Daniel Larison

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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The Failed Coup in Turkey

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There is not much that I have to add to the responses from my colleagues Philip Giraldi and Rod Dreher, but I will say a few things about the attempted coup in Turkey last week. Selim Koru gives us an interesting and informed report from Ankara on what the scene was like as the foiled coup unfolded, and offers some comments on the political effects it may have:

But more than anything else, the 15th of July will be remembered as a pivotal moment for the political right. Erdogan and his cadre have been mentally preparing for a coup ever since they rose to power in 2002. The danger was especially high during the AK Party government’s initial years and always remained on their minds since. It is true that as far as coups in Turkey go, this one was poorly planned and lacking in execution, but that won’t matter. The AK Party’s nearly 15-year long struggle to tame the leviathan now feels complete. The party’s conservative base feels an ownership of the state like never before.

In one sense, that will be bad news for Turkey, since it will help make the AKP even more dominant and bring it that much closer to one-party rule. As Giraldi notes, it was Erdogan’s consolidation of power and his reckless foreign policy (especially in Syria) that seem to have been responsible for causing the coup attempt, and so unfortunately now he and his party will benefit from the backlash to their own power-grabbing and incompetence. On the other hand, it should be a good development that Islamist and nationalist forces were the among the leading groups that resisted the coup and helped it to fail. They rallied to defend their elected civilian government and in the process preserved a system of representative civilian government that would have at the very least been suspended for some period of time.

As bad as Erdogan has been, replacing him and the AKP with military rule would have meant switching out an illiberal majoritarian government for a purely authoritarian one, and that would have been no better for Turkey’s political stability in the coming years. If that seems unlikely, consider how stable and orderly Egypt has been since it was “saved” by a military coup three years ago. Toppling one of the few elected Islamist governments would have also been a boon for jihadist groups, since it would provide another example of removing Islamists from power even though they won it through legitimate, contested elections.

The coup’s failure saves the U.S. the embarrassment of treating yet another coup government with kid gloves, which is almost certainly how Washington would have responded to the overthrow of the civilian government in Turkey. This coup attempt would likely have happened even if the U.S. had cut off post-coup Egypt, but Washington certainly did very little to discourage would-be coup plotters elsewhere from making the attempt. One interesting difference between Egypt three years ago and Turkey last week is that secular and liberal political groups in Turkey were horrified and opposed to the coup instead of cheering it on. If the coup had succeeded in ousting Erdogan and his allies, it would have done so without any fig leaf of popular support.

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The Week’s Most Interesting Reads

Fallujah in ruins. Kelley Vlahos reports on the aftermath of the expulsion of ISIS from Fallujah and the plight of the city’s refugees.

Time for America to distance itself from Saudi intervention in Yemen. Daniel DePetris faults the U.S. for reflexively supporting “allies” regardless of the cost.

The arguments change, but the effort to wreck the nuclear deal continues. Paul Pillar criticizes the ongoing efforts in Congress to undermine and sabotage the nuclear deal with Iran.

How Trump and the GOP abandoned the two-state solution. Molly O’Toole reports on the revision of the GOP’s platform plank on Israel.

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Trump and ‘Pro-Israel’ Hard-liners

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Molly O’Toole reports on the people behind the changes to the Republican platform plank on Israel that deleted any reference to a two-state solution and denied the existence of the occupation of Palestinian territory:

The new platform language was drafted with not only the blessing but the intimate involvement of two of Trump’s closest aides [bold mine-DL], Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, according to several sources behind the effort. The two men are Trump’s primary Israel advisors.

The successful push to eliminate the two-state language was led by a broad if seemingly unlikely coalition that included Sen. Ted Cruz’s national security advisor; a Mormon state representative from South Carolina; and a Jewish former media executive who runs a super PAC called Iron Dome Alliance, a reference to Israel’s storied Iron Dome missile defense system.

It is strange to think that Trump repeatedly came under attack from many of his primary rivals for supposedly wanting to be “neutral” between Israel and Palestine, and as recently as last month Hillary Clinton attacked Trump in similar terms. The reality always was that Trump was very aggressively hawkish in his views on Israel and boasted about this whenever the subject came up, but his detractors (and probably a few fans) didn’t want to believe him.

As we can see from the platform language, Trump is even more absurdly one-sided in his view of the conflict than any previous major party nominee, and his advisers are directly responsible for crafting the new language in the platform. The hard-liners and “pro-Israel” hawks that spent the last six months pretending that Trump was “anti-Israel” (i.e., not slavishly supportive of hard-line Israeli policies) have put on quite a show of denouncing a candidate who holds views that they find completely acceptable.

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May’s New Government: ‘Brexit Means Brexit’

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Theresa May’s Cabinet reshuffle is complete. She has made clear she intends to pursue withdrawal from the EU as promised and has entrusted the job to prominent backers of the Leave campaign. Not only did she give the “Brexit” appointment to a longtime Euroskeptic, David Davis, but went so far as to make Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary. When May said during the leadership race that “Brexit means Brexit,” it appears that she wasn’t just telling her party what most of them wanted to hear.

As more than a few people have pointed out, Johnson won’t be left with much to do because international trade and development and “Brexit” will be handled by other ministers. Even so, Johnson is a goofy and indeed risible choice if he is judged on the merits. He has a long record of insulting other countries and foreign leaders, his name is synonymous with irresponsibility and clownishness, and his European colleagues will view him with special contempt. May was probably aware that selecting Johnson for this position would be greeted with derision, so I assume that she did it as a sop to Leave and Johnson supporters within the party that both want to be placated after the leadership race.

James Forsyth comments on the significance of the Davis appointment:

The David Davis appointment is particularly striking. He resigned, unexpectedly, from David Cameron’s shadow Cabinet. Putting him in charge of these negotiations, shows Tory MPs that May isn’t interested in any backsliding on the referendum result for everyone thinks that Davis would walk if she attempted that.

“Brexit” seems more likely to happen under the reluctant Remainer May than it would have been if Johnson had become prime minister.

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Reports: Pence Will Be Trump’s VP Choice

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It appears that Trump will choose Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate:

Donald J. Trump’s campaign has signaled strongly to Republicans in Washington that he will pick Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, as his running mate, though Republicans caution the party’s mercurial presidential candidate may still backtrack on his apparent choice.

While the campaign insists no decision has been made, Pence is clearly the best choice of the most likely candidates for the job. It is also the one that makes the most sense in an attempt to unify Republicans behind Trump, and represents more of a sop to movement conservatives than any of the other choices would have been. The VP nomination does give Pence a way out of a re-election fight that he was probably going to lose, but it comes at the cost of being identified with Trump from now on. The governor has reportedly calculated that this puts him in a stronger position for a future presidential run, but losing VP nominees don’t often get a chance to be on the top of the ticket in a later cycle.

The knock on Pence from social conservatives is that he caved to business pressure over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The reason that he is struggling in his re-election bid is that he hasn’t otherwise been very successful as governor. He nonetheless remains a good choice for the position, especially when we consider that the most likely alternatives range from terrible (Gingrich) to crazy (Flynn). A Pence choice represents a victory for Trump’s political advisers, who were pushing to pick the governor rather than Gingrich. Gingrich was reportedly the favorite of Trump’s son-in-law and Sheldon Adelson, and it is mildly encouraging that they were rebuffed.

Assuming that the reports are correct, choosing Pence will be the most conventional and un-Trump-like move that the nominee has made all year. It is the safest and smartest choice Trump could make, and it doesn’t add any significant extra baggage to the ticket. Like any running mate selection, it isn’t going to change the race very much, but unlike picking Gingrich or Flynn it doesn’t do any damage.

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Flynn’s Warped Worldview and Russia

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Paul McLeary and Dan de Luce take a closer look at Michael Flynn’s warped worldview:

But in their book, Flynn and Ledeen take a dimmer view of the Russian intervention in Syria, criticizing Moscow for working with Iran and not focusing enough on defeating the Islamic State.

In fact, the book argues that Iran is the ringleader of a massive international alliance stretching from Europe to Asia to South America — and which is intent on destroying the West.

“The war is on. We face a working coalition that extends from North Korea and China to Russia, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua [bold mine-DL],” Flynn writes. While that is a shockingly wide net, the authors say, “Iran is the linchpin of the alliance, its centerpiece.”

Putin is a willing partner in this cabal, as he “fully intends to do the same thing as, and in tandem with, the Iranians: pursue the war against us. The other alliance members do, too.”

One of the responses to my earlier post on Flynn’s absurd views was to point out that he had a reputation for wanting to cooperate with Russia and was therefore more pragmatic than his crazy rhetoric suggested. That may have been true in the past, but it seems that the anti-Iran obsession that he and Ledeen share now overrides all of that. If Russia cooperates with Iran on anything, Flynn and Ledeen seem to consider that proof of Russia’s membership in the ridiculous “alliance” they have imagined. It appears that Flynn is now on board with viewing Russia as nothing but a menace. Maybe someone else can square a fanatical view that Russia is bent on our destruction with a desire to cooperate with Moscow on security issues, but I don’t see how it can be done.

Even if Flynn didn’t lump Russia and China in with these other states, the deranged and wildly exaggerated view of Iranian influence and power that he claims to hold would still be proof that his foreign policy judgment can’t be trusted. The fact that he believes (or claims to believe) things as obviously false global “alliance” of villains should make it clear that he is happy to indulge and recycle extremely dangerous and foolish ideological talking points. That’s not someone any of us should want working in or advising a future administration.

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The Indefensible U.S.-Backed War on Yemen Continues

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Human Rights Watch adds to the list of violations committed by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen:

HRW said that “taken together, the attacks on factories and other civilian economic structures raise serious concerns that the Saudi-led coalition has deliberately sought to inflict widespread damage to Yemen’s production capacity [bold mine-DL].”

The bombings are coupled with a naval and air embargo imposed on Yemen since March last year, causing severe shortages of fuel, cash and basic necessities as Yemen depends on imports of its 90 percent of its food products.

Long after the fighting stops in Yemen, the people of Yemen will be left with wrecked infrastructure and a devastated economy because of the bombing campaign that HRW and other human rights organizations have been criticizing for over a year. Yemen was already the poorest Arab country, and now its development has been set back by decades. Beyond the immediate loss of life and destruction of property caused by the intervention, the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed war on Yemen is inflicting enormous harm on the country’s future prospects.

As I’ve said before, that blockade has been largely responsible for creating the near-famine conditions in the country. Yemen was heavily dependent on imports for its food supply, and the blockade caused a dramatic decrease in the commercial imports that can enter the country, so the effect of the coalition blockade has been catastrophic. Aid shipments are entirely insufficient to make up the shortfall that the blockade created. William Lambers reminds us that the World Food Program (WFP) has warned that at least 7 million people in Yemen are currently living at emergency levels of food insecurity, which is only one level removed from famine, and it has also said that another 7 million are at risk of the same. Half of the civilian population is at serious risk of starvation, and that is mostly due to the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed intervention and blockade.

Daniel DePetris calls on the U.S. to distance itself from the Saudi-led campaign that it has supported for the last fifteen and a half months:

U.S. assistance to Saudi Arabia in Yemen has come about almost as a reflex. If Riyadh requests U.S. military capabilities, the U.S. agrees with barely any questions asked. This no-strings-attached aid, however, has merely made the situation in Yemen worse by providing the Saudis with the false sense of confidence that Washington’s unique military capacity will be available regardless of how it conducts the war.

I agree with most of this. Unfortunately, the Saudis have reason to be confident that most U.S. arms sales and shipments will continue regardless of how they use them. They face no real criticism from the administration for their bombing of civilian areas and their use of inherently indiscriminate weapons (i.e., cluster munitions). On the contrary, administration officials are more likely to echo Saudi talking points or defend the coalition’s actions. There is an effort in Congress to impose stricter conditions on the transfer of weapons to the Saudis, and the administration has belatedly suspended the transfer of cluster bombs, but on the whole the Saudis and their allies have been able to do as they please with minimal consequences in Washington. That is to the lasting shame of this administration and most members of Congress, but regrettably that is what our government has done about a war that it has backed all the way from the beginning.

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