Daniel Larison

The Week’s Most Interesting Reads

No one wants to talk about foreign policy at the DNC. Christopher Preble notes how little attention the Democrats have paid to foreign policy issues this week.

Hillary the hawk: a history. Micah Zenko reviews Clinton’s aggressive foreign policy record.

The Democrats’ three-way split. Trevor Thrall identifies the party’s factions on foreign policy.

Trump, Clinton, and foreign policy. The National Interest interviews Michael Desch.

Posted in , . Tagged , , , , , . Post a comment

The Terrible Cost of the War on Yemen

IRIN Photos/Flickr: The UN-administered camp at Mazrak, north-west Yemen, seen on 12 November 2009 is now stretched beyond capacity after a Saudi military offensive against the Huthis starting early November uprooted a fresh wave of IDP families.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a scathing editorial denouncing U.S. support for the war on Yemen:

Apart from what seems to be an irresistible urge on the part of the United States to meddle in every struggle on the planet, the only reason for U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen — which involves pounding the life out of poverty-stricken, starving Yemenis — is the long-standing U.S. alliance with the Saudi monarchy, one of the most justice-free regimes on the face of the Earth. That argument might hold water if the war in Yemen represented any threat to the Saudis. It does not, and, apart from substantial sales to Saudi Arabia by the U.S. arms industry, linking its armed forces to ours, there is no reason for continued U.S. involvement in this truly inhumane war against a pathetic victim [bold mine-DL].

The editors ably make many of the points I have been making for the last sixteen months. I would just add a few things. Remember that the damage being done to Yemen goes beyond the destruction directly wrought by the Saudi-led intervention and the fighting on the ground between the warring parties. The conflict that the Saudis and their allies escalated last year has pushed the country’s health care services to the brink of collapse, driven many medical specialists to flee the country, wrecked the country’s infrastructure, cut the country off from the imports on which the civilian population relies, and created near-famine conditions in much of the country. More than seven million are at risk of starvation, and millions more are suffering from severe food insecurity that grows worse daily. Yemen’s children are suffering from severe malnutrition. Yemen’s economic and social development has been set back by decades, and the people of Yemen will be living with the deleterious effects of this campaign long after the fighting ends. Unfortunately, the conflict and its horrific consequences continue to be mostly ignored by the rest of the world.

The U.S. should not only have no part in this atrocious war, but should be actively pressing the Saudis and their allies to halt their campaign and blockade. Instead, the Obama administration continues to back the Saudi-led coalition as it has from the beginning. There is no good reason why the U.S. has made itself party to this conflict, and our government’s support for the intervention is an indelible mark of shame in the annals of U.S. foreign policy.

Posted in , . Tagged , , . 4 comments

Trump’s Disdain for Diplomacy and Restraint

Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA/Newscom

Scott McConnell remarked on the aggressive foreign policy rhetoric at last week’s convention:

I have not heard a word from the convention podium about the misguidedness of that war, but there have been plenty of bellicose statements directed at Russia and Iran, important states whose interests do not necessarily clash with America’s at all.

Trump’s acceptance speech was much the same. There was a throwaway line rejecting “nation-building and regime change,” but the overall effect his remarks on foreign policy was to paint a dreary picture of American weakness in which diplomacy and restraint were presented as folly. Trump’s railing about the nuclear deal and the “red line” episode was instructive:

Not only have our citizens endured domestic disaster, but they have lived through one international humiliation after another. We all remember the images of our sailors being forced to their knees by their Iranian captors at gunpoint.

This was just prior to the signing of the Iran deal, which gave back to Iran $150 billion and gave us nothing – it will go down in history as one of the worst deals ever made. Another humiliation came when president Obama drew a red line in Syria – and the whole world knew it meant nothing.

These are mostly recycled hawkish talking points, they’re either false or very misleading, and they show just how poor Trump’s grasp on these issues is. The episode with the sailors that were briefly detained in the Gulf is a good example of this. The sailors had strayed into Iranian waters, they were detained, and then thanks to the diplomatic contacts created during the negotiations over the nuclear deal (which had already been concluded) they were released within a day. An incident that could have dragged on for weeks or months was resolved peacefully and speedily because of U.S. diplomatic engagement with a hostile power in a way that would have been almost impossible a few years earlier.

Trump also repeats his usual false claims about the nuclear deal. The $150 billion figure is a huge exaggeration, and the reality is that Iran may get access to at most roughly $50 billion of their own money in exchange for dismantling most of their nuclear program. Far from getting “nothing,” the U.S. achieved the main goal of its diplomacy with Iran, and it did so at no cost to us. One would think that the compensation-obsessed Trump would be thrilled by how lopsided the deal is in our favor, but that would require him to understand it.

The nuclear deal is a major nonproliferation success, which makes Trump’s attacks on it as “one of the worst deals ever made” all the more ridiculous. He continues to prove that he not only knows nothing about the specific issues, but it also shows that he has no clue how to judge the value of international agreements.

The “humiliation” of the “red line” episode was felt most acutely by the Syria hawks that wanted the U.S. to get into a new war. There are so many other examples of Obama foreign policy errors, and yet Trump chose to mention the one instance in which Obama threatened but did not use force. The implication is that the U.S. would be better-served to attack another country and get into an open-ended war than suffer the embarrassment of a climbdown from an ill-advised threat.

Trump selected a successful diplomatic effort and a decision to refrain from military action as examples of American “humiliation,” and that reflects his apparent disdain for diplomacy and restraint.

Posted in , . Tagged , , . 16 comments

Kaine’s Poor Foreign Policy Record

UN OCHA / Philippe Kropf, via Flickr

Hillary Clinton selected Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate last week:

Hillary Clinton named U.S. Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate on Friday, opting for an experienced governing partner who will help her present the Democratic ticket as a steady alternative to the unpredictable campaign of Republican presidential rival Donald Trump.

That is in line with what she was expected to do, since Kaine was always considered one of the top contenders for the position. Unlike many of the others being considered for it, Kaine can plausibly claim he is prepared to be president if the need should ever arise. VP nominees typically do little or nothing to affect the final outcome of the election, and it seems unlikely that adding Kaine would do Clinton any significant harm. He is admittedly the safe and “boring” choice, but as Jonathan Bernstein points out that is a good thing:

Since there’s not much of an upside with vice-presidential picks, the key is to avoid someone who creates trouble in the campaign or once elected.

Kaine’s foreign policy record is mostly poor, but it includes a couple good points. Like Clinton, he is hawkish on Syria and has supported a “no-fly zone” in the past, but he has also consistently argued for Congressional approval for any military action there. Possibly the most interesting thing about Kaine related to these issues is that he is one of the few members of Congress that has taken Congressional responsibilities in matters of war seriously. There is almost no pressure to debate and vote on an authorization for the war on ISIS, which is coming up on its second anniversary next month, but whatever pressure there has been in the Senate has been largely due to Kaine’s work. Daniel DePetris reviews his efforts:

On war powers, however, Kaine’s record as the loudest and most hardworking advocate for congressional authority during an armed conflict will give the left some amount of comfort. In virtually every committee hearing where Syria, Iraq, or the Islamic State is a topic of discussion, Sen. Kaine reminds his colleagues that Congress has been emasculated itself and repeatedly neglected to do its most basic but solemn duty under the constitution: authorize the use of military force against foreign enemies. AUMFs have been written and submitted by Sen. Kaine’s office ever since the bombing of ISIL began almost two years ago, but the Republican leadership under each instance decided not to pursue the issue. Kaine keeps trying to force his colleagues to have a debate — both for the integrity and power of Congress as an institution but also on behalf of the troops and pilots who are fighting and the American taxpayers who are funding the anti-ISIL campaign. He has failed on every single occasion, but certainly not for lack of effort.

He is a supporter of the nuclear deal with Iran, and boycotted Netanyahu’s speech, but he has also repeated shameless Saudi propaganda about the war on Yemen and backed the Saudi-led war on Yemen from the start. Back in March 2015, Kaine released a statement saying this:

I support the efforts of the region, led by Saudi Arabia and a strong coalition of ten nations, to launch airstrikes to stop Houthi military advances against President Hadi’s government. I strongly urge the continued provision of U.S. logistical and intelligence support to Gulf Cooperation Council-led military operations [bold mine-DL]. The United States cannot take the place of Arab partners in securing their region, and I encourage the same coordinated regional approach to address the continued threat from ISIL. We stand with the Yemeni people and will continue to support the legitimate government of Yemen and our regional partners.

Kaine is hardly alone in supporting the indefensible U.S.-backed war on Yemen, but it is worth knowing that Clinton’s choice for VP has supported the U.S. backing of an unnecessary and reckless military intervention that has helped create one of the worst humanitarian disasters on earth.

Posted in , . Tagged , , , , , , , . 3 comments

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.

Posted in , . Tagged , , , , , , . One comment

Trump’s Foreign Policy Interview

Disney ABC/Flickr

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.

Posted in , . Tagged , , . 28 comments

Cruz’s ‘Non-Endorsement’

Michael Vadon/Flickr

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.

Posted in . Tagged , , . 43 comments

Kasich’s Weird Global Paternalism

Steve Lagreca / Shutterstock.com

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.

Posted in , . Tagged , , . 6 comments

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.

Posted in . Tagged , , . 19 comments

Why the Coup Failed in Turkey

muratart / Shutterstock.com

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.

Posted in , . Tagged , , . One comment
← Older posts