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Published: Sun, 30 Apr 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sun, 30 Apr 2017 12:51:54 -0400


Trump's Empty Bluster and Bombing

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

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

The Banality of U.S. Foreign-Policy Hawks And Their Media Enablers

Thu, 13 Apr 2017 12:45:00 -0400

As 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 there are no other credible candidates, America — meaning President Trump — must be it. Gobry underscores that Trump's stated purpose[...]

In Syria, the Wrong Kind of Humanitarian Intervention

Thu, 13 Apr 2017 00:01:00 -0400

Americans 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 160,000 people in 2008, almost all of them children. It costs less than $1 to immunize a child against measles, and since not every unvaccinat[...]

83 Percent of Major Newspaper Editorial Boards Supported Syria Strike

Wed, 12 Apr 2017 21:40:00 -0400

Lest we forget, war is not only the health of the state, it's one of the great enforcers of media groupthink. According to the tally put together by Adam Johnson at, out of 46 major newspaper editorial boards, exactly one—The Houston Chronicle's—opposed the Trump administration's bombing of a Syrian airbase last week. Seven were ambiguous. Reason's coverage has been anything but ambiguous, noting that from effectively every possible angle, the Tomahawk missile attack was not only ineffective—planes were flying out of the airbase within 24 hours—but unjustifiable.


Writes Johnson:

Of the top 100 US newspapers, 47 ran editorials on President Donald Trump's Syria airstrikes last week: 39 in favor, seven ambiguous and only one opposed to the military attack.

In other words, 83 percent of editorials on the Syria attack supported Trump's bombing, 15 percent took an ambivalent position and 2 percent said the attack shouldn't have happened. Polls showed the US public being much more split: Gallup (4/7–8/17) and ABC/Washington Post (4/7–9/17) each had 51 percent supporting the airstrikes and 40 percent opposed, while CBS (4/7–9/17) found 57 percent in favor and 36 percent opposed.

More here.

The difference between elite opinion (including elected officials; even liberal Trump critics such as Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi supported the attack) and the vox populi is striking and calls to mind Thaddeus Russell's comments in Monday's Reason podcast. Russell, a historian who is working on a book about the effect of Wilsonian ideas on U.S. foreign policy, noted that media and political elites have long been far more bellicose than voters writ large. Similarly, they have been more hostile to immigration and free trade than jes' plain folks too.

Listen to the podcast by clicking below or subscribe at iTunes.

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Firing Missiles at Syria Makes Donald Trump a 'Serious' Leader?

Wed, 12 Apr 2017 00:01:00 -0400

Somehow, firing Tomahawk missiles at Syria suddenly changed people's opinions of President Trump. Now they call him a "serious" leader. William Kristol said Trump's action "reassures you." Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), long critical of Trump, now say he "deserves the support of the American people." Politicians from France, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Australia expressed their support. So did Hillary Clinton. "Why is war such an alluring illusion?" asks Jeffrey Tucker, of the Foundation for Economic Education. "Good intentions are never enough to justify government intervention in anything. This is especially true in war, the meanest, deadliest, and most destructive government program ever conceived. And yet we keep doing it." Trump says pictures of Syrian children killed by nerve gas moved him to order the attack. His supporters say launching the missiles was the "moral" thing to do. But Syria's dictator killed more children in the past. In 2013, after a horrible chemical attack, Trump tweeted, "Do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside... If the U.S. attacks Syria and hits the wrong targets, killing civilians, there will be worldwide hell to pay. Stay away." Fortunately, it appears that these missile strikes didn't kill civilians. But four years ago Trump also said, "What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict?" What changed? Just seeing pictures on TV? For years, we've tried to sort out who is on which side in Syria. Last week's attack was an awfully fast switch to military action. Both Democratic and Republican interventionists focus on Assad as the bad guy. Many say getting rid of him will make the Syrian public less likely to side with ISIS. Maybe. But they've been completely wrong before about the aftermath of war. In Syria, dozens of factions are fighting each other. We don't know the motives of all of them. Some rebels Assad wants to crush are openly allied with ISIS. None of this makes Assad a good guy, but it means we don't know what will replace him if he gets toppled. Fourteen years ago, many people thought nothing could be worse for Iraq than Saddam Hussein. The groups unleashed when Saddam fell were worse. Before that, our support of "freedom fighters" in Afghanistan helped arm the Taliban and eventually ISIS. Today, they kill Americans with weapons American taxpayers paid for. In Libya, Tucker reminds us, "The US intervened with airstrikes to overthrow a terrible dictator but instead of unleashing freedom, the results unleashed a terror army that continues to spread violence and death ... It is not enough merely to bomb a government or regime into disgrace, resignation or obliteration. It is grossly irresponsible not to ask the question: what comes after?" We don't even know for certain that it was the Syrian president who used nerve gas. He claims his regime attacked anti-government militias with conventional bombs, and one must have hit gas that the militias themselves stored. I don't know if that's true, but I have a hard time being as confident as people like McCain about what's going on over in the Middle East. Even if Assad was responsible for the nerve gas, it's not obvious that using nerve gas is a more horrendous crime than fighting wars by other means. Nearly everyone seems to think so, and chemical weapons do drift in the air, making them more likely to kill civilians. But families torn apart by conventional bombs take little consolation in knowing that what killed their relatives wasn't poison gas. If Trump turns out to be like most past presidents, he'll see his popularity rise because he took military action. George W. Bush's approval rating spiked 10 percent after he invaded Iraq. When his father invaded, his approval rating jumped 28 percent. Trump loves being popular. I fear his new slogan may be "Syria first, then North Korea, then..." COPYRI[...]

"It's Not the Job of the United States To Enforce The Geneva Conventions Unilaterally"

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.

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Donald Trump, Neocon: Bombing People In Order to Save Them [Reason Podcast]

Mon, 10 Apr 2017 17:00:00 -0400

Bombing Syria was the type of "foreign policy idea Donald Trump was railing against all through the campaign," says historian Thaddeus Russell, "but clearly the [Steve] Bannon and Steven Miller faction is waning or being pushed out, and now it's a return to the good old days of Wilsonianism: killing people in order to save them."

On today's podcast, Russell joins Reason editors Nick Gillespie and Katherine Mangu-Ward to talk about the Syria bombing, why "presidents become more warlike over time," how the Trump Administration's divide over foreign policy is reminiscent of a similar split in the Reagan White House, Reason magazine's cover story on "Why the Wall Won't Work" ("a fine summation" according to the New York Times' editorial board), and the subtext of U.S. Army Gen. (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal defense of federal funding for public broadcasting on the grounds that PBS makes kids better good soldiers.

"[McChrystal's] argument is precisely [the argument] cold war liberals were making in the '50s, 60s, '70s, and '80s," says Russell, "which is that we need a single, unified culture that makes everyone identify as Americans before identifying as individuals."

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Trump Admin Embraces U.S. Role as World Policeman, Causing Attitude Shifts on All Sides on War and Trump

Mon, 10 Apr 2017 16:45:00 -0400

Despite criticism from some longtime supporters, President Trump has found new champions on the right and the left for his decision to launch airstrikes in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack he has blamed on the Assad government. Before a meeting of G-7 leaders in Italy, where forging a unified front on Russia and the Assad regime in Syria will be one of the chief goals, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. would hold accountable "any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world." The only thing "impressive" about this is how the volatile, unpredictable, intellectual light-weight, easily manipulated by the media has garnered this support for such a stunningly incoherent position. Trump's embrace of the U.S.'s role as a world's policeman has led some erstwhile never-Trumpers to offer full-throated support for the president and to attempt to push his administration further in a direction they support. "Punishing Assad for use of chemical weapons is good," Bill Kristol tweeted. "Regime change in Iran is the prize." Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), some of Trump's most vocal critics during the Republican primary, the general election campaign, and since the election, both applauded Trump's decision to bomb Syria. Members of the establishment media like CNN's Fareed Zakaria and MSNBC's Brian Williams applauded too, as Mike Riggs noted last week. Ian Dunt, an editor of, expressed an opinion emblematic of many on the anti-Trump establishment left. "Feel like I should wash my mouth out with soap but this was an impressive decision by Trump," Dunt tweeted, following up with: "Concerns me that volatile military situation now exists w president who can't tie his shoelaces, but red line needed to be maintained here." Hillary Clinton herself called on airstrikes against Assad last week and praised Trump's decision while calling on him to do more to "end Syria's civil war, and to eliminate ISIS's stronghold on both sides of the border." Trump has already ramped up the global war on terror he inherited from Obama. Trump supporters attracted to him in part because of the perception that he would limit U.S. use of military force to enforce international law have been critical of him in a way supporters of his predecessor weren't. Former President Obama ran as a war skeptic and became a warmonger. The pro-Obama left said little about the far more intrusive Libya intervention. Some populist supporters of Trump have been highly critical of the decision to order airstrikes against Syria. White nationalist and Trump supporter Richard Spencer organized an anti-war protest in front of the White House, and was attacked by "anti-fascist" (antifa) activists. Mike Cernovich, a self-described American nationalist and an early Trump supporter suggested the chemical weapons attack was a setup to frame Assad and draw the U.S. into regime change in Syria. Yet it's possible to believe both that Assad is a murderous dictator and that it is not the U.S.'s role or responsibility to remove him from office. Other Democrats have rediscovered the importance of Congressional approval of presidential war actions. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) never really pressed the Obama administration to get authorization for military force (AUMF) and answered a question about a potential AUMF in 2015 by urging regional powers to do more in the campaign against ISIS. This week she stressed the importance of Congressional approval. "Expanded military intervention in Syria requires action by Congress," she said, according to Military Times. "If President Trump expects such an authorization, he owes the American people an explanation of his strategy to bring an end to the violence in Syria. We should not escalate this conflict without clear goals and a plan to achieve them." Warren missed the point spectacular[...]

Trump's Risky Syria Gambit

Mon, 10 Apr 2017 00:01:00 -0400

In 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, making any real difference in the war would require a large[...]

There Are No Good Reasons for the U.S. To Wage War in Syria

Fri, 07 Apr 2017 18:14:00 -0400

I'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 build his base at home and he is already receiving bipar[...]

Trump's Syria Strike Won't Solve Any Problems But Could Make Everything Worse

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.

Trump's Dangerous Syria Missile Strike

Fri, 07 Apr 2017 15:00:00 -0400

The 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 Syria besides more debt and a possible long term confli[...]

Congress and POTUS Agree: The President Can Bomb Whomever, Whenever He Wants

Fri, 07 Apr 2017 12:51:00 -0400

The U.S. launched airstrikes against the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria last night, opening up a new front in the two-and-a-half-year U.S. involvement in Syria—while the Trump administration argues it does not need congressional authorization, such an action needs approval from Congress. Congress' failure to this point to assert its constitutional role in war-making should not preclude it from acting now, nor should its history of inaction ever be legitimized as a precedent. Up to now, U.S. actions have targeted the Islamic State (ISIS), whose self-styled capital is in Raqqa, Syria. The Obama administration, which entered the U.S. into the anti-ISIS military campaign, argued the actions were covered under the 2001 AUMF against the perpetrators of 9/11 and their "associated forces." While President Obama occasionally expressed a desire for Congress to authorize the campaign against ISIS specifically, the Republican Congress, willing in many other domains to challenge President Obama, never mustered the political will to either approve or prohibit Obama's war on ISIS. The last time Congress managed to even vote on the issue of authorizing military action was in 2011, when a number of resolutions related to the U.S.-backed intervention in Libya were considered by Congress. The strongest ones specifically defunded the Libya campaign—Republican leaders in Congress did not back it. Those votes came after U.S. military action in Libya had already started. Obama argued the campaign was authorized by a U.N. Security Council resolution and the Arab League Neither suffices as a replacement for congressional authorization, even if Congress doesn't assert its powers. Obama also argued the military actions didn't fall under the purview of the War Powers Act because they didn't involve "sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces... [or] U.S. ground troops." The last time a president asked for authorization ahead of a military engagement was in 2002, when President Bush sought, and the Congress approved, an authorization for the use of military force in Iraq, leading eventually to the U.S. invasion of and war in Iraq. The Trump administration's justification for its airstrikes on Syria manages somehow to be even weaker than Obama's Libya arguments. "It was in the vital national security interest of the US to prevent and deter the use of deadly chemical weapons," Trump said last night. "There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violating its obligations under the chemical weapons convention and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council." But the Security Council canceled a vote scheduled for last night, and the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which the U.S. and Syria are party, does not include a mechanism that permits member-states to unilaterally enforce it. Instead, it offers a procedure by which a member-state can demand inspections of any other member-state. Syria joined the convention in 2013, in the wake of a chemical attack that brought the U.S. and the West to the brink of military intervention. Back then, President Obama said he would go to Congress for approval first. He never got it, and eventually the situation was resolved with a negotiated disarmament Syria now appears in violation of. Pro-interventionist pundits insist the Syrian airstrikes have made Trump a real president. "Trump became president" after ordering the airstrikes, CNN's Fareed Zakaria argued. Such militaristic president-worship, last seen after the joint session of Congress where Trump honored the widow of a U.S. service member killed in a raid in Yemen, was a toxic political norm under previous presidents and is toxic now. Trump also cemented his position as president another way[...]

Rand Paul on Syria: The U.S. Was not Attacked and the President Needs Congressional Approval

Fri, 07 Apr 2017 11:58:00 -0400

(image) Sen. Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican from Kentucky, has released a brief but compelling statement to the American missile strike in Syria:

"While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked. The President needs congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution, and I call on him to come to Congress for a proper debate. Our prior interventions in this region have done nothing to make us safer, and Syria will be no different."

Paul led the charge against Barack Obama's attempt to intervene in Syria back in 2013. That principled stand led to him being smeared (along with Michigan Rep. Justin Amash and other proponents of a restrained foreign policy) as a "wacko bird" by Sen. John McCain. Paul was right then and he's right now.

Donald Trump Is a Real President Now, Because Bombs

Fri, 07 Apr 2017 11:15:00 -0400

Hours after suggesting that "something should happen" in Syria, because "[Assad is] there, and I guess he's running things," President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike against a Syrian government military base from whence Tuesday's chemical weapons attack against Syrian civilians allegedly originated.

Donald Trump is a real president now.

"The Trump administration can truly be said to have started only now," Elliot Abrams writes in The Weekly Standard. "The president has been chief executive since January 20, but this week he acted also as Commander in Chief. And more: He finally accepted the role of Leader of the Free World." The New York Post's Ralph Peters concurs. "Incontestably, our president became...presidential." "Well done!"

Yes, Draco, well done.

CNN's Fareed Zakaria, a different person with a separate brain, agrees. "What changed last night?" CNN's Alisyn Camerota asked him this morning. "I think Donald Trump became President of the United States," Zakaria replied.

.@FareedZakaria on Syria strikes: "I think Donald Trump became President of the United States" last night

— New Day (@NewDay) April 7, 2017

MSNBC's Brian Williams, meanwhile, is not so much in love with Trump's speedy abandonment of non-intervention in Syria as he is with the bombs themselves: "I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: 'I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.'"

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As Alex Pareene noted after Trump's inaugural address to Congress, this kind of praise is not just gross, but dangerous. Trump follows applause like a cat after a laser pointer, and the first bit of bipartisan recognition he received came in response to a raid that got Americans (and foreign civilians) killed. You think he didn't watch his shows this morning? Didn't see anchors across every network applauding his presidential behavior? If he was ambivalent yesterday, I imagine he's far less so today.

Right on cue, congressional hawks are calling for more. Sen. John McCain thinks bombing the airfield should be but the first step and Sen. Marco Rubio would like to remove Bashar Hafez al-Assad.

Trump controls the bombs, bombs thrill the chattering class, the chattering class thrills Trump. That is a scary cycle. Buckle up.