order everywhere in the United States. The president reacted with anger, referring to the judge as a "so-called judge," and immigrant rights groups praised the judicial intervention as a victory for the oppressed. The president meant, I think, that Judge James L. Robart had not acted properly as a judge by second-guessing him — that he had acted more like a politician; and the immigrant rights groups felt, I think, that the United States was once again a beacon of hope for refugees. Here is the back story. A 1952 federal statute permits the president to suspend the immigration status of any person or group whose entry into the United States might impair public health or safety or national security. Trump exercised that authority in accordance with the 1952 law when he signed his Jan. 27 order banning all immigration from the seven named countries. When the president exercises powers granted to him by the Constitution or federal statues or when Congress passes bills, one cannot simply sue the government in federal court because one does not like what has been done. That is so because the Constitution has preconditions for a lawsuit in federal court. One of those preconditions is what lawyers and judges call "standing." Standing means that the plaintiff has alleged and can most likely show that the defendant has caused the plaintiff an injury in fact, distinct from all others not in the case. Hence, it is curious that the plaintiffs in the Seattle case were not people whose entry had been barred by Trump's order but rather the governments of two states, each claiming to sue in behalf of people and entities resident or about to be resident in them. The court should have dismissed the case as soon as it was filed because of long-standing Supreme Court policy that bars federal litigation alleging harm to another and permits it only for the actual injury or immediate likelihood of injury to the litigant. Nevertheless, the Seattle federal judge heard oral argument on the two states' emergency application for a temporary restraining order against the president. During that oral argument, the judge asked a lawyer for the Department of Justice (DOJ) how many arrests of foreign nationals from the seven countries singled out by the president for immigration suspension there have been in the United States since 9/11. When the DOJ lawyer said she did not know, the judge answered his own question by saying, "None." He was wrong. There have been dozens of people arrested and convicted in the United States for terrorism-related crimes since 9/11 who were born in the seven countries. Yet even if the judge had been correct, his question was irrelevant — and hence the answer meaningless — because it does not matter to a court what evidence the president relied on in this type of order. This is the kind of judicial second-guessing — substituting the judicial mind for the presidential mind — that is impermissible in our system. It is impermissible because the Constitution assigns to the president alone nearly all decision-making authority on foreign policy and because Congress has assigned to the president the power of immigration suspension as a tool with which to i[...]

34 Lawmakers Want Trump to Sanction Venezuela

Wed, 08 Feb 2017 18:02:00 -0500

(image) Some 34 U.S. lawmakers from both parties have sent President Donald Trump a letter urging him to address Venezuelan officials' corruption and human rights abuses with sanctions, the Associated Press reports. The letter was co-written by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R–Florida), the former chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Sen. Robert Menendez (D–New Jersey), a ranking member of the foreign relations subcommittee that oversees Latin America.

The letter calls for a comprehensive probe into accusations of drug trafficking and support for terrorist organizations by Tareck El Aissami, the vice president of Venezuela. It also describes military officials profiting off the crisis by trafficking much-needed food. The allegations were partially inspired by an earlier Associated Press investigation into corruption in the Venezuelan government and the rapidly deteriorating state of the country.

The lawmakers call for increased funding for pro-democracy and civil society works in the Latin American country, as well as for the Treasury Department to issue regulations to prevent U.S. companies from violating the Foreign Corruption Practices Act, which prohibits Americans from paying bribes to foreign officials. According to the AP, U.S.-based global food traders Archer Daniels Midland Co., Bunge Ltd., and Cargill have already stopped selling to Venezuela.

U.S. relations with the socialist-led Latin American country are rocky. The AP notes that in 2014, then–President Barack Obama sanctioned Venezuelan government officials who were accused of violating protestors' rights. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, in turn, has condemned U.S. foreign policy, especially America's military interventions in the Middle East. In 2015, Reuters reported that Maduro accused the United States of harassment at a United Nations human rights forum.

What little Trump has said about Venezuela suggests he too may take a hard-line stance. On the campaign trail he once proclaimed that "Venezuelans are good people, but they have been horribly damaged by the socialists in Venezuela and the next president of the United States must show solidarity with all the oppressed people in the hemisphere."

Maduro says he has yet to formulate an opinion on the new American president, however. "There's been a brutal hate campaign against Trump all over the world," he said at a news conference in January, according to Bloomberg. "I say let's wait and see. All I'll say is that he won't be worse than Obama."

He might change his tune if Trump pursues sanctions.