Endless War Makes America Less Safe
Paul Miller doesn’t like it when people call for an end to endless war:
Consider: does anyone literally advocate for endless war? Of course not.
The trope about ending endless wars is really a way of arguing that the US foreign policy establishment has failed, that the supposed doctrine of interventionism is ineffective and counterproductive, and that the United States should retrench, withdraw, and do less in the world.
Supporters of endless war engage in semantics to counter criticism in a few ways. Either they deny that the U.S. is at war anywhere, they defend current U.S. wars but reject the characterization of them as being endless, or they pretend not to understand that “ending endless war” refers to ending U.S. involvement in multiple foreign conflicts. Miller dismisses what he calls the “endless war trope” by saying that no one advocates for endless war by name, but his essay is an extended defense of continuing to fight endless war. At the same time that supporters of endless war reject the description, they are adamant that the U.S. keep doing what it is doing abroad without end. Miller goes beyond that to insist that the only way to end endless war is to keep fighting it:
We are indeed in an era of endless war. But the wars never end because we are not playing for a win.
This is the lament of every war supporter when confronted with evidence of failed wars: if only we were “trying to win,” then victory would follow. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that military victory isn’t possible at an acceptable cost. The reality is that the U.S. already lost the wars it has been fighting, but it refuses to give up on them because our leaders don’t want to admit the defeat that is staring them in the face.
Miller says near the end of the essay:
Those who use the “endless war” trope owe it to themselves, the public, and the troops to explain why defeat is the right choice.
Once again, the defeat has already happened. Refusing to acknowledge it doesn’t make the defeat any less real. Persisting in a failed war just wastes more lives and resources for nothing. Every year that we delay admitting failure is another year of preventable losses.
It is true that opponents of endless war also believe that the U.S. foreign policy establishment has failed, and we cite endless war as evidence of that failure. When we say that the U.S. should end endless war, that really does mean that the U.S. should cease waging the unnecessary wars that it has been fighting over the last two decades. Yes, we think that military interventionism is “ineffective and counterproductive,” and we know that because we have the record of ineffective and counterproductive endless war to back us up. Opponents of endless war may have different views about the extent to which the U.S. should “do less in the world,” but there is general agreement that the U.S. needs to stop the futile, open-ended military campaigns that it engages in right now. Miller thinks they should continue until some far-off, undefined time when there is no more conflict in these countries. In other words, he thinks they should keep going with no end in sight.
The debate is not whether we want wars to end or not, but about what strategy is best suited to end them on the best terms. Advocates of restraint believe that we can end wars by simply leaving them.
Of course the debate is over whether we want wars to end or not. That is what we’re debating right now. Those that insist that we cannot leave Afghanistan, Syria, or Iraq before fighting ends there are quite explicitly arguing for U.S. involvement in unending conflicts that we cannot win at an acceptable cost.
Behind withdrawal is a premise that wars have expiration dates.
This is a silly thing to say. No one advocating for withdrawal from Afghanistan, Syria, or Iraq imagines that conflicts automatically cease at a certain point. We are advocating for withdrawal because the costs of open-ended U.S. involvement in these conflicts are far greater than any supposed benefits. It is simply not worth our while to stay. We know very well that conflict is likely to continue. We see no good reason why Americans should still be taking part in these wars.
Miller’s essay doesn’t offer any compelling reasons why Americans should keep fighting. There are a lot of assertions that the U.S. is “less safe” because of various things overseas, but there is no proof that any of these claims is true. There is no evidence offered that the U.S. has any vital interests at stake in any of the wars it is fighting, and if there are any vital interests that would be jeopardized by withdrawal, Miller doesn’t tell us what they are.
The supporters of endless war do not have a strategy to end these wars “on the best terms” because the wars are unwinnable. Advocates of restraint accept the reality that these wars cannot be won at an acceptable cost. Supporters of endless war pretend otherwise. America is less safe after nearly twenty years of endless war, and endless war has made many other parts of the world less stable and secure. We have seen what the hawkish version of “long-term commitment, deep engagement, and American leadership” has wrought in the world, and it is time to put an end to that as well.
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Why the U.S. Should Scrap the Useless, Noxious Saudi Relationship
Gil Barndollar and Sam Long do an excellent job of making the case against the noxious U.S.-Saudi relationship:
These attacks on individuals, however, paled in comparison to the Kingdom’s military misjudgments. The war in Yemen, pushed by Mohammed bin Salman when he became Minister of Defense in 2015, was expected to be a quick triumph. Instead it has become the worst humanitarian disaster on earth. American-made missiles and bombs have killed thousands of civilians due to some combination of Saudi carelessness, incompetence, and malice. The campaign has also been an embarrassment for Saudi Arabia’s paper tiger military, outfought by Yemen’s Houthi militia and trapped in an unwinnable war — a war backstopped by the support of both the Obama and Trump administrations.
These decisions ultimately damage the United States, rightly seen as Saudi Arabia’s unblinking protector. Though Congress took belated steps to end the Saudi campaign in Yemen, most Americans could and did ignore Saudi Arabia’s recent actions in its own neighborhood. But as job losses mount, ordinary Americans will finally face the consequences of our toxic relationship with the Saudi monarchy.
The U.S. has worked with some very nasty authoritarian states over the decades, sometimes out of genuine necessity in WWII and sometimes because it was deemed expedient for the sake of a larger policy goal. The U.S. has usually come to regret the compromises that it has made by cooperating with these governments, and the benefits from these relationships have usually been few and limited. The U.S.-Saudi relationship serves no such purpose now if it ever did, and the U.S. gets no benefits from it at all. Now there are only costs and risks, and they continue to increase as the reckless Mohammed bin Salman consolidates his hold on power.
It would have been difficult to identify any real benefit to the U.S. from this relationship five years ago before the start of the war on Yemen. Over the last few years, it has become even more obvious that the relationship is a costly and embarrassing liability. The U.S. has not only implicated itself in the kingdom’s many war crimes with unstinting support for the war, but it has also contributed to the destabilization of the region and the destruction of Yemen that has put millions of lives in jeopardy from famine and disease. I can’t imagine what strategic benefit could be “worth” helping to facilitate mass starvation in any case, but there is no question that the U.S. gains nothing from participating in this horror.
Now that the Saudi government is openly attacking the U.S. oil industry as part of its feud with Russia, they have gone from being a bad and reckless client to a government that is deliberately and directly hurting U.S. interests. There used to be a weak argument that selling weapons to the Saudis at least created some jobs, but the jobs created by these arms deals are very few. This made for a terrible excuse for enabling the slaughter of civilians, but now the Saudi oil price war will wipe out far more jobs and businesses than their weapons purchases have ever created. Throughout all of this, the Trump administration has remained resolutely pro-Saudi and shows no signs of changing. The administration’s Saudi First foreign policy has been extremely bad for the U.S. and for the region, and it makes me wonder if there is anything that the Saudis could do that would cause them to change course.
If there were a realistic chance that the Saudi government’s behavior might significantly improve in the future, that might support an argument against making major changes to the relationship, but we know that the current crown prince is likely to become the next king and he is expected to rule for several decades. Judging from his first few years in power, there is no reason to expect Mohammed bin Salman to become less destructive and heavy-handed over time. The U.S. should move as quickly as possible to put as much distance between us and the Saudi kingdom as we can now. If we don’t, we will very likely regret it later. Remaining so closely aligned with such a regional menace will only embroil us in their wars and make us complicit in their many crimes and abuses. Whatever value the U.S.-Saudi relationship may have had, it is not worth keeping in its present form any longer.
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‘The Letter Worked’: Carrier Crew to Be Quarantined on Guam
The letter from Capt. Brett Crozier requesting the evacuation of most of the crew from the Theodore Roosevelt on account of the coronavirus outbreak on board appears to have been successful in getting the Navy to address the problem:
The U.S. Navy took action Tuesday to address the deteriorating situation aboard a nuclear aircraft carrier docked in Guam with coronavirus spreading aboard, promising to isolate crew members ashore for rotating quarantine and possibly move many into hotels within 24 hours.
Crew members speaking to The Chronicle praised their outspoken commanding officer, who aired the dire situation in a stark letter Monday addressed to Navy command and first reported Tuesday by The Chronicle. They reiterated his concerns that it is impossible to properly quarantine sailors on board the Theodore Roosevelt and stop the spread of COVID-19. A senior officer told The Chronicle more than 100 sailors had tested positive in less than a week.
U.S. Pacific Fleet Adm. John Aquilino said Tuesday that the Navy is developing plans to get a number of sailors off the ship “as soon as possible” and to quarantine them in appropriate, isolated shelters on Guam. There is little infrastructure available, he said, so the effort includes asking the local government for spare hotels.
According to the report, the sailors will be evacuated in rotating shifts so that one group will stay on Guam under 14-day quarantine while the other remains on the ship, and then after the quarantined group is cleared following testing they will switch places. The captain’s recommendations appear to have been taken seriously:
A sailor aboard the Roosevelt said Tuesday the crew was briefed and told the plan was to move a large number of sailors to hotels for individual quarantine within the next 24 hours. A smaller crew would need to remain aboard the ship on “ready status.”
“The letter worked,” the sailor said.
As you would expect, the captain’s letter went over very well with the crew:
The letter also appeared to be a hit aboard the ship, as family members began sharing Tuesday on social media The Chronicle’s article, which included a copy of the correspondence.
“My reaction to the letter was totally, ‘Freakin’-A man, this Captain really cares!!!’” a Navy officer aboard the Roosevelt told The Chronicle on Tuesday. “I then went into my military mode and started to think that having a Captain stand up ‘to The Man’ was a very bold move that could either hurt or help him when it comes to advancing to the rank of Admiral.”
Another Roosevelt sailor, who has been placed on one of the group quarantines, saw a copy of Crozier’s letter from a friend.
“Stunning letter,” the sailor told The Chronicle. “Felt as if there was someone with our best interests in mind. Don’t see that much. It’s usually mission first.”
Between the two shifts, it will keep the carrier docked at Guam for the next month. That seems an acceptable delay when the alternative would mean risking the health and lives of the crew. Despite Secretary Esper’s dismissive comments last night, it appears that the Navy is doing the responsible thing to ensure the health and safety of the sailors on board the carrier. The captain deserves enormous credit for making sure that this happened, and he has saved the lives of many of his sailors.
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Trump’s Baffling Lack of Urgency
The president has had no trouble using the Defense Production Act repeatedly when it comes to building weapons and other items, but when it comes to using it to mass produce ventilators and other essential equipment to cope with the pandemic he drags his feet and makes ridiculous excuses:
Chemicals used to construct military missiles. Materials needed to build drones. Body armor for agents patrolling the southwest border. Equipment for natural disaster response.
A Korean War-era law called the Defense Production Act has been invoked hundreds of thousands of times by President Trump and his administration to ensure the procurement of vital equipment, according to reports submitted to Congress and interviews with former government officials [bold mine-DL].
Yet as governors and members of Congress plead with the president to use the law to force the production of ventilators and other medical equipment to combat the coronavirus pandemic, he has for weeks treated it like a “break the glass” last resort, to be invoked only when all else fails.
“You know, we’re a country not based on nationalizing our business,” Mr. Trump said earlier this month. “Call a person over in Venezuela, ask them how did nationalization of their businesses work out? Not too well.”
The U.S. response has been slow and inadequate every step of the way, and one of the main reasons for this is that the president refuses to use the powers of his office to address emergency needs in a timely fashion. Having falsely declared so many other emergencies to exploit loopholes in the law to do things that had nothing to do with national security, he is evidently unwilling to use his proper authority when it matters most. Trump has shown that he has no problem trampling on the law and the Constitution when there is something that he wants to do, such as arming Saudi Arabia and backing their war on Yemen, but when it would be appropriate to use executive authority in order to protect American lives he becomes curiously timid and reluctant. The president’s references to Venezuela are preposterous. No one is suggesting that the government assume ownership of manufacturing companies, and the law doesn’t do that. The purpose of the law is to give government orders of essential equipment priority in an emergency situation:
The law, which was used frequently by previous administrations as well, does not permit the federal government to assert complete control over a company. The federal government can, however, use it to jump ahead of other clients or issue loans so a company can buy all of the supplies it needs to complete the government’s order by a specific date. A rarely used authority of the law also allows the administration to control the distribution of a company’s products and determine where such materials go.
The Pentagon has long been aggressive in its use of the law, inserting language from the wartime act into contracts to ensure delivery of products by a specific date.
Trump’s frequent uses of the DPA show that he doesn’t even believe his own absurd rhetoric. So what is the explanation for this otherwise baffling dereliction of duty? It seems that the president doesn’t want the responsibility that would come with using this law:
But politics may have also influenced Mr. Trump’s decision. The president has repeatedly tried to deflect responsibility for the most significant crisis on American soil in decades. Using the Defense Production Act would make it clear that the government is in charge.
The president may want to duck responsibility for the crisis happening on his watch, but by abdicating responsibility the president is making the crisis worse than it has to be and in the end he will be bringing even more opprobrium on himself. Even now the president isn’t responding to the pandemic with the urgency and seriousness that is required, and many Americans will die that didn’t have to because of that.
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Carrier Captain Pleads for the Lives of His Sailors
The San Francisco Chronicle has obtained a remarkable letter from the captain of the Theodore Roosevelt, the aircraft carrier that is currently sidelined because of a large outbreak of coronavirus among the crew:
The captain of a nuclear aircraft carrier with more than 100 sailors infected with the coronavirus pleaded Monday with U.S. Navy officials for resources to allow isolation of his entire crew and avoid possible deaths in a situation he described as quickly deteriorating.
The unusual plea from Capt. Brett Crozier, a Santa Rosa native, came in a letter obtained exclusively by The Chronicle and confirmed by a senior officer on board the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, which has been docked in Guam following a COVID-19 outbreak among the crew of more than 4,000 less than a week ago.
“This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do,” Crozier wrote. “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.”
According to the report, the letter says that only a small number of infected sailors have been taken off the ship, and that it is impossible to practice social distancing in the confines of the ship with thousands of sailors aboard. As a result, the virus continues to spread among the crew. The captain says that the spread is “ongoing and accelerating.” He is asking the Navy to allow the majority of the crew to disembark and be placed in quarantine on Guam:
“Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure. … This is a necessary risk,” Crozier wrote. “Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care.”
The captain is pleading for the lives of his sailors, which he believes will be put at unacceptable and unnecessary risk if they remain on the ship:
In his letter to top Navy command, Crozier said if it was operating in wartime, the ship would cope and continue operations and battle the illness as best it could.
“However, we are not at war, and therefore cannot allow a single Sailor to perish as a result of this pandemic unnecessarily,” Crozier wrote. “Decisive action is required now in order to comply with CDC and (Navy) guidance and prevent tragic outcomes.”
The report says that the captain compared the carrier’s outbreak to the one on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, and he argued that the spread of the virus on the carrier would likely be even worse because it isn’t possible to isolate infected sailors in the same way as the cruise ship did with passengers.
This is an extraordinary letter, and it is to the captain’s credit that he is putting the welfare of his crew ahead of any other considerations. The request he is making is unusual, but then so is the situation on the carrier. The Theodore Roosevelt is not the only carrier that has infected sailors on board. Another report this week said that the Ronald Reagan, currently deployed to Japan, also has a small outbreak, and that could conceivably require a similar solution of evacuating most of the crew. The pandemic has the potential to hobble the U.S. naval presence in the Pacific for the next several months. Regardless, the captain’s request should be honored and the sailors should be taken off the ship before the virus can spread any further.
Update: The Navy has approved the captain’s request, and most of the crew will be evacuated from the carrier:
The U.S. Navy says it will remove the vast majority of USS Theodore Roosevelt’s crew so the aircraft carrier can be disinfected, one day after its commanding officer sent an urgent message asking for help controlling a COVID-19 outbreak.
Second Update: The Secretary of Defense has contradicted earlier reports that the crew would be evacuated and dismissed the letter:
"Is it time to evacuate [the USS Roosevelt]?" @EsperDOD: "I don't think we're at that point, Norah. We're moving a lot of supplies and assistance, medical assistance out to the carrier in Guam…I'm pleased to report that none of them are seriously ill." https://t.co/e7sI6Fk7Bipic.twitter.com/XLcLAUes7X
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) March 31, 2020
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Muzzling Doctors and Nurses Is Dangerous
Bloomberg reports on the increasing number of doctors and nurses that are being fired or threatened with firing for calling public attention to the lack of protective equipment at their hospitals:
Hospitals are threatening to fire health-care workers who publicize their working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic — and have in some cases followed through.
Ming Lin, an emergency room physician in Washington state, said he was told Friday he was out of a job because he’d given an interview to a newspaper about a Facebook post detailing what he believed to be inadequate protective equipment and testing. In Chicago, a nurse was fired after emailing colleagues that she wanted to wear a more protective mask while on duty. In New York, the NYU Langone Health system has warned employees they could be terminated if they talk to the media without authorization.
The U.S. obviously needs all of the trained medical professionals it has in the middle of a pandemic, so firing them for publicizing hospitals’ lack of preparedness is harmful in more ways than one. It benefits no one to conceal a lack of necessary protective equipment. Whatever short-term embarrassment might be avoided by keeping this under wraps is nothing compared to the disgrace that comes from failing to provide protection to doctors and nurses as they treat coronavirus patients. Hospital administrators may not like having their employees talk to the press about this, but without accurate coverage of the shortages it will be much harder to mobilize the resources needed to produce more equipment. Inadequate supplies of protective equipment are a threat not only to the lives of the doctors and nurses that may be exposed to the virus, but also to the lives of all patients at these hospitals. It is in the hospitals’ long-term interest to be forthright and candid with the public about this.
The article continues:
“Hospitals are muzzling nurses and other health-care workers in an attempt to preserve their image,” said Ruth Schubert, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Nurses Association. “It is outrageous.”
Hospitals have traditionally had strict media guidelines to protect patient privacy, urging staff to talk with journalists only through official public relations offices. But the pandemic has ushered in a new era, Schubert said.
Health-care workers “must have the ability to tell the public what is really going on inside the facilities where they are caring for Covid-19 patients,” she said.
Any organization that is more concerned with maintaining its superficial reputation over doing its work properly will end up with a very poor reputation before long. The doctors and nurses that are speaking out about this aren’t just raising the alarm for their own hospitals, but they’re also warning their colleagues in other parts of the country about what they need to do to prepare for what is coming. Stifling those warnings is a disservice to the public and it undermines the protection of public health.
Health care workers are being put at unacceptable risk, and in many cases their employers seem more concerned with avoiding bad press than they are with providing the protection that these workers need:
Lauri Mazurkiewicz, the Chicago nurse who was fired by Northwestern Memorial Hospital after urging colleagues to wear more protective equipment, has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit.
“A lot of hospitals are lying to their workers and saying that simple masks are sufficient and nurses are getting sick and they are dying,” she said.
It is maddening that medical professionals are being told to keep quiet when the public very much needs to know the dangerous conditions that they are working in. The same thing seems to be happening all over the country:
Nisha Mehta is a 38-year radiologist from Charlotte, North Carolina, who runs two Facebook groups for physicians with around 70,000 members. She’s fielded numerous requests from health-care workers hoping to get their stories into the public arena.
“I’m hearing widespread stories from physicians across the country and they are all saying: ‘We have these stories that we think are important to get out, but we are being told by our hospital systems that we are not allowed to speak to the press, and if we do so there will be extreme consequences,” she said.
Many say they get daily emails urging them not to talk to the media under any circumstances. “The public needs to hear these stories and other physicians need to hear them to be warned against what’s coming,” Mehta said. “It’s so important that everyone understands how bad this is going to get.”
Health care workers shouldn’t have to work in unsafe conditions at any time, but especially now when the demands on our hospitals are increasing and the dangers to these workers are growing they should have all the protection that they can get.
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Failing the Pandemic Test
Walter Russell Mead bewails those that see the poor U.S. response to the pandemic as being indicative of broader national failure:
It is, however, much too soon to say that America is failing a historic test. What is it being graded against?
It may be true that it is too soon to declare U.S. leadership “dead,” but the U.S. is objectively failing the test presented by the pandemic at present. What is it being graded against? How about the responses of other democratic and allied nations? How about previous U.S. responses to serious outbreaks? On both counts, the U.S. is not doing well. The testing debacle is well-documented, and it is also our government’s most distinctive failing. Many other governments failed to take the threat seriously at the beginning and they have paid for it, and several have tried to cover up and lie about the extent of the outbreak. The U.S. stands apart in lagging behind everyone else in just figuring out where the outbreak is. No other industrialized Western country has performed as poorly or with such disastrous consequences. Now we are being told that if we do everything right from now on we are still probably looking at deaths in the hundreds of thousands. That same figure would have been dismissed as crazed alarmism just a few weeks ago by many of the same people that will now tout it as proof of success. The president has the gall to claim that this would be proof of doing a “good job.”
South Korea appears to have managed the crisis successfully and they have suffered far fewer casualties than the U.S. has so far, and one of the main reasons for their success is that they did what we failed to do: widespread early testing to get a handle on where the virus was spreading. The federal government’s failures in particular have put the country in a terrible position, and even now the federal response remains uneven, erratic, and slow. Forget about what may or may not happen to U.S. “leadership” in the world. The federal government is struggling to lead within our borders. It is a humiliating development, and it should be particularly humbling for supporters of U.S. global hegemony, but then these people are not known for their humility.
One of the reasons why there has been so much self-flagellation, as Mead would have it, is that for at least the last thirty years American leaders have overdosed the public with self-congratulation and fantasies of exceptional excellence that masked serious shortcomings and failings in our society. Especially since the end of the Cold War, many Americans have cultivated a triumphalist attitude that blinded us to the flaws of our system, and that blindness left us vulnerable. The “indispensable nation” that presumes to dictate the affairs of nations on the other side of the planet can’t even take care of its own people in an emergency. The government that imagines that it can remake other countries in our own image can’t provide enough protective equipment for our medical professionals. The U.S. could have invested much more in its own health care, infrastructure, and workers, but for decades we have chosen to fritter it away on imperial fantasies and giveaways to concentrated wealth. Mead’s reference to medieval flagellants is meant as an insult, but a penitent and reflective response is much more appropriate to our current situation than the cheerleading bromides that he has to offer.
The U.S. typically stumbles out of the starting gate, but once it gets going, the ingenuity, adaptability and dedication of the American people enable it to make up the lost ground.
The U.S. will presumably rally and recover from the debacle we are witnessing, but it doesn’t change the fact that the debacle was avoidable and most of the tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths that follow could have been prevented with a minimally competent response. Mead is engaged in little more than excuse-making for the government’s disastrous failures in this instance. Mead’s comparisons to war efforts is also misleading. A pandemic is not a war, no matter how many pundits and politicians feel obliged to talk about the “front lines” and no matter how many times they try to liken doctors to soldiers. The pandemic has shone a bright, glaring light on the inadequacies of our government’s efforts to protect public health, and it has exposed how woefully unprepared we have been for a threat like this. That is also an indictment of our current foreign policy, which has involved political leaders and policymakers obsessing about relatively small and manageable threats while mostly ignoring the ones that can actually do the greatest harm to this country. The government has spent trillions and sacrificed thousands of American lives in futile wars to ward off minor or non-existent threats, but it can’t be bothered to invest a fraction of that in preparedness for a pandemic. Our national security priorities have been out of whack for decades, and it has taken a disaster of this magnitude to show us just how big of a mistake we have been making.
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Saudi Arabia’s Dwindling Influence
Ted Cruz has consistently been one of the most pro-Saudi Republicans in the Senate, so it is interesting that he is now criticizing them publicly over their misguided oil price war:
Russia and Saudi Arabia took advantage of the coronavirus crisis “by flooding the market and driving the price of oil way, way down,” Sen. Ted Cruz says. “That was opportunistic.” https://t.co/g3ropmgRodpic.twitter.com/i30GuZKWWT
— CNBC (@CNBC) March 30, 2020
Cruz says that “the Saudi kingdom is supposed to be our friend,” and he goes on to say that they are “not behaving like a friend when you are trying to destroy thousands and thousands of businesses all across Texas and the country.” It’s true that Saudi behavior has not been that of an ally, but then that’s because Saudi Arabia isn’t an ally and never has been one. Our government should stop treating them as if they were an ally, and we should not expect them to start acting like one anytime soon. There are no “friends” in international relationships, but even as a partner the Saudis have proven to be unreliable and a growing liability for the U.S. The U.S. owes them nothing, and as we can see from their latest antics they cannot be counted on to act responsibly.
The Saudi government has spent a considerable sum on lobbyists to influence members of Congress, and that lobbying effort has intensified in response to growing criticism of U.S. support for the war on Yemen. As Ben Freeman reported in an article for TAC at the end of 2018, Cruz was one of the top recipients:
While the measure passed, opposition from the Saudi lobby was fierce and strongly reflected in the vote. In fact, of the 37 senators who voted against the measure, 30 have received campaign contributions from lobbying firms working for the Saudis. In total, an analysis of Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) records reveals at least $226,182 in campaign contributions reported by firms registered to represent Saudi Arabia that went to these 30 senators over the past two years.
The top recipient of Saudi lobbying firm contributions among senators who voted against the measure was Dean Heller, Republican of Nevada, who received $27,150. Heller’s vote against the resolution on Wednesday was notable given that he had previously voted against an arms sale to Saudi Arabia and was a co-sponsor of legislation that would have prohibited the U.S. military from refueling Saudi warplanes.
Heller’s haul from Saudi lobbyists was closely followed by Roger Wicker, Ted Cruz, and Roy Blunt, Republicans all, who have received $25,550, $23,000, and $19,250, respectively, from Saudi lobbyists over the past two years. On the campaign trail, Cruz called the possibility of the Saudi government ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi “troubling” and said “there should be real consequences for that.” His vote Wednesday was to block one of those consequences.
Cruz has voted against every resolution to end U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen or otherwise hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its crimes, so it is a measure of how much Saudi influence has deteriorated that even Cruz is coming out against them now. The Saudi government under Mohammed bin Salman and his father has managed to burn its bridges with most members of Congress and many of its other erstwhile supporters in Washington. Through their oil price war, they have found a way to alienate some of the most hard-line Iran hawks that were willing to enable all of their other destructive policies. It is unfortunate that it has taken until now for many of the kingdom’s remaining cheerleaders on Capitol Hill to figure out that Saudi and American interests increasingly diverge, but I suppose it’s better late than never.
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The Sanctions Minefield
The Washington Postreports on the obstacles to humanitarian trade created by U.S. sanctions. The process of complying with regulations so burdensome that most firms won’t bother:
According to Mohsen Zarkesh, an OFAC sanctions attorney at the Price Benowitz law firm in Washington, the sanctions exemptions don’t guarantee an unimpeded flow of humanitarian goods to Iran. He said that the United States has created “a legal and business environment equivalent to walking through a compliance mine field.” [bold mine-DL]
“My experience shows that as the compliance burden of exports to Iran increases . . . companies of all sizes abstain from engaging in any form of trade with Iran,” Zarkesh said.
Sanctions advocates leave only the narrowest of gaps open to humanitarian trade, and they make it so onerous to bring goods through that gap that very few will accept the risk that comes with continuing to trade with the besieged country. The comparison with a minefield is apt. There may be a narrow, winding path through the minefield that will allow someone to traverse it safely, but the path is unmarked and the U.S. refuses to advise businesses on where to go. Given the obstacles put in their way, it is no wonder that most businesses would rather not take the chance of mistakenly treading on a mine in the form of legal penalties and fines. If the humanitarian exemptions to U.S. sanctions meant anything, they would be as broad as possible and the U.S. would make it easy for firms to use the approved channels, but the administration has done just the opposite. Even the newly-opened Swiss channel that was delayed for years by administration foot-dragging is limited because of the sheer amount of information that firms are expected to provide:
To use the Swiss humanitarian channel, for example, companies must provide extensive information to the Treasury Department every month about the Iranian beneficiaries of the goods. The documents must include, among other things, the Iranian companies’ business relationships, financial details and a written commitment from distributors that they will not allow the goods to be sold or resold to Iranian individuals or entities under sanction.
European officials have likened the reporting requirements “to a ‘fishing expedition’ for information about the commercial relationships with European and Iranian firms,” Batmanghelidj said.
All of this consumes resources that many firms don’t want to waste, and it takes time that the Iranian people can’t afford to lose. That was already true before the outbreak, and now the situation is even more serious. There is no question that sanctions are causing shortages of essential medicine and medical equipment:
Iranian medical workers and global public health experts say it is not possible to determine exactly how much U.S. sanctions have affected Iran’s capacity to fight a virus that by official counts has infected more than 35,000 Iranians and killed at least 2,500 — some estimates put the toll far higher — while spawning outbreaks in other countries. But they say it is clear that the Iranian health-care system is being deprived of equipment necessary to save lives and prevent wider infection.
“There are a lot of shortages now. . . . [Hospitals] do not have enough diagnostic kits or good quality scanners, and there is also a shortage of masks,” said Nouradin Pirmoazen, a thoracic surgeon and former lawmaker in Iran.
Pirmoazen, who now lives in Los Angeles, said that he is in regular contact with former colleagues and students at the Masih Daneshvari Hospital in Tehran, which is part of Iran’s National Research Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases.
“Medical staff who want a specific type of medicine or equipment are having difficulty transferring money outside of Iran due to the sanctions,” he said, adding that doctors and nurses at Masih Daneshvari have been overwhelmed by the crisis.
Sanctions block the transactions Iranian medical professionals need to make to procure essential goods for treating their patients and protecting themselves. Even when they can get some supplies through an approved channel, there won’t be enough of them, they will cost far more than they normally would, and it will take too long to get them. If time is of the essence in getting this outbreak under control, sanctions kill by imposing costly delays. Many Iranians suffering from the pandemic and other ailments will die because of the sanctions when they would have otherwise survived. This will happen in other sanctioned countries as well if sanctions continued to be enforced during this crisis. We can already see the life-threatening shortages of proper equipment in our own hospitals, and the U.S. doesn’t have to contend with any of the barriers created by sanctions. Now imagine the situation for the doctors and nurses in Iran that have to struggle against a horrifying outbreak with the added difficulty of being under siege.
Economic warfare is cruel and iniquitous at the best of times, and during a pandemic it is especially monstrous. For the sake of preserving innocent life and for the sake of bringing the pandemic under control, the economic wars have to end.