Daniel Larison

The Week’s Most Interesting Reads

Kirchick’s coup fantasies. Noah Millman ridicules an American coup fantasist.

As a nonproliferation agreement, the nuclear deal has been a success. Tom Kutsch lays out the evidence that the nuclear deal has worked as intended.

Why Egypt’s coup succeeded and Turkey’s did not. Steven Cook compares the role of the military in the two countries and explains some of the reasons why the Turkish coup failed.

America keeps nukes all over Europe for no good reason. Bonnie Kristian wonders why the U.S. continues to store tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and Turkey.

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Trump’s Foreign Policy Interview

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The New York Times interviewed Donald Trump on foreign policy, and as usual he gave a number of provocative, ill-conceived, and confused answers. For instance, there was this exchange on NATO allies that has received the most attention and criticism:

SANGER: My point here is, Can the members of NATO, including the new members in the Baltics, count on the United States to come to their military aid if they were attacked by Russia? And count on us fulfilling our obligations.

TRUMP: Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes [bold mine-DL].

It’s important to understand what Trump isn’t saying here. He isn’t against defending these states all together, and appears willing to go to war with Russia for them provided that they have “fulfilled their obligations.” Atlanticists aren’t happy with this because it creates the possibility that some NATO members might not be able to count on Washington’s support. To make things even less clear, Trump’s definition of “obligations” is typically and intentionally vague. It is tied to the member states’ level of military spending, but it may not be limited to that. He also says elsewhere in the interview that he doesn’t want to say what would happen if the allied states didn’t fulfill their obligations. He adds later:

I don’t want to tell you what I’d do because I don’t want Putin to know what I’d do.

This is in line with Trump’s fixation with being unpredictable, and he falls back on this whenever he can’t or won’t answer a question. The problem with all of this isn’t just that it creates uncertainty about whether the U.S. would defend treaty allies it is obliged to defend, but that Trump thinks that creating uncertainty about how the U.S. will act is always a virtue. This saves him from having to explain or justify any of his policies, and leaves voters and other governments in the dark about what they can reasonably expect. Whatever else one wants to say about Trump’s statements, they are unacceptably vague and ill-formed, and there has clearly not been much thought put into the implications of any of the positions that he is gesturing towards.

As ever, Trump’s preoccupation is with making a new deal and getting reimbursed:

If we cannot be properly reimbursed for the tremendous cost of our military protecting other countries, and in many cases the countries I’m talking about are extremely rich. Then if we cannot make a deal, which I believe we will be able to, and which I would prefer being able to, but if we cannot make a deal, I would like you to say, I would prefer being able to, some people, the one thing they took out of your last story, you know, some people, the fools and the haters, they said, “Oh, Trump doesn’t want to protect you.” I would prefer that we be able to continue [bold mine-DL], but if we are not going to be reasonably reimbursed for the tremendous cost of protecting these massive nations with tremendous wealth…

Trump explicitly says several times that he would prefer to maintain U.S. alliance commitments, but wants more reimbursement (whatever he thinks that means). That reflects his odd, deal-obsessed approach to foreign policy, and it tells us that he doesn’t understand how treaty alliances work, but it also doesn’t mark as large of a break with the status quo as his detractors fear and his supporters hope. That is, he doesn’t really object to U.S. entanglements in other parts of the world, but only to arrangements in which he thinks the U.S. is not being paid enough for its trouble. That’s a misguided, mercenary way to think about these issues, and it doesn’t inspire any confidence that Trump knows what he’s talking about.

That said, his remarks on NATO are useful in drawing attention to a few important truths. First, if our allies can always count on the U.S. to come to their aid and can also rely on the U.S. to bear most of the burden of their defense, they will never have any incentive to increase their own military spending and they never will increase it. They will cheap- or free-ride forever, and will remain dependent on the U.S. for as long as we let them. That is how our hawks like it, but that doesn’t mean it is a desirable arrangement. It isn’t good for the U.S. to be in the position of subsidizing the defense of wealthy allies indefinitely, and ultimately it puts European allies in the unenviable position of depending on the continued willingness of a distant great power to guarantee their security.

That brings us to the other important and unpleasant truth highlighted here: the U.S. and the rest of NATO should never have given security guarantees to the Baltic states. It strains credulity to say that the U.S. and its other NATO allies would actually go to war to defend them. Foolish proponents of NATO expansion undermined the credibility of the Article 5 guarantee by extending it to states without regard for whether they could or would be defended in the future, and now we are left with commitments that shouldn’t have been made and can be fulfilled only with great difficulty and potentially at enormous cost. That is the real problem that the U.S. will have in Europe long after the Trump campaign has ceased to matter.

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Cruz’s ‘Non-Endorsement’

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Rod Dreher reacts to Cruz’s refusal to endorse Trump during his convention speech last night:

Erm, has that ever happened before? A major speaker at a national party convention pointedly refusing to endorse its nominee? That’s what Ted Cruz did tonight. I do not like Ted Cruz one bit, but I think this is going to serve him well in the long run.

I’m not so sure about that last part. Cruz is counting on a Trump loss, which is not a bad bet to make, but he also seems to think that the millions of Trump primary voters that already chose not to vote for him the first time will reward his self-serving display from last night in a future cycle. Many people, including Dreher, have mentioned that Cruz preserved his “honor,” and that has struck me as a very odd way to interpret what he did. Like anything else Cruz has done in his political career, he put on a show last night because he thought it would give him a political advantage and aid his future ambitions. He calculated that it would be most to his advantage to appear at the convention and also very useful for his political career in the future to avoid an explicit endorsement of the nominee. That way he gets to have his “Reagan in ’76” moment without tying himself too closely to Trump. Cruz thought he could have it both ways, but I don’t think he pulled it off. He earned the lasting ire of many Trump supporters while gaining a brief surge of media coverage that won’t help him in years to come.

It’s not clear to me why it is honorable to refuse to give an endorsement of a nominee at a party convention while benefiting from the prominent speaking slot he was given. The first words that come to mind to describe that are petty or selfish, and that would be consistent from what we know of Cruz from his past behavior. Cruz is being lauded for his “honor” because Trump is awful, but Trump’s awfulness doesn’t turn Cruz’s self-serving behavior into a noble act. Cruz is nothing if not an opportunist, and when he thought it suited his interest to go along with Trump he did so. Now he has concluded the opposite, and has acted accordingly. Cruz has burned many more bridges in the party with the show he put on, and he made sure to remind the rest of us why so many people dislike and distrust him.

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Kasich’s Weird Global Paternalism

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Molly O’Toole reports on Republican divisions over foreign policy on display in Cleveland this week:

Kasich clearly blamed Trump for what he described as an increasing attitude of “let’s just take care of us, let’s just pull the shades down, let’s lock the doors and let’s not take care of the rest of the world, let’s just take care of ourselves.”

Given Kasich’s own meddlesome and reckless foreign policy proposals, it doesn’t surprise me that he describes opposing views this way. What struck me about this statement was its tone-deafness more than anything. I assume most Republicans, like most Americans, aren’t interested in just “pulling the shades down” and ignoring the rest of the world, but many of them understandably and rightly object to policies that focus on “taking care” of other parts of the world at our expense and instead of looking after our own country.

One might ask why it is the job of the U.S. government to “take care of the rest of the world” in the first place. There are hundreds of other governments available to “take care” of their respective countries and presumably they have a much better idea of how to do that than anyone in Washington. More to the point, it isn’t and shouldn’t be the role of our government to “take care” of other countries, and I suspect when it is phrased this way other nations would resent the assumption that they need the U.S. to “take care” of them.

If Kasich holds Trump responsible for public disillusionment with an activist foreign policy, he’s wrong again. Trump is taking advantage of that attitude, but he is not the cause of it. It is fifteen years of desultory foreign warfare combined with domestic neglect and dysfunction that have made so many people receptive to any messenger–no matter how flawed–who even hints at not squandering American lives and wealth in unnecessary conflicts that provide the U.S. with nothing but additional headaches and costs. If Kasich and his colleagues still can’t grasp that, they’re even more out of touch with the country than I thought they were.

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Trump and the Failure of the GOP

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Trump officially secured the Republican nomination last night:

Mr. Trump tallied 1,725 delegates, easily surpassing the 1,237 delegate threshold needed to clinch the nomination. The delegate tally from his home state of New York, announced by Mr. Trump’s son Donald Jr., put him over the top.

Like Rod Dreher, I see Trump’s success as proof that “the people who run [the GOP] and the institutions surrounding it failed.” They not only failed in their immediate task of preventing the nomination of a candidate that party leaders loathed, but failed repeatedly over at least the last fifteen years to govern well or even to represent the interests and concerns of most Republican voters.

Had the Bush administration not presided over multiple disasters, most of them of their own making, there would have been no opening or occasion for the repudiation of the party’s leaders that we have seen this year. Had the party served the interests of most of its voters instead of catering to the preferences of their donors and corporations, there would have been much less support for someone like Trump. Party leaders spent decades conning Republican voters with promises they knew they wouldn’t or couldn’t fulfill, and then were shocked when most of those voters turned against them. Trump is millions of Republican voters’ judgment against a party that failed them, and the fact that Trump is thoroughly unqualified for the office he seeks makes that judgment all the more damning.

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Why the Coup Failed in Turkey

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Steven Cook makes an important point about the relationship between Kemalism’s lack of popular appeal and the military’s repeated interventions in politics:

In laymen’s terms, Turks were not buying what the General Staff was selling, so the officers were forced to keep everyone in line through coercion. The advanced weaponry and the destructive force the Turkish military can bring to bear aside, the repeated intervention in politics reveals not strength but rather manifest weakness. The military intervened because Kemalism, its guiding ideology and the wellspring of its alleged power, did not make sense to most people.

To the extent that previous Turkish military coups “worked,” they did so by suppressing the political preferences of a large part of the population and reinforcing an ideology that those people didn’t accept. That wasn’t sustainable, and as last week’s failed coup made clear it was no longer going to be tolerated. The attempted coup was the last gasp of a fading system that has never really had the public’s full support.

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What Republican Foreign Policy Reform Requires

illustration by Michael Hogue

Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam propose a “cure for Trumpism” for the GOP. The foreign policy section makes some sense, but doesn’t get us very far:

To voters who watched their children bleed in Iraq and Afghanistan, or who have bled themselves, the party hasn’t provided much reassurance that it has learned lessons from those conflicts. With the exception of Rand Paul and the partial exception of Ted Cruz, the consensus critique of President Obama from not-Trump Republicans often seemed to be that he should have kept more troops in Iraq and kept more troops in Afghanistan and sent more troops to Libya and intervened in Syria and sent more arms to Ukraine and expanded NATO’s presence in the Baltics and been more willing to bomb Iran and …

Some of these policy prescriptions are reasonable, but taken together they look like a road map for more quagmires, more Afghanistans and Iraqs. This is the landscape in which Trump’s “America First” language resonated. And the ease with which Trump crushed Jeb Bush, in particular, suggests that it will continue to resonate until Republican leaders become more selective in their hawkishness, more comfortable with five simple words: Invading Iraq was a mistake.

It would be a good start if all future presidential candidates could acknowledge the disastrous and costly folly of the Iraq war, but it would only be a start. Admitting that the Iraq war was a grievous, horrible error is necessary but not sufficient to reform Republican foreign policy. The trouble with the rest of the 2016 field wasn’t just that many of the candidates were Iraq war dead-enders, but that they were so obsessed with the idea of American “leadership” that almost all of them thought that the U.S. needed to be involved in multiple conflicts in different parts of the world in one way or another. Almost none of the declared 2016 candidates opposed the Libyan war at the time, and very few concluded that the problem with intervening in Libya was the intervention itself. The standard hawkish line on Libya for years has been that the U.S. should have committed itself to another open-ended exercise in stabilizing a country we helped to destabilize. Most Republican politicians are so wedded to a belief in the efficacy of using hard power that they refuse to admit that there are many problems that the U.S. can’t and shouldn’t try to solve with it.

Until Republican politicians and their advisers start to understand that reflexive support for “action” (and some kind of military action at that) is normally the wrong response, we can’t expect much to change. Most Republican foreign policy professionals seem to hold the same shoddy assumptions that led them to endorse all of the interventions of the last 15 years without exception, and nothing that has happened during that time has caused most of them to reexamine those assumptions. Until they stop fetishizing American “leadership” and invoking “American exceptionalism” as an excuse to meddle in every new crisis, Republicans will end up in the same cul-de-sac of self-defeating belligerence. Unless Republicans adopt a much less expansive definition of “vital interests,” they will routinely end up on the wrong side of most major foreign policy debates.

Finally, unless most Republican politicians and their advisers overcome their aversion to diplomatic engagement they will end up supporting costlier, less effective, and more destructive policies for lack of practical alternatives. The virtually unanimous opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran is a good example of the sort of thing that a reformed Republican Party wouldn’t do. Opposition to the deal reflects so many of the flaws in current Republican foreign policy views: automatic opposition to any diplomatic compromise that might actually work, grossly exaggerating the potential threat from another state, conflating U.S. interests with those of unreliable client states, continually moving goalposts to judge a negotiated deal by unreasonable standards, insisting on maximalist concessions from the other side while refusing to agree to minimal concessions from ours, and making spurious and unfounded allegations of “appeasement” at every turn to score points against political adversaries at home. Obviously these are habits cultivated over decades and are not going to be fixed quickly or easily, but if the next Republican administration (whenever that may be) doesn’t want to conduct foreign policy as disastrously as the last one did they are habits that need to be broken.

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The Folly of Arming Ukraine and the GOP Platform

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Daniel DePetris observes that most of the Republican platform on foreign policy and national security shows that the hawks remain firmly in charge of the party’s agenda, and I agree. It is worth noting, though, that the Trump campaign has gone against the hawkish consensus on at least one issue. Josh Rogin reports that Trump campaign operatives managed to work with pro-Trump delegates to delete language that called for sending weapons to Ukraine:

The Trump campaign worked behind the scenes last week to make sure the new Republican platform won’t call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces, contradicting the view of almost all Republican foreign policy leaders in Washington.

This is not much of a dissent from the hawkish line on foreign policy, but it is a rejection of one of the more thoughtless and irresponsible foreign policy proposals out there. The report predictably puts the most negative spin possible on this move, perhaps because this is the first sign in months that Trump and his allies aren’t just going to roll over for whatever the most hawkish Republicans want. Whatever their reasons for doing this, it happens to be the right call as a matter of policy.

Nothing good for Ukraine or the U.S. would come from sending them weapons, and in general it is irresponsible to stoke a foreign conflict, especially when it has died down and might still be resolved. It is even more irresponsible to stoke a conflict when it has little or nothing to do with us. The Republicans that should be embarrassed by this episode are the ones that wanted to insist on throwing more weapons at a foreign problem.

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The Impending Collapse of the T-TIP

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Wolfgang Münchau notes that there may be an opening for a U.K.-U.S. trade agreement after all:

Meanwhile, an important development is about to unfold that could prove a great opportunity for Britain: Germany’s Social Democrats, partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government, are about to ditch support for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — an agreement between the EU and the US. My understanding is that it is now in effect dead.

A German veto of TTIP would give the UK and the US a chance to negotiate their own bilateral version.

In this case, the UK could theoretically end up with a better position than before: with access to the EU single market and deeper economic integration with the US.

If German support for the T-TIP has collapsed, there won’t be any agreement. This latest news is consistent with the strong public skepticism and growing opposition to the T-TIP in Germany that I mentioned here more than a year ago. The German public has been concerned that European standards on health and the environment would be weakened too much as part of the deal, and that has turned them sharply against a trade partnership that once had majority backing. Opposition to T-TIP has only grown over the last year:

The survey, conducted by YouGov for the Bertelsmann Foundation, showed that only 17 percent of Germans believe the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a good thing, down from 55 percent two years ago.

The Social Democrats’ leaders are belatedly acknowledging that shift and moving to align themselves with the more popular view. If the deal falls apart, it will be just the latest casualty of popular backlashes against the elite consensus.

The failure of the T-TIP is not a disaster and the significance of this shouldn’t be exaggerated, but it is worth noting that this would likely have happened even if Britain had voted to stay in the EU. One of the risks of leaving the EU was that it would mean that Britain would be cut out of any future U.S.-EU agreement, but now it appears there may be no agreement at all. For all the talk from the Obama administration about Britain having to go to the “back of the queue,” it now appears that the “queue” in question is about to get a lot shorter. Once Britain is out of the EU, it won’t be blocked from making its own deal with Washington, and it is conceivable that the U.K. could conclude a bilateral agreement with the U.S. before a deal with EU is completed.

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The Failed Coup in Turkey Had No Popular Support

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The New York Times reports on the opposition to the coup from the AKP’s political opponents:

Turkey’s liberals have spent years feeling that the country was being piloted in the wrong direction by a very powerful captain. They have watched with trepidation as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expanded his powers, enriched his allies and increased the role of religion in public life.

But none of that made young liberals like Koray Suzer, a 25-year-old fitness trainer, sympathize with the renegade military officers who launched a failed coup against Mr. Erdogan on Friday night. Turkey, Mr. Suzer said, has moved past the days when its military should intervene in politics [bold mine-DL].

“The worst democracy is better than the best coup,” he said on Sunday.

The lack of popular support for the failed coup in Turkey sets it apart from some other recent takeovers. It is common enough for the political opponents of a corrupt or abusive leader to side with a coup to settle scores or because they believe that the leader poses an intolerable threat to the country, and it is a good sign that this didn’t happen here. The fact that there was no broader support for the coup should make it more difficult for Erdogan and his party to use it as a pretext to persecute their political opponents, and that may limit the gains they make in the aftermath.

Judging from some of the Western reactions to the initial news of the coup attempt, one might conclude that quite a few people in the West hold the “streetcar” view of democratic government that Erdogan’s critics have cited against him (i.e., they view it as useful to reach a certain destination and can then get off). It has always seemed strange to me how attached some people in the West are to Kemalism in Turkey, which in almost any other country would be rightly perceived as an archaic authoritarian holdover from the pre-WWII era. Fortunately for Turkey, most Turks don’t seem to share that view.

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