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The U.S. Shouldn’t Get Involved in the Ladakh Standoff

This is between India and China. We really need to mind our own business.

President Donald J. Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Tensions between India and China have been increasing over the last few weeks with a buildup of troops along a disputed border in eastern Ladakh. The buildup on the Chinese side appears to have been a response to Indian construction activity that is meant to make the remote area more easily accessible if there is a need to send reinforcements there. China is trying to discourage India from completing those construction projects, but there doesn’t appear to be anything more to the standoff than that at the moment. The standoff has gone mostly ignored here in the U.S., but it has prompted some knee-jerk calls to “stand with India,” as if this dispute had anything to do with us. We can get a hint from this of how U.S.-China rivalry will be used in the future to justify meddling in all sorts of disputes where there are no U.S. interests at stake.

The standoff between China and India is a bilateral problem for those governments to solve, and there is not much that the U.S. can constructively do in this case. India is not seeking any “help” from Washington, and it’s not as if the U.S. is in a position to appeal to the Chinese government. U.S.-Chinese relations are the worst they have been in decades, and trying to insert the U.S. into a dispute that doesn’t concern us doesn’t help anyone. The president’s random offer to mediate has been predictably rebuffed by both governments:

Both India and China have rejected US President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate on the border standoff.

In an embarrassment to the US President, sources here denied his claims of having spoken to Prime Minister Narenda Modi on India’s ongoing military standoff with China in eastern Ladakh. In fact, they underlined that no conversation had taken place between the two leaders since April 4 when they spoke on the hydroxychloroquine export.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for days has been stressing on bilateralism to resolve the dispute even as the US, first by senior diplomat Alice Wells and later Trump, have sought to triangulate it.

This is a good example of how the U.S. insists on trying to butt in to other countries’ disputes when it isn’t wanted and where it has nothing to contribute. It isn’t the first time that the president has unwisely and unnecessarily offered to mediate disputes that India doesn’t want third parties to mediate. His repeated suggestions that he could mediate the Kashmir dispute were most unwelcome in New Delhi, and his latest attempted intervention clearly isn’t appreciated, either.

India and China managed to resolve their previous Doklam standoff three years ago without any assistance from the U.S., and it seems likely that they will be able to deescalate this situation as well:

Some Indian analysts have suggested that the current situation will end similarly, pointing to a number of conciliatory messages from Chinese officials. “We should never let differences overshadow our relations. We should resolve differences through communication,” China’s ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, said Wednesday.

Some disputes truly have nothing to do with the U.S. Our government should learn to recognize that and mind its own business.

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Maybe We Should Stop Giving the Minneapolis Police Military Equipment

The death of George Floyd reminds us how easy it is to kill and why law enforcement and the armed forces must remain separate.

A protester holds a sign, showing an image from the video of George Floyd's arrest, outside the Third Precinct Police Station on May 27, 2020 in Minneapolis,Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Monday demonstrates how easy it is to end a life. Floyd wasn’t shot with a firearm, as was Philando Castile during a traffic stop four years ago. He wasn’t even tossed in the back of a police van, as was Freddie Gray before that. The weapon was a simple knee to the neck. The video of his arrest is chilling precisely because it’s casual, quotidian almost, just another day on the job for his badge-bearing assailants, a stark contrast to the victim gasping on the ground.

Floyd’s killing has touched off yet another of that most depressing of sequences: a video emerges showing a black man being brutalized by police; his community protests peacefully; those demonstrations are hijacked by rioters and professional anarchists; Molotov cocktails fly; flames erupt. An act of harm by the authorities is followed by a city-wide act of self-harm.

Afterwards the question is always: now what do we do? And certainly there are plenty of good policy reforms that can help restore trust between law enforcement and local communities. Donald Trump in 2018 signed into law the First Step Act, which ordered changes to the prison and sentencing systems. In the meantime, though, how about we start with some low-hanging fruit? How about we stop arming police departments with military-grade equipment?

Philip V. McHarris writes at the Washington Post:

Such protests have become common in a country where more than 1,000 people annually are killed by police, with black people three times as likely as whites to be the victims. Also common is what happened soon after demonstrators gathered to protest Floyd’s death: Police in riot gear shot tear gas canisters into the crowds and fired stun grenades and “nonlethal projectiles” at demonstrators, injuring many. It was stunningly easy to point to the same department’s gentle treatment weeks ago against white anti-lockdown protesters while those protesting against police violence were met with militarized violence.

But this too should not surprise us. Police departments have come to resemble military units, contributing to deadly violence disproportionately against black Americans. While many policies related to policing and mass incarceration happen at the local level, the militarization of police has been promulgated by federal policies.

At issue is the Pentagon’s so-called 1033 program, which allows police to obtain military surplus equipment from the Defense Department. Among the gear that’s been transferred over the years are grenade launchers, armored troop carriers, M16 rifles, and helicopters. And while it’s difficult to find data on the Minneapolis PD specifically, the Star Tribune reported six years ago that police in Minnesota had received about $25 million in defense hardware. (It’s worth pointing out that not all of the military-grade equipment used by law enforcement comes from the Pentagon—some of it is privately purchased by the departments themselves.)

The result has been the creeping militarization of our police. This trend made national headlines in 2014 after cops in Ferguson, Missouri, used armored vehicles to suppress riots sparked by the death of Michael Brown. That next year, President Obama signed an executive order that stopped the Pentagon from transferring some hardware to police departments. This forced Ferguson to send back, among other things, two Humvee armored trucks.

Alas, President Trump reversed Obama’s order in 2017, allowing Pentagon equipment to proliferate once again. So now we have another episode of police brutality, this one courtesy of a simple knee to the neck. But that only raises the question: if police are human like the rest of us, and if all it takes for them to kill is a little bodily force, shouldn’t we refrain from upping the ante with, say, grenades? Shouldn’t the balance between guardian and ward be evener than that, lest it instead become a balance between bully and victim? Isn’t an armored truck a barrier to the kind of involved community policing we should be encouraging? And can anyone seriously say that the presence of military equipment in Ferguson all those years ago did more good than harm?

The looting and burning that took place in Minneapolis last night was senseless, no question. But the solution is not to turn the police into an occupying army. Such powers of last resort force are better left to an impermanent force like the National Guard, which Minneapolis’s mayor said he was calling in.

After Reconstruction, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act, which provided that it “shall not be lawful to employ any part of the Army of the United States, as a posse comitatus, or otherwise, for the purpose of executing the laws, except in such cases and under such circumstances as such employment of said force may be expressly authorized by the Constitution or by act of Congress.” That law has plenty of loopholes and blurs. It doesn’t cover the Navy or Marines (though other statutes do); it also doesn’t restrain the lawful deployment of the National Guard. Yet its spirit is worth preserving. The military and the police should be kept distinct, one for overseas combat, the other for domestic enforcement. To give the latter the destructive potential of the former is to vault over a very important line.

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Podcast: John Kiriakou, Empire Has No Clothes Episode 4

He blew the whistle on torture and went from the CIA to prison. Man, he hates hypocrites.

John Kiriakou had a stellar career in the CIA and on Capitol Hill until he spoke the truth. He was the first to talk about the CIA’s waterboarding techniques publicly and call it torture. For that, the federal government made sure he paid, and he did, with two years in prison beginning in 2013.

For Episode 4 of Empire Has No Clothes, my co-hosts Matt Purple and Daniel Larison and I talk to Kiriakou about the CIA’s torture practices during the Global War on Terror, his daily gig at (Russian!) Sputnik radio, Washington hypocrites, and Julian Assange. In the first segment we talk about how cozy defense contractors, especially Raytheon, seem to be in the Trump White House.

Listen to the episode in the player below, or click the links beneath it to subscribe using your favorite podcast app. If you like what you hear, please give us a rating or review on iTunes or Stitcher, which will really help us climb the rankings, allowing more people to find the show.

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Benched by Trump, Former Pentagon Watchdog Resigns

Had he not been removed by Trump in April, Fine would have overseen $2 trillion in coronavirus relief spending.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, looks on as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

At the beginning of April, President Donald Trump removed the acting watchdog charged with overseeing the $2 trillion in new coronavirus relief spending, Glenn Fine. Trump also removed Fine as acting Pentagon watchdog. The Trump administration did not give a reason for his removal. On Tuesday, Fine announced his resignation.

His last day will be June 1, according to an email he sent employees, reports Politico.

“The role of Inspectors General is a strength of our system of government,” Fine said. “They provide independent oversight to help improve government operations in a transparent way. They are a vital component of our system of checks and balances, and I am grateful to have been part of that system.”

“After many years in the DoJ and DoD OIGs, I believe the time has come for me to step down and allow others to perform this vital role,” he said. “I wish the men and women of the DoD OIG and the Inspector General Community continued success in these important responsibilities.”

In April, Trump replaced Fine as the Pentagon’s acting inspector general, and Fine returned to his post in the inspector general’s office.

In March, President Donald Trump fired Michael Atkinson from his post as inspector general of the intelligence community; he also replaced Steve Linick as State Department watchdog.

White House sources said in April that Trump would be firing seven inspectors general “in one fell swoop.” Trump said he wanted “his own people in those positions now” and would be firing IGs appointed by either President Obama or a previous administration. So far, those firings haven’t happened.

Democratic lawmakers blamed Trump for Fine’s resignation Tuesday.

“There can be no doubt that this is a direct result of President Trump’s actions,” wrote Chair of the House Oversight Committee Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), in a statement.

The Ukraine whistleblower’s attorney Mark Zaid tweeted,“I hope Fine will publicly speak up.”

Had Fine not been removed by Trump in April, he would have had the authority to conduct multiple layers of oversight over a panel of inspectors general charged with investigating any aspect of the implementation of the $2 trillion in new coronavirus spending.

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Grenell Dumps Trove of Russia, Flynn Docs on Way Out of DNI

One of these documents is 'very significant in understanding how intelligence was manipulated to support' Russia investigation.

Trump's outgoing acting DNI Richard Grenell. Credit: photocosmos1/Shutterstock

On his way out the door as acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell declassified a slew of new Russia probe documents, including transcripts of phone calls that then-incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak had in December 2016, Fox News reports.

During the transition to the Trump administration, Flynn’s calls with the former Russian ambassador Kislyak were surveilled, and then information about the calls was leaked. In response to growing public pressure, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., asked Grenell publicly last week to declassify those phone calls.

Grenell did so Tuesday. He also completed the declassification review of other documents that could shed light on the origins of the Russia probe.

According to a senior intelligence official, one of these documents is “very significant in understanding how intelligence was manipulated to support launching the Russia investigation,” reports Fox News.

But whether the public ever gets to see these documents will be up to John Ratcliffe, who was sworn in as Director of National Intelligence on Tuesday.

Grenell previously declassified a list of Obama officials who requested the unmasking of Flynn during the presidential transition period. On the list of high-ranking officials that requested the unmasking were then-Vice President Joe Biden, then-FBI Director James Comey, then-CIA Director John Brennan, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.

Earlier this month, Grenell had cleared more than 6,000 pages of transcripts of interviews from the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation. The transcripts, which Schiff released, showed that top Obama officials had told the Committee they knew of no “empirical evidence” of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election.

Grenell, who was simultaneously serving as U.S. ambassador to Germany,  also declassified more than three dozen previously redacted footnotes from the Department of Justice inspector general’s report that found there were “serious problems” with the dossier sources the intelligence community used during the Russia investigation.

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YouTube Appears to be Auto-Deleting Comments Critical of Chinese Communists

A phrase meaning "communist bandit" and another referring to online censors have disappeared from the platform

(By Uladzik Kryhin/Shutterstock)

There are occasional indications that Google’s relationship with China is sinister rather than merely naive or unprincipled. While the search giant may have abandoned Dragonfly, a censored search engine for the Chinese market, it appears they are bringing PRC-style censorship to its Western products like YouTube.

Wesley Yang tried it and the comment was instantly deleted:

A spokesman provided TAC with the statement that, “This appears to be an error in our enforcement systems and we are investigating,” though the Verge notes these deletions have been criticized for at least six months. The speed at which the comments are being deleted suggests that it is definitely automatic, but whether these words have been added to a blacklist, similar to their domain-level blacklists for their special search products, is still unclear.

However this happened, it is surely unwelcome news for the company, and will not help them head off the antitrust probe by state attorneys general and the lawsuit reportedly being drafted by the Justice Department. While the question of how accommodating they are to the preferences of the Chinese government does not directly bear on the antitrust question, an investigation could yield information that might confirm the worst fears of Google critics.

There has been speculation for a year or so about the extent to which Google may be infiltrated by China. Alex Stamos, head of security at Facebook, thinks it’s very possible. Three editions of Google’s internal microaggressions newsletter, excerpts of which I reported on for the Daily Caller last year, contained a few incidents that point to substantial pro-PRC sentiment within the company. A Taiwanese flag in one Lego display was vandalized. Protests against Dragonfly were reported as racist—a striking example of social justice rhetoric providing cover for authoritarian regimes, a phenomenon the Australians know well. And this complaint:

“There’s been a recent thread on a Google group about Google entering the China ecosystem. Many Google employees have debated their values and opinions on whether or not we should enter the market. However, there are many others that see China as an oppressed country that do not provide basic human rights to their citizens and are not open to truly hearing the other half of the discourse. When faced with earnest comments from other (predominantly Chinese) coworkers, one particular person had claimed that since they had Chinese friends and in-laws, they understood how morally incorrect it was to engage with the Chinese government in business deals. If someone had prefaced their opinions with ‘I have [race] friends, therefore…’, the community would have been infuriated. Moreover, this person disclosed that they are on the hiring community and are now going to question why people want to join Google now that this information is publicly reported. Claiming to be heavily biased towards an implied race of people makes me deeply uncomfortable about our hiring committee and the fact that this person felt confident enough to announce this in our (internal, but basically) public forum.”

You see what’s going on here, don’t you? According to Google’s own transparency reports, the Chinese government had never made a takedown request on the grounds of hate speech before 2018. In the first half of 2019, hate speech-related takedown requests constituted 29 percent of the 133 made. I suppose it’s possible that the CCP has increased its level of concern for nasty things foreigners are saying about them on platforms one can’t even access in mainland China. But it’s more likely that they’ve figured out an easy way to manipulate useful idiots in the West.

Update: This also seems relevant.

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The Weakness of ‘Maximum Pressure’

An Iranian tanker delivered some gasoline to Venezuela this week, and this is how the report in The New York Times framed the event:

Venezuela needs gasoline and has gold. Iran has oil but needs cash. Both Venezuela and Iran are eager to punch back at the Trump administration. And the U.S. government, distracted by the coronavirus pandemic and having already issued harsh sanctions, is left with few retaliatory options beyond military intervention [bold mine-DL].

The U.S. is already strangling both Venezuela and Iran through economic warfare, so the idea that the U.S. would be “retaliating” against the two countries when they seek to trade with each other is bizarre. Two countries that our government has targeted with cruel and unnecessary sanctions have found a limited way to cooperate in an effort to stave off some of the worst effects of economic war, but somehow in the news reporting this is taken as a transgression that calls for punishment and “retaliation.” The warped and false assumption that the U.S. has the right to do any of this is simply taken for granted. The U.S. has any number of options available here that don’t involve attacking other countries for engaging in commerce, but because they aren’t punitive and militarized they are treated as if they don’t exist. It is no wonder that our foreign policy is always biased in favor of “action” when even supposedly straight news stories present a small oil shipment to an impoverished country as something that demands a U.S. response.

There have been other ludicrous overreactions to the handful of Iranian tankers heading towards Venezuela in the news reporting in the last week. The most comical may have been the Wall Street Journal’s claim that Iran’s trade with Venezuela represents a challenge to the Monroe Doctrine:

Iran’s burgeoning efforts to build a trading and political outpost in Latin America present a challenge to the U.S.’s nearly two-century-old Monroe Doctrine, which opposes international interference in the Western Hemisphere.

The WSJ article misrepresents the Monroe Doctrine and it also fuels the absurd notion that commerce between two much weaker states poses some kind of threat to the U.S. The Monroe Doctrine did not say that other states could not trade with other countries in this hemisphere, and it wasn’t a rejection of other states having normal or even close diplomatic relations with them. It was a statement that affirmed U.S. respect for the sovereignty and independence of our neighbors, and it opposed any attempt by European powers to deprive the new countries in this hemisphere of their independence and form of government. The Monroe Doctrine was above all a declaration of noninterference in the affairs of our neighbors, but for more than a century it has been abused and turned into a license to interfere. If there is anyone violating the Monroe Doctrine in Venezuela right now, it is the U.S. government itself.

It is predictable that two countries that the U.S. is trying to strangle into submission would seek to work together, especially when Iran can’t trade with its neighbors as easily because of pandemic restrictions. Iran and Venezuela had good relations before now, so it is not surprising that they would want to improve those relations as they are cut off from other markets by senseless and destructive U.S. policies. The limited nature of their cooperation should also remind us that neither of them poses a real threat to the U.S. Our government’s obsession with regime change in both places is a function of a very warped foreign policy debate that privileges the preferences of exiles and ideologues over the interests of the United States. Tens of millions of innocent Venezuelans and Iranians are forced to undergo greater hardship and deprivation for the sake of indulging those obsessions. These are shameful and ugly policies, and the sooner they are ended the better off everyone will be.

As if to highlight the absurdity of the administration’s Venezuela and Iran policies, an administration official recently declared that the U.S. would not tolerate Iran’s “continued meddling in Venezuelan affairs.” The U.S. is working to depose the Venezuelan government and replace it with another, but we’re supposed to believe that a few Iranian tankers that Venezuela wants constitute “meddling” in their affairs. The administration’s propagandists are either getting very lazy, or they have started to believe their own fantasies. Nothing could better illustrate the bankruptcy and weakness of the administration’s Venezuela and Iran policies than their public hand-wringing over a few shipments between two states that don’t pose any threat to us.

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Turns Out Saudi Arms Deals Won’t Add a ‘Million’ Jobs to U.S. Economy

They even send jobs overseas, but who's paying attention to details?

US President Donald Trump (R) holds a defense sales chart with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House on March 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week I wrote about how Peter Navarro has not only been President Trump’s point man for his new tough China policy but has been serving longer as an interlocutor for the defense industry in the White House. According to new reports he was able to thwart attempts to stop a lucrative Saudi arms sales in 2017, convincing the president that “thousands of jobs” at defense giant Raytheon would be lost as a result.

More recently, TAC and other outlets have reported that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo might have been the target of an IG investigation into his 2019 role in declaring an “emergency” in order to thwart, again, Congressional attempts to stop $8 billion worth of arms sales to the Saudi Kingdom and the UAE for the purposes of fueling their war against the Houthis in Yemen.

There have been two rationales for these arm sales all along: one, they maintain and/or increase jobs for Americans. Two, they are being used to challenge Iranian influence in the region, as the Houthis are ostensibly backed by Tehran. The Saudis and Emiratis, supported by billions in U.S. weaponry, refueling, and targeting assistance, are really the victims in need of defending here, so the story does.

But two reports this week show how fragile these rationale are and why we should we should remain vigilant in our skepticism, even as 40 million Americans now are out of work.

First, William Hartung at the Center for International Policy has a report out that throws a bit of cold water on President Trump’s claims that the Saudi arms sales that he cooked up with Saudi crown prince  Mohammad bin Salman will create “over a million jobs.” But his letters of intent signed in May 2017 for $110 billion aren’t the same as what is actually authorized by Congress. Hartung estimates that arms sales that have actually gone through since 2017 have likely only created 20,000 to 40,000 new jobs a year among the major defense companies, “or less than one-tenth of President Trump’s highest claims of employment tied to U.S. arms sales to the regime in Riyadh,” writes Hartung.

Furthermore, and this is key, he found that despite the $85.1 billion total arms sales in 2019, 10 percent involved licenses for production overseas, which means that many of the jobs that were created, were overseas, not here. His extensive report is worth a closer look. 

It is difficult to nail down just how many defense jobs were added under Trump since 2016. The Aerospace Industries Association seems to have the most comprehensive numbers, but the last total they posted publicly was that there were 370,084 defense-related design and manufacturing jobs in the U.S. as of 2016. The group has issued workforce studies each year since, but they are only available on request. The New York Times says that “arms industry association” organizations say the number of defense jobs has risen 3.5 percent in the last three years to about 880,000, but “the numbers, the most recent available, do not specify how many were in manufacturing.”

That is not to say that as the arms sales have increased under Trump (according to The Times, $51 billion to $36 billion a year under Obama) there hasn’t been more jobs added. According to this January 2020 Reuters report, for example, top federal contractor Lockheed Martin surged 15 percent to 102,800 jobs since 2016, mostly because of the F-35, according to this report. 

In addition, according to  Defense One, defense companies are actually adding thousands of jobs during Coronavirus, thanks in part to the Pentagon’s shift to Asia. Reporter Marcus Weisgerber suggests it likely has to do with the $76 billion in classified projects he wrote about in October, which would include secret aircraft, space, and missile projects. Whether escalating a new war, on top of the ones we’re still enmeshed in in the Middle East, is worth it, is certainly up for debate (as Ryan Girdusky has pointed out here at TAC, there are plenty of non-war sectors Trump could be focusing taxpayer resources right now to help boost the economy, but hasn’t yet). One wonders too, how much of the companies’ rosy employment forecasts are for shareholder benefit, and how much is steeped in real hiring.

Secondly, CNN  is reporting today that the U.S. government is clearing the way for new arms sales to the UAE after its own investigation into reports that our weapons were falling into the hands of Al Qaeda-linked extremists. This would mean that in our continued insistence to support the Gulf State monarchies in their regional war against the Houthis in Yemen, we have essentially armed militants linked to Al Qaeda, the very extremists behind the 9/11 attacks on America.  CNN’s own report last year was exhaustive, and so compelling the State Department put further sales on hold. 

Nonetheless, the war machine is not to be stopped (and no doubt Navarro is already assembling the jobs rationale). According to CNN Friday: 

While the probe concluded earlier this year, its findings have not been made public. But multiple government officials on both sides of the aisle and within the administration told CNN that the UAE has now been cleared.

The State Department has told some leaders in Congress that it is “satisfied no actual transfers were made,” and has “made sure the UAE fully appreciates the letter of their agreements” with the US, another source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN.

With that assurance, the lawmakers gave their blessing to a new proposed sale of US military hardware to the UAE, the source said.

It is time to stop taking the jobs and geo-political rationales at face value. Yemen is a cholera-infested crater thanks to our bombs, but despite that, the UAE has backed out and the Saudis are begging for a cease fire because they’ve gotten their butts handed to them by the much under-armed Houthis. Meanwhile we see thousands of defense manufacturing jobs going overseas and the actual defense jobs attached to these controversial arms sales much lower than advertised. Keep your eyes open and support members of Congress who are actually asking the right questions.

 

 

 

 

 

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Podcast: Right Now Episode 3, Conspiracy Theories, School Prayer, and Rep. Jim Banks on China

The congressman from Indiana joins Right Now

On this edition of Right Now, Rep. Jim Banks joins the hosts to talk about what’s being done to confront China. Also, the Atlantic’s conspiracy series and which ones your hosts unironically believe. In the intro, hydroxychloroquine and school prayer.

19:15: Interview with Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) on China
42:55: The Atlantic’s new series on conspiracy theories

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