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China is Taking Afghanistan—at U.S. Expense

Americans didn’t fight and die in Afghanistan so China could extract its copper.

The Chinese military is conducting joint operations with the Pakistanis and Afghan security forces along the Chinese border, according to recent reports. The targets are jihadist elements, particularly a budding presence of Islamic State and other like-minded groups operating in Afghanistan. China’s goal is to curb terrorist threats that may emanate from Afghanistan and be directed against China’s Xinjiang Province.

The Pentagon is fully aware of China’s presence in Afghanistan. But this isn’t good news. Fact is, the 15-year war in Central Asia isn’t going well the United States. China’s ascent in Afghanistan simply underscores the extent of America’s troubles there. Our loss is China’s gain.

China’s western border is threatened by jihadist terrorism, just as America is threatened. So it makes sense that Americans and the Chinese would align to fight terrorists in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the Chinese are conducting these limited counterterrorism missions with the Pakistanis, against American interests. Improving cooperation between China and Pakistan means increasing tensions with India, which has been in unceasing conflict with Pakistan for much of the past 50 years.

By operating in tandem with Afghan security forces, the Chinese further pull Afghanistan away from Washington’s wobbling political orbit and closer to Beijing. This will allow the Chinese to secure their economic interests in Afghanistan, at America’s expense.

In the early days of the war in Afghanistan, the United States sought allies to assist in defeating the terrorist scourge—not only al Qaeda, but also the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, to name only a few. China, despite an increasingly restive Uighur Muslim population concentrated in far-off Xinjiang, consistently refused to provide any kind of support to the U.S. war effort in Central Asia. The Chinese, perhaps not unreasonably, had no interest in contributing large sums of money and resources on the Bush Administration’s quixotic attempt to turn Kabul into the Paris of the Hindu-Kush.

Instead, China sat back and watched the carnage unfold. They let the Americans over-commit to its hubristic mission in Afghanistan. Even though the United States was able to push al Qaeda and the Taliban out of key strategic areas of Afghanistan, it failed to destroy either. Instead, both groups fled to neighboring Pakistan, where they relied on ethno-religious ties with local tribes (mostly the Pashtun) to protect them.

Around 2010, China made its first deal . . . with the Taliban! Chinese foreign policy is a bit more utilitarian and mercantilistic than America’s tends to be. The Chinese do things based on hard-headed calculations of ends-and-means. For Chinese policymakers, the first goal is to sustain their country’s meteoric rise. If they cannot, people will protest and the Chinese Communist Party will lose its grip on power. Thus, acquiring scores of natural resources is essential.

Turns out, Afghanistan—despite being a rocky, mountainous country split by tribalism and ruled in the hinterlands by warlords—is chock full of valuable natural resources. It may not possess oil, but, it does possess copper and other rare minerals that a country like China desperately needs.

China recently gained approval from the Taliban to begin extracting from the country’s largest copper mine, Mes Aynak. This is the start of major Chinese investment in Afghanistan’s natural resources. The fact that the Chinese went to the Taliban (who control the mine) is telling, too. Make no mistake: it is widely assumed that the Taliban will retake Afghanistan—if not entirely, then at least partially—once U.S. and NATO forces leave. The Chinese, Russians, and Pakistanis have been preparing accordingly: making deals, operating alongside of, and buttressing the growing Taliban power in the periphery of Afghanistan.

But the Chinese have also taken it upon themselves to begin training Afghan security forces and working more closely with the Afghan national government in Kabul. While regional experts, such as Franz Stefan-Grady, say greater Chinese involvement in Afghanistan is a good thing for the country’s stabilization, I suspect that this is less about the greater good and more about pragmatism.

China wants to gain a monopoly over any natural resources in Afghanistan. Beijing also wants to ensure the chaos in Afghanistan does not spill over into China. So the Chinese will support any group that will assist them in their efforts for greater commerce and greater security.

The fact that the Chinese are working with Afghan security forces along their border does not negate their willingness to work with the Taliban at the Mes Aynak copper mine (and elsewhere). If the experts are thinking that China will do anything truly substantive to combat the Taliban, they are dead wrong.

Truth is, China has been a consistent free rider in Afghanistan. It has benefited commercially from the country while investing little in actually stabilizing it. Instead China has left that expensive and seemingly impossible task to the United States.

During last year’s presidential election, Donald Trump excoriated the George W. Bush Administration for not having taken Iraq’s oil to pay for the Iraq War. He similarly lambasted the Obama Administration for allowing ISIS to exploit Iraqi oil for its war effort. He believed that if America was to go to war in the Mideast or Central Asia (in Afghanistan’s case)—sacrificing so much toil and treasure—it should have been understood that America would take the oil until the war debt was repaid. He vowed to do something similar should he have to involve the United States in another costly war in the Muslim world during his presidency.

Well, there is already a costly war going on—in Afghanistan. The Trump Administration should consider seizing the copper mines (and other resource rich areas) in the name of the United States. The goal should be to develop those resources until the nearly $1 trillion war debt from the war in Afghanistan is paid down. Or, the United States should simply sell access to those assets and recoup its financial losses that way. Why should the Chinese benefit from our sacrifice in the mountains of Afghanistan?

If the Chinese wanted their share, they should have committed to the war effort. We have spent 15 years attempting to “stabilize” Afghanistan—yet the threat remains. In fact, it has intensified over the past eight years. With Pakistan, Russia, and now China all piling on (not to mention ISIS inserting itself in Afghanistan recently), America needs to recoup some of its losses.

The Trump Administration shouldn’t allow China, of all places, to profit from our war in Afghanistan. If any foreign power is going to profit from those resources, it should be America.

America • Center for American Greatness • China • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • History • Trump White House

China Just Blinked In Korea

In the aftermath of the assassination of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, and the brutal murder of several highly placed North Korean leaders, Kim Jong-un has signaled to his Chinese benefactors that he cares little for their opinion. You see, these people were associated with China. In fact, it was assumed that Kim Jong-nam was a potential replacement for the increasingly unstable Kim Jong-un. These developments come on the heels of a series of North Korean missile tests indicating that the North is intent on developing their long-range capabilities.

It is believed that within the next two years North Korea will have the requisite knowledge to launch missiles at the United States’ Pacific coastline. Under such conditions, the United States and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) are poised to conduct another round of their joint military drills. These drills are an annual exercise that tests the interoperability of American and South Korean forces in wartime conditions. Historically, these drills send the North Koreans into an unbridled rage.

In this morass, finally, the Chinese have stepped forward. They have offered to broker a deal whereby the United States and South Korea will not conduct the annual military exercises in exchange for China getting North Korea to abandon pursuit of its nuclear weapons. While it is clear that Kim Jong-un’s mania has finally caused China’s spine to stiffen, there is little doubt that this proposal is also the result of increasing uncertainty as to how the new Trump Administration will react to North Korea’s repeated provocations.

We should all be glad that China has at last decided to take its promise to rein in North Korea more seriously. Unfortunately for China, however, they ought to have been more solicitous of this promise sooner; at least a decade ago. Now, Chinese calls for a deal ring hollow. Where were they when the George W. Bush Administration allowed for the Six-Party Talks to spearhead the resolution of the North Korean nuclear situation? Where were the Chinese when the Kim Regime successfully tested a rudimentary nuclear weapon? Oh, that’s right: the Chinese were bankrolling the mad regime!

Are the Chinese really getting tougher on North Korea?

First, getting the United States and the South Koreans to stand down from a vital defensive exercise is not “getting tough” with North Korea. Should the Trump Administration take this diplomatic bait, all that will occur is the telegraphing to North Korea by the United States that it is not serious in protecting its interests on the Korean Peninsula. Kim Jong-un would thus be induced to perpetrate even more grandiose gestures against the West. The mere appearance of Chinese cooperation should not be enough to sway us.. There must be real movement.

Second, the Chinese may be setting the stage for a regime change in the North. But, don’t let this prospect go to your head: the Chinese are never going to support a unified, democratic Korean peninsula. More likely they are going to replace the manic Kim Jong-un with a Chinese stooge who will keep “stability” in the North-South dynamic (read, continue oppressing the North Koreans and threatening the South). That’s like replacing Adolf Hitler with Walter Ulbricht. Not much of an improvement, if you ask me (certainly not an improvement from Seoul’s perspective).

On top of not wanting a unified, democratic, pro-American Korean peninsula, the Chinese want to prevent a refugee wave from besieging their border. If a full-scale regime change followed on by unification were to take place, China’s border would become inundated with North Koreans fleeing the chaos. The Chinese view this as potentially destabilizing. Thus, the Chinese are very keen for another pro-China strongman to rule over North Korea.

As the great geopolitical analyst, Robert Kaplan points out in his book, Monsoon, the Korean conflict is the last vestige of the Cold War; it is a frozen conflict, from a forgotten war. The world—and especially the Korean people—needs to move on from this conflict.

Allowing the Chinese to resolve anything in this campaign will only lead to an entirely new set of security dilemmas for the United States. The Chinese long-term goals are to push the United States out of the Asia-Pacific entirely. We simply have too many interests in that region of the world to be seen yielding on this. Letting the Chinese take the lead in this area will not be conducive to America’s long-term interests.

To be fair, the Chinese overture is a positive sign that something constructive can be done. However, the Trump Administration must not take this deal at face value. The only path forward is for the United States to increase its presence on the Korean peninsula while encouraging both the South Koreans and the Japanese (the countries most threatened by North Korean brinkmanship) to expand their military capabilities. Indeed, the United States should encourage both Japan and South Korea to develop nuclear arsenals of their own, in much the same way that America allowed for Israel to develop its own arsenal. That would be the ultimate check against North Korea.

Also, the idea that the North will remain separated from the South, is absurd. The Koreans are a singular people. Whatever happens, the great powers of the world must ensure that the country remains unified under Seoul’s rule.

Of course, what I am talking about is not nation-building of the sort that pursued by the George W. Bush Administration in either Iraq or Afghanistan. I am talking about a concert of powers (the United States, China, South Korea, and North Korea, for instance) coordinating an equitable post-Kim Regime settlement. While the United States can—and should—assist its South Korean partners in any unification, the South must do the heavy-lifting on its own.

The United States should make clear that under any unification strategy, the Chinese would have a serious role to play. America must respect and address China’s own concerns about having a unified, democratic Korean peninsula along their border. Any attempt to cut China out of a unification settlement on the Korean Peninsula would doom Sino-American relations.

This recent Chinese overture must be understood as an opening bid, not a fait accompli. The U.S.-ROK military drill should continue lest China does something more meaningful. A comprehensive agreement for ending the North-South conflict that has torn Korea apart for decades must be forged. The Trump Administration should refuse to discontinue any joint military exercise (or do anything that might weaken the South Korean position) unless China gets the North to completely abandon its nuclear program. The North must also open itself up to U.S. weapons inspections. It must demilitarize. Furthermore, if the North does not open itself up to trade, then there will be no change in U.S.-South Korean military relations. Of course, the North will not make these changes—even if China were to change leaders in the North.

Make no mistake, China just blinked. America must take advantage of this. A unified Korean peninsula is the only long-term solution to this problem. China will have to recognize this. Otherwise, there will be a forcible reunification of Korea without Chinese input. This will not be salutary to China’s long-term strategic interests.


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Deficits Do Matter

When former Vice President Dick Cheney nonchalantly quipped to former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill that “deficits don’t matter,” every fiscal conservative and anti-war liberal set their proverbial hair on fire. Under President George W. Bush, a modest surplus left behind by his predecessor was spent away on ill-advised entitlement programs, the mismanaged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a retinue of other policies that should have never been tried in the first place. Budget deficits arise when spending is higher than revenue collected each year (in the form of taxes). The national debt is, in part, the accumulation of those budget deficits.

Under President Barack Obama, federal spending increased to historic levels. Obama spent more than all 43 U.S. presidents who came before him. By Obama’s second term, the national debt came to match the entire U.S. economy. Today, borrowing stands at $19.5 trillion and counting. Compare that to the size of the second-largest economy in the world (according to GDP), China, which tops $9.24 trillion. Not only does our economy outstrip China’s, but our debt burden is also larger than the entire Chinese economy!


Think about it this way: U.S. GDP is roughly $17 trillion. Under President Trump, it is expected to grow significantly. Yet, the debt burden will continue to outpace this incredible level unless the Trump Administration does something it has refused to discuss on the campaign trail: address the problems of entitlements and defense spending.

To some on the Right, the U.S. government is nothing but one, big, green military jobs program. There isn’t a job that the Pentagon cannot do and there certainly should not be a cap on what money is spent on the Defense Department. Never mind the endless amount of waste that the Pentagon commits. I suppose we should ignore the positive correlation between the size of the Pentagon bureaucracy and the increase in inefficiency. It’s the image that matters, right? As a friend of mine who works in the Pentagon recently remarked, “The DoD has become nothing more than yet another federal jobs program.” Cuts can—and must—be made there.

For the Left, the welfare state is the holy grail of public policy. It is the primary pillar that the modern Democratic Party is built upon. But that pillar has been slowly crumbling beneath the weight of retiring Baby Boomers (and, since Boomers did not reproduce in sufficient numbers, the subsequent dearth of young workers to make up for the strain that the Boomers, as they retire, are placing on the system).

Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid account for 77 percent of America’s spending. Even without the over $1 trillion spent thus far on the Iraq and Afghan Wars, the Big Three entitlement programs are killing America’s economy.

But, let’s face it: the real economic killer is the intensive government spending on non-defense policies.

Donald Trump was the only Republican in the 2016 campaign who refused to attack the entitlement system. This was a smart move. People like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker or Senator Ted Cruz of Texas had made touching the “third rail” of politics a core theme of their campaigns. This had the effect of scaring the elderly and unnecessarily giving the Left ammunition to use against the Republicans (mainly, the Left could convincingly, if erroneously, claim that the Right wanted throw grandma off of a cliff).

Trump’s refusal to offer an open critique of the entitlement system during the campaign enraged his Republican opponents. It also sent chills down the spines of the Left, as the Democrats could not use their preferred attacks against a Republican candidate; they couldn’t pigeonhole Trump as the irresponsible government slasher who was beholden to the wealthy (that was Hillary, actually). This sort of pragmatism should not have been shocking to anyone, though. Remember, Trump aggravated the Right during the primary in Iowa when he took the campaign pledge to ensure that Iowa farmers remained federally subsidized to grow crops for use in ethanol production.

That was smart politics. It kept pressure off of the Trump campaign and allowed the Trump team to continue taking the fight to his critics. Do you remember the famous Tea Party townhalls in 2009 and 2010? Do you remember the much-ballyhooed elderly gentlemen waving the sign, “Keep your government hands off of my Medicare”? While that man was mocked by the elites on both the Right and Left, his statement signified something powerful: that the populist movement taking hold across America, while opposed to Obamacare and excessive government overreach, refused to let go of their benefits from the Big Three entitlement programs.

To these people, it was their right; they had, after all, paid their hard-earned tax dollars into the system. Of course, the system was bankrupted long before those protests began.

If you are an elderly person today and are dependent upon Social Security payments, then you have likely witnessed a serious decline in your standard of living. Why? Because the federal government has routinely pilfered funds set aside for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and used them for other purposes (robbing Peter today to pay Paul tomorrow). This is to say nothing of how Obamacare gutted Medicare, or how the Obama “middle-class tax cuts” drastically reduced the funding for Social Security.

President Trump needs to recognize that no matter how much job creation and prosperity he can foster in the short-term, it will all have been naught should the debt continue increasing at the rate that it has been these last eight years. As the Chinese finance minister warned Treasury Secretary Hank Paulsen in 2008, America’s debt has become a strategic liability for the United States (and for any country doing business with us).

The only way that the Trump Administration can avoid leaving a steaming bag of excrement for future generations is to make the case for serious reform in the entitlement system and for responsible defense cuts. What most Americans are paying into these entitlement systems is far higher than whatever they’re going to get in return. This is particularly true of my generation (the Millennials).

No other Republican has the standing required to make this argument with a large chunk of the American people (particularly Baby Boomers, who decide elections and policies in this country). Trump may be the only leader who can responsibly reform entitlement and defense spending. What’s more, Trump not being a typical ideologue means that he can address these problems in a meaningful way. While it is unlikely that he can address these issues in the next six months (he has to focus on Obamacare repeal and tax reform), the Trump Administration must begin orienting itself toward addressing the staggering debt load that this country has created for itself.

Significant reform and cuts to both defense and entitlement spending is the only thing that will reduce our public debt load. Should President Trump simply punt on this issue, I can assure you, resolving it will be untenable. Eventually, that ticking debt bomb will detonate—and all of us end up paying for it. President Trump is the only man who can prevent such a stark future from happening.

Deficits really do matter. They add to the national debt, which, as we’ve seen, is a ticking time bomb. We must, therefore, address deficit spending by reforming the way that the government spends the tax dollars that it collects each year. We’ve put off the reckoning for too long. President Trump has a singular opportunity to make a deal that would lower our deficit, reduce the national debt, and make our entitlement system and Department of Defense actually perform the functions they’re meant to do.

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China Doesn’t Want a Better Deal

Donald J. Trump campaigned on a platform that he was going to make the greatest deals imaginable for the United States. According to this view, he rightly criticized the way that China has cheated the United States. In fact, he appointed Peter Navarro to be the head of the White House National Trade Council. In 2012, Navarro made waves for his brilliant documentary on how China has undercut U.S. interests through ceaseless economic warfare. Trump is keenly aware of China’s recent military moves aimed at undermining the American presence in the South China Sea and Southeast Asia.

Shortly after Trump’s election, one of his first acts was to break with diplomatic protocol and accept a congratulatory phone call with the pro-independence Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. This move sent the Chinese Politburo into a rage not seen since before the Nixon Administration. It was a glorious thing to behold.

In taking that call, Trump opened up for question whether the United States will maintain the status quo in the Sino-American relationship. When people talk of  “stability” in this context what they really mean is that America should be bound to accept the so-called “One-China Policy.”

The One-China Policy was a strategic formulation embraced by the Carter Administration. In order to keep China aligned with the West during the heady days of the Cold War, U.S. policymakers placated China by no longer recognizing Taiwan’s government. The government of Taiwan was run by the Chinese nationalists of the Guomindang Party. This was the same group who had lost China in the civil war with the Communists led by Mao Tse-tung. At the end of the civil war, the Guomindang escaped across the Taiwan Strait and established themselves on Taiwan. They claimed to be the legitimate government of China-in-exile. The United States recognized them as such until the Carter Administration.

As former Nixon aide Bruce Herschensohn wrote in his 2006 book, Taiwan: The Threatened Democracy, Jimmy Carter wanted to solidify the ties that Nixon had first formed with China. Thus, President Carter recognized the Communist government in Beijing as the official government of China. Under this approach, while the United States would not allow for Taiwan to be forcibly reintegrated with the mainland, it would also no longer recognize Taiwan as a fully sovereign state. This reality has persisted for decades. With Trump, many believed the paradigm would return to the pre-Carter assumptions.

The Chinese stratagem of slowly eroding one’s adversary was already underway by the time the Carter Administration consented to Chinese demands over Taiwan. Taiwan was China’s ultimate prize. For years, the United States had considered Taiwan to be, in the words of General Douglas MacArthur “America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier.” Taiwan was a constant thorn in China’s side. It left the mainland vulnerable. The Chinese government was going to do whatever it took to regain control over this rebellious land. To the Chinese, Taiwan was nothing more than a breakaway province. Indeed, most Chinese leaders will tell Westerners that they view Taiwan as Abraham Lincoln viewed the American South: rebels who needed to be brought to heel.

But this is not the American Civil War. What’s more, unlike the Confederate States of America, the Taiwanese government is not seeking to protect an oligarchic economy predicated on chattel slavery. Taiwan is a liberal capitalist democracy that has been bullied and threatened by larger and more violent neighbors (not unlike Israel). Taiwain is, as Herschensohn accurately called the island, “the threatened democracy.”

Even in spite of recognizing China’s Communist Party as the only government of China, America has maintained its close military alliance with Taiwan. Indeed, in 1996, the United States rushed aircraft carriers to Taiwan’s defense when China seemed poised to strike militarily against Taiwan. In 1996, China was upset that Taiwan was slated to elect its most pro-independence government in years, so they decided to try and push the Taiwanese away from the pro-independence movement through a show of force. The Clinton Administration intervened to protect Taiwan’s democratic freedoms. This move infuriated the Chinese and set them down the path of intense resistance toward America’s regional hegemony.

Although the United States has a multitude of shared economic interests with China, those interests have declined over the last decade. Further, as I have noted, the Chinese likely have been using Free Trade as a weapon against the United States at least for the last 30 years. Even now, as America’s economic relationship with China has naturally changed, America’s military alliance and democratic bond with Taiwan remains as strong as it ever has been.

Also, China’s economy has been contracting since the 2008 Great Recession. This, coupled with the decline in demand from the emerging markets, has exacerbated their economic decline. While China’s economy may be far away from actual collapse, the fact is that they are not the economic behemoth they once were. Indeed, as their economy has rapidly modernized, they are now at a point where they must make the pivot from a developing, predominantly manufacturing economy to a modern one (or so the Chinese leadership believes). As they try to make this turn, there will be a great many dislocations that will serve to encourage the coming collapse of the Chinese Communist Party.

This reality will increase the instability of the Asia-Pacific. Right now, the Chinese military has been on a ceaseless modernization program. They have intensified their power both at home and are expanding their reach globally. Now, the Chinese have laid claim to several disputed sections of the South China Sea, they have established unlawful Air Defense Identification Zones, they have challenged U.S. forces operating in the region, and they seem poised to do much more than that. In the event of instability at home, President Trump should expect China to lash out aggressively abroad.

Chinese society itself is a cauldron of disunion in spite of the misleadingly placid appearance that the CCP presents to the outside world. Indeed, things have gotten so bad in the country that China’s current leader, Xi Jinping, has embarked upon the greatest power grab since Mao. The logic is simple: intensify the central government’s hold on power in order to curb any separatist sentiment from China’s outlying provinces. This has been a theme repeated throughout China’s history of dynastic decline. But, as Chinese history has proven, the tighter a central government squeezes its power, the more power it actually loses.

All of these factors will continue to compound until China acts out violently against the United States and its allies in the region. This eventuality means the Trump Administration must stop placating China. It only empowers them and weakens us. The United States needs to intensify its pivot to Asia, if it is to contain any violent outburst by China. What’s more, we should recognize Taiwan as a fully independent state and reaffirm our commitment to defend Taiwanese sovereignty.

All of this talk of reaffirming the One-China Policy, therefore, is ill-advised. President Trump must recognize that trying to get better deals with China is irrelevant compared to the geostrategic implications of America simply abandoning Taiwan. Only through consistent resistance to Chinese revanchism and economic manipulation can the America better protect its interests in Asia (and beyond) in the long run.

Fact is, China is not interested in making a better deal. Beijing wants to push America out of Asia and reassert its ancient place as the dominant actor there. Once China secures Taiwan, it will be able to threaten Japan’s southern flank and push into the waters around the Philippines. The existence of a China-friendly leader in the Philippines would only further complicate U.S. grand strategy for the region. Also, as the Chinese made inroads expanding their reach beyond Taiwan, there is little doubt that they would then have the capacity and reach to threaten American territories in Guam and Hawaii.

This is inimical to our interests and must be prevented at all costs. Resolve in the face of Chinese irredentism is the Trump Administration’s only hope for securing U.S. interests. Let us hope this fact is never forgotten.


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Decius Out of the Darkness: A Q&A with Michael Anton

Michael Anton takes questions from reporters in the West Wing.

The Huffington Post on Thursday published a story by foreign affairs reporter Jessica Schulberg highlighting the work of Michael Anton, also known as Publius Decius Mus. Headlined “Trump Aide Derided Islam, Immigration And Diversity, Embraced An Anti-Semitic Past,” Schulberg’s story examines Anton’s older writings and make some shocking claims about his view of the world, breathlessly reporting how he “promoted Trump’s anti-Islam, anti-immigration platform on fringe websites.” (Ahem.)

Then on Sunday, The Intercept published a piece by Peter Maass titled, “Dark Essays By White House Are the Intellectual Source Code of Trumpism.”

“Nobody in the administration has drawn up a real-time ideological blueprint to explain the intentional chaos of what’s happening under Trump,” writes Maass, “except, as it now turns out, Michael Anton, whose radical theories have been compared to those of a German philosopher named Carl Schmitt, who helped lay the legal foundations of the Nazi Party.”

Are these stories’ claims true? We asked our friend Michael, who was a senior contributing editor of American Greatness before taking a post with the National Security Council, to shed some light on the matter.

HuffPo and The Intercept basically say you’re an anti-semite, or something close to it. What do you say to that?

It’s completely outrageous but sadly typical of the slander culture perfected by the modern Left. They can’t debate ideas anymore and don’t even want to try. They just look for any way to connect their enemies—that’s what I am to them, an enemy—to some scurrilous person or outlook. Once that taint is on you, they then work to make it impossible to scrub out.

What’s especially risible about this is that I’m a Straussian. It’s metaphysically impossible to be an anti-Semitic Straussian. My great teacher, Harry Jaffa—a man I revere more than any other I’ve ever known—was Jewish. I will go to my grave with my two greatest intellectual influences, the two people who more than any others formed my mind, being Jewish. Anti-semite? Give me a break.

But that’s the modern Left for you. They will turn that around and say, “Oh that’s just the old ‘some of my best friends are Jewish’ line.” Which in my case, happens to be true. The point is, nothing you can say is considered a valid defense. Once they have the chance to smear you, they will do it and continue the smear because it serves their interests. The human damage that they cause, the destruction of reputations—they don’t care about that. Actually, they do care, but they see it as a positive. Enemies are to be destroyed by any means necessary.

Has your position on Iraq changed over the years and if so how and why?

It’s just plain that the 2003 invasion was a mistake. Not a crime. And no, I don’t believe the Bush administration lied about it. I was there and I supported it at the time, and I can say with absolute certainty that all of us, from the president on down, believed every word we said. It’s just insane to think that any president would knowingly invade a country, knowing that his claims for why the action would be necessary would be discredited by that very action! That would be like Geraldo Rivera knowing in advance there was nothing in Al Capone’s secret vault and still broadcasting the opening live anyway.

But the plain fact is that the action was a mistake. Given the aftermath and the outcome, I don’t see how it’s possible to argue otherwise. That said, I stand by prior arguments that I’ve made, that the surge was both the right thing to do and a strategic victory for the United States, and that the 2011 bugout was a colossal strategic mistake.

Please clarify what mean when you wrote the America First Committee had been “unfairly maligned.”

President Trump often used the phrase “America First” on the campaign trail and still uses it as president, including in his inaugural. For him, it obviously means something so simple and uncontroversial it’s almost tautological: the purpose of the American government is to serve the American people. Not foreign people, not the world’s people, the American people. That is the purpose of any and every government: to serve the people who enact and consent to that government.

Trump’s enemies try to make this into a big scandal because the phrase “America First” was the name of a famous committee in the late 1930s and early 1940s that wanted to keep the United States out of World War II. It was primarily an isolationist movement, but there were anti-semitic elements that supported it. What the Left has tried to do—with much success, unfortunately—is retcon the committee as primarily an anti-Jewish group when that’s not what it was. It’s classic guilt by association: here is this group that a lot of anti-semites supported, therefore the group was anti-semitic and anyone who says anything good about it is an anti-semite.

Now, I disagree with the America First committee’s isolationist stance. But that’s easy for me to do in hindsight. However, to the average American in 1940, it was not obvious why the United States should get involved in another European war. It took great strategic vision and foresight to see that clearly, and most just didn’t see it. FDR, who did see it, was very constrained in what he could do for the Allies before Pearl Harbor. Even after Pearl Harbor, absent Hitler’s mystifyingly idiotic declaration of war on the United States, public opinion probably would not have supported U.S. operations in Europe. In fact, in fighting the war, FDR prioritized the European theater over the Pacific against U.S. public opinion, and had to downplay the fact that he was doing so.

The point here is, the wish to stay out of World War II was the animating cause of the America First Committee and that wish was perfectly respectable and reasonable, if ultimately wrong-headed. That’s why I say it was unfairly maligned.

So what does “America First” mean in the current context?

It means prioritizing American interests in our foreign policy and the American people in our domestic policy. Which is what every state—at least every government that is acting as it should—tries to do.

This is such a “well, duh” statement and idea that the fact it would be super controversial shows how corrupt our intellectual discourse has become.

But there’s another layer here, too. There is now, and has been for some time, a broad consensus from the center-right all the way to the far left that America’s only legitimate role is to be a kind of savior of and refuge for the world. It’s not a country with citizens and a government that serves those citizens. It belongs to everyone. Everyone has a right to come here, work here, live here, reap America’s bounty. We have no legitimate parochial interests. Rather America exists for others. This standard does not seem to be held to any other country, although one sees it increasingly rising in Europe.

So Donald Trump’s forthright stance against that, insisting that this country is ours, belongs to us, and demands that we prioritize our own interests, sounds like the most horrible blasphemy against this universalist consensus. I think that explains so much of the freakout against his presidency and the travel executive order, for instance. People ask, “How can he do that? Doesn’t he realize that America belongs to the whole world?” And Trump’s response is: “Don’t be silly, of course it doesn’t. It’s ours and we must do what’s best for us.” No prominent leader has said that or acted on that in ages. So the reassertion of basic common sense sounds shocking.

What about the broad charge of “white nationalism”?

Just another lie/smear. Though I cop to “nationalism,” but I do wonder what is the difference between nationalism and patriotism? I am open to being educated on that point if someone wants to make a case why “nationalism” is so awful but “patriotism” is OK. If I am a nationalist, I am an American nationalist. I am also an American patriot and I don’t see the difference.

As for the “white” part, where do people get that? It’s just a convenient way to destroy and smear and not have to deal with the argument.

Actually, one of my great hopes for a Trump Administration and Trump economic policy is that he will build class solidarity among the working classes of all races. I think that would be good for the country and put salutary pressure on the political system. That sounds sort of Marxist of me, but I can live with that.

I know there are people who call themselves “white nationalists” but they strike me as a fringe. I don’t think “white nationalism” per se is actually possible or viable. The root of “nationalism” is “nation.” A race is not a nation. Nations come together and cohere in various ways. There is the French nation, the Chinese nation, the Navajo nation and so on. Nationalism exists on that basis, of “peoplehood” for lack of a better term. This goes back to the ancient distinction between friend and enemy, citizen and foreigner. This is the way humanity organizes itself and always has. Individual nations do not exist by nature but the impulse to form nations is natural. There will always be nations, but it has never been done on a racial basis—that is, by trying to unite an entire race into one nation—and I don’t think ever could be.

In any event, American nationalism is transracial because the American people are multiracial.

Do you really argue, as Schulberg asserts, that “immigration inevitably hurts the U.S.”?

Of course not. Immigration, like most policies, is contextual, tactical. There times and circumstances when it benefits the country and times when it doesn’t. Machiavelli lays out the case that early republican Rome could not have survived without massive immigration. But that also later, massive immigration into the empire was very bad for Rome.

The same is true in the United States. There have been times when immigration was an enormous net positive for the American people—that is, the people already here. And there have been times when it was not. My view is that we long ago passed the point of diminishing returns and high immigration is no longer a net benefit to the existing American citizenry.

What’s happened in the meantime is that immigration became something of an absolute for that center-right-to-far-left consensus. Immigration is good—full stop. It’s “who we are.” How dare you question that! Racist! And so forth.

The fact is that America benefited enormously from the Ellis Island wave—my ancestors were part of that—but also benefitted from the post World War I restrictions, which vastly aided and speeded assimilation and forged a coherent national identity out of these recent arrivals. Doing that again would do enormous good in my view.

What is the proper basis for this country—or any country—to decide its immigration policy?

The proper basis is what is best for the existing citizenry—period, full stop. It’s also important to note that the existing citizenry is entitled to base its judgement on whatever considerations it wants. That is to say, the existing citizenry is free to be “wrong” in the eyes of expert or elite opinion.

Expert and elite opinion definitely wants high immigration and views opposition as “inaccurate” or “in error” and therefore illegitimate. This is true not just of immigration but of a whole range of policies that a majority of ordinary citizens don’t want but that the elites want. The elites then make an elaborate case for why their preferences are “correct” and any opposition is based on simple ignorance, not a legitimate, political difference. This is a much larger topic, that I explored in my previous writings, but that’s the heart of administrative state rule. Your wishes don’t count. Right and wrong are replaced by correct and incorrect and political government by the people is replaced by administrative rule by experts.

Did the analogy of “The Flight 93 Election” mean to imply that Hillary Clinton was a terrorist, as Schulberg seems to think, or that continuing the policies of the progressive Left would continue to undermine self-government, that the country had reached a tipping point?

The latter, of course. I really don’t know how I could have made that any clearer. The country was on a bad course, in my view. Administrative state control was growing and the speed of that growth was accelerating. There is massive bipartisan support for administrative state rule. The major exception in the last generation was the Trump candidacy.

Now, my judgement may have been wrong that 2016 was the last chance to turn things around. Obviously I don’t think it was wrong or else I wouldn’t have written that but one can’t rule it out.

My objections to a Hillary Clinton presidency were explained in detail and there’s no need to repeat them here. They did not include any notion that she is a “terrorist.”

Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard on Twitter compared you to Carl Schmitt. Explain the difference between the limited government constitutionalism you have advocated and Carl Schmitt’s defense of the Nazi Party.

Well, on the one hand I’m flattered because Schmitt was a brilliant man who had the respect of Leo Strauss. But, of course, that’s not what Bill meant. He meant to insinuate that I am a Nazi. I’ve known Bill for more than 20 years and always liked and respected him. That was about the lowest blow I’ve ever taken from a “friend,” however, and I don’t know what to make of it.

So, I read Concept of the Political once, in grad school, and that was a long time ago. I also read Heinrich Meier’s great book, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue, which shows how Strauss, in private correspondence, demonstrated to Schmitt the shortcomings of his argument and how Schmitt in response revised the book and made it better.

But in the end, Strauss is still right and Schmitt is still wrong. What Schmitt gets right is the irreducible nature of the friend-enemy distinction in politics. This is the Polemarchus argument in Book I of Plato’s Republic. Remember there are three initial definitions of justice and Socrates refutes them all. But of the three, only the middle one—help friends and harm enemies—survives in any form at all in the elucidation that follows in the rest of the dialogue.

As Strauss notes, the political community as such is closed. There is no possibility of a universal state, or certainly no possibility of one that is not a universal tyranny. He and Schmitt agree on this. Where they disagree is what gives the political—the state—its moral standing. Strauss identifies in Schmitt a kind of implicit indifference to this question. It doesn’t matter what the people agree on so long as they coalesce around something.

For Strauss—and the ancients, and the American founders—this is the vital question. What is the moral basis of the state? Only a government dedicated to just ends, to the good, is truly legitimate. The Declaration of Independence, for instance, refers to the “just powers” of government. Harry Jaffa always pointed students to the vital importance of that qualifier.  The government may not legitimately do anything it wants, for the same reason that the people cannot rightly do anything they want: because right and wrong, good and evil, just and unjust exist by nature.  And the proper role of government is promote the good and prevent, resist and mitigate the bad.

Limited, constitutional government is, in the modern context, the best form of government through which a free people can secure the human good. The good is real. It’s not just a preference. It’s higher than our preference. It’s our duty to seek the good. That’s what government properly does. Schmitt, in Strauss’s reading, doesn’t see that and that’s why he could take his core legitimate insight—the centrality of the political—and go so far off into the darkness. On this question, as on so many others, I am with Strauss.

2016 Election • Asia • Conservatives • Deterrence • Foreign Policy • History • Intelligence Community • Obama • Religion of Peace • Terrorism • Trump White House

Exiting Afghanistan Through India

For 16 years, the war in Afghanistan has raged with no end in sight. Indeed, it has become America’s longest war. Now that Donald Trump is president, the United States  has a pristine opportunity to conclude this costly war. President Trump has expressed a willingness to deploy more U.S. troops in order to win in Afghanistan.

The president also believes that victory can only be achieved if neighboring Pakistan assists the United States in defeating the Taliban and other jihadist groups there. Unfortunately, these are the same failed policy pillars that have failed the previous two administrations.

But there is a better way in Afghanistan. The solution to Afghanistan lies in India.

Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama believed that the best way to exit Afghanistan was through Pakistan. Yet neither Bush nor Obama were ever able fully to realize Pakistani assistance in defeating the Taliban. While the Pakistanis did assist America in certain tactical situations, Pakistani and American interests in defeating groups like the Taliban were (and are) at cross-purposes on the strategic level.

Since the 1980s, the Pakistani government has lent considerable support to the jihadists in Afghanistan. This is because the Pakistani government wants to use Afghanistan for strategic depth in their ongoing conflict with India. After having gained independence in 1947, the mostly Muslim Pakistan has been in an endless conflict with their predominantly Hindu neighbor of India. This division between Pakistan and India dominates the politics of southwestern Asia.

Consequently, like his two predecessors, Trump believes that Pakistan is vital to America’s success. Remember Carl von Clausewitz’s dictum, “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” While the United States has all of the military advantages it could want in Afghanistan, ultimately, the war will end when there is a viable political solution there. The political solution will not be found in Afghanistan. It will, however, be found in neighboring Pakistan.

After all, the Pakistanis have considerable sway over the Islamic extremists fighting in Afghanistan. The underlying wisdom goes something like this: if only the United States could force Pakistan to fight the Taliban (and other jihadist networks in the region), then America could declare victory in Afghanistan, and bring the troops home. For 16 years, the Bush and Obama Administrations have tried the combination of carrots and sticks (read: cash and direct threats) to induce the Pakistanis’ assistance.

While two separate and, in many ways, wildly divergent American presidential administrations have come and gone, Pakistani support for the Taliban (and elements of al Qaeda) in Afghanistan remains. Of course, Pakistan is not a monolithic entity. It is, however, imperative that American policymakers stop accepting Pakistani intransigence merely as the “cost of doing business” in southwest Asia.

Truth is, the United States could do no amount of cajoling to end Pakistani support for the Taliban. For Pakistan, Afghanistan is a vital strategic lever to use against their eternal Indian foe. Whereas America is viewed as just another temporary visitor to that part of the world, the Pakistanis have to live with India. Forever.

As a result of this geopolitical fact, Pakistan’s strategic calculations about Afghanistan are wildly different from our own. The United States will have to take an unorthodox approach, therefore, if it means to resolve its differences with Pakistan or to win the War in Afghanistan. Repeating the same efforts as the preceding Bush and Obama Administration’s—even if we really “mean it” this time—will not fundamentally change the conditions on the ground in Afghanistan.

Thus, I propose that the United States bypass Pakistan altogether. Right now, the Pakistanis hold all of the cards in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. The Pakistani government knows that American policymakers view Pakistan as an essential partner in the Global War on Terror.

Plus, the Pakistani government grasps that America is hesitant to apply too much pressure on them for fear that such pressure could prompt a populist backlash in Pakistan. Given the high degree of Islamism among the Pakistani population, such a popular backlash would likely result in an anti-American Islamist government taking charge in Pakistan. This would place the country’s nuclear arsenal in the hands of groups sympathetic to al Qaeda.

The Pakistani government knows that America fears this. Hence, the Pakistani government does not need to do much to get what it wants from the U.S. The one thing that could change the Pakistani view, however, would be a full-blown U.S.-Indian bilateral relationship.

Right now, India is a budding democracy with a growing military. It also has one of the most vibrant economies in the world. The Indians are, therefore, natural allies for the United States. In fact, throughout the presidential campaign in 2016, President Trump appealed extensively to the Indian-American population. He has long claimed to be a friend of India and has advocated closer ties with India.

The Trump Administration should announce a series of new, special diplomatic, economic, and military agreements with India over the next year. This would shore up the U.S.-India relationship. It would also signal to the Pakistanis that America is pulling away from them. Such a move would prompt a major reassessment of the Pakistani grand strategy.

Right now, America’s endless commitment to fighting in Afghanistan forces us to make nice with neighboring Pakistan. The Pakistani government reaps great economic and military advantages from this situation. If America were to leave Afghanistan now, then Pakistan would lose their sweetheart economic and military aid deals with the United States.

If the Trump Administration indicated that it wanted to build a new “special relationship” with democratic India (much like the ones that America currently enjoys with Britain and Israel), the Pakistanis might change their tune. What’s more, in spite of  calls to the contrary, if the Trump Administration committed to a surge of forces in Afghanistan along with the crafting of closer diplomatic ties with India, Pakistan would recognize that America is no longer looking for the exits.

Indeed, Pakistan would likely turn on their jihadist friends in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis would do this in order to hasten an American withdrawal from the region. The Pakistanis would want America gone since the increased diplomatic costs of America’s continued presence in Afghanistan would outweigh the military and financial benefits.

The United States needs to spend the next year signaling to the Pakistanis that if they do not fully assist us, then we will unleash India in the region. The only sure-fire way for Pakistan to prevent a U.S.-India special relationship would be to turn on the Taliban. After all, a special economic and military alliance between the United States and India would only make India stronger than it already is. This would directly threaten Pakistan and isolate them on the world stage.

Once Pakistan fully commits to defeating jihadist networks in Afghanistan (notably the Taliban, but also al Qaeda and the Haqqani Network), U.S. forces in Afghanistan will be able to declare victory in Afghanistan. Only then, after true victory is achieved, could American forces (save for small counterterrorism units) return home.

Two different American leaders have tried to end the war in Afghanistan by using the Pakistanis. Both Presidents Bush and Obama failed to accomplish their goals. The Pakistanis simply have no interest in  destroying jihadist networks in Afghanistan. President Trump has indicated his desire to end the war, but he has also expressed his belief that the war will only end if Pakistan takes a more proactive role. The only way to prompt Pakistan to take such a role, in my estimation, is by complicating its grand strategy vis-à-vis India.

America must exit Afghanistan through India.

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Insidious Fake News: A Case Study

In many ways, the Democratic Party and its sycophants in the mainstream media are still reeling from the stunning victory of Donald Trump over the hollow harridan of New Haven, Hillary Clinton. But aside from the former secretary of state being relegated to the dustbin of history next to Thomas Dewey, the most significant hallmark of the 2016 election was the electorate’s rejection of the fake news and treachery employed by the liberal media to try to secure the presidency for their desired candidate. These sophomoric tactics were largely met with derision by a more perspicacious voting public, but such agenda-driven reporting has not always met with the appropriate level of discernment.

Roughly 53 years ago, fake news had more deleterious consequences for U.S. foreign policy as American journalists unwittingly became willing dupes for Communists looking to topple the South Vietnamese government.

For many later generation baby boomers, Vietnam was about body counts on the nightly news, pictures of napalmed South Vietnamese villages, anti-war protests and faded memories of America’s disgraceful withdrawal in April 1975. But very few were likely aware of the subterfuge taking place within media circles to help bring down the South Vietnamese regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in the early 1960s.

In his book, Triumph Forsaken, The Vietnam War, 1954-1965, author Mark Moyar unveils the instrumental role that David Halberstam of the New York Times and Neil Sheehan of the Washington Post played in determining the course of the war early on.

Neil Sheehan

In the initial stage of their war coverage assignment, Sheehan and Halberstam were largely supportive of the U.S. effort to defeat communism in Southeast Asia, but soon adopted a more self-absorbed attitude toward their job. According to Moyar, they “came to Vietnam believing that they were entitled to receive all the information they wanted, and when the government did not follow their script, the two young men became indignant and vengeful.” Gradually the two reporters took on a more critical tone toward the Diem regime, deriding the South Vietnamese army in their columns while overlooking its overwhelming battlefield successes.

Unfortunately for the South Vietnamese, the flawed reporting would come to have more adverse repercussions over the summer of 1963 as protests by the Buddhist minority over alleged religious discrimination quickly escalated, abetted by the Communist fifth column that had infiltrated the movement. Some of the Communist militants even became active sources of disinformation for the U.S. journalists.

David Halberstam

As Moyar notes: “The American correspondents, because of their hatred of the Diem government and their unfamiliarity with the Vietnamese political environment, uncritically accepted their Buddhist friends’ claims about the political situation, many of which were fallacious.”

The protests culminated in a series of pagoda raids by South Vietnamese police and the self-immolation of several Buddhist priests, the most celebrated of which became the lead subject on the front pages of many western periodicals. This widely publicized event, in Moyar’s words, “did much to transform Vietnam from a Cold War sideshow into a major foreign policy issue. Americans unfamiliar with recent events in Vietnam were inclined to believe that such a self-sacrifice could have occurred only if the government had engaged in severe religious persecution.”

Halberstam’s columns became increasingly critical of the South Vietnamese regime’s efforts to quell the protests and included references to bloodshed and killings of protesters that turned out to be grossly embellished. There then followed a series of egregious diplomatic missteps by the Kennedy administration that eventually led to the November 1 coup and Diem’s assassination. Much of the competent military leadership that Diem had put in place quickly unraveled, providing the opportunity for a dramatic escalation of attacks by Vietcong insurgents and the North Vietnamese Army. By July 1965, after several timid attempts at getting the Communist aggressors to pull back, a flustered and ill-prepared President Johnson committed the United States to large-scale troop deployment.

The media’s agenda-driven coverage of the Vietnam War and its related adverse foreign policy outcomes provides a glowing example of the phenomenon of fake news and its potential to generate destructive consequences. Yet the liberal media seems to have maintained this belief that its overriding mission is that of shaping public opinion, even if it requires the distorting reality or the omission of facts and events that do not coincide with its worldview.

The Candy Crowley-like instances of the media inserting itself in a national discussion as an active filter, the editing of transcripts to change the facts of an event (the Trayvon Martin tape edit of the 911 operator asking “OK, and this guy—is he black, white or Hispanic?”) or the false accounting of the actions of their political adversaries (claiming Donald Trump removed the bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Oval Office to promote the racist narrative) all act to undermine their very credibility.

But given their primary interest remains that of playing the role of “news traffic cop” and trying to tell the public what to ignore and what to believe, look for their impact to continue to be marginalized. If there was any doubt before the 2016 election, it is now clear that the statist media’s cover has been blown and that the public is better off seeking information outside from traditional media sources.

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Applying ‘America First’ in the Middle East

President Trump’s “America First” principle is an opportunity for the United States to adopt a more productive approach to engagement with nations in the Middle East. Here are three ways the Trump Administration could get better results, without creating unnecessary new problems, thus allowing the president to stay focused on his vital domestic agenda.

2003 to 2016: What Went Wrong?

To understand what President Trump should not do, it is first necessary to clarify the mistakes of his two predecessors.

That the Iraq War was an enormous strategic disaster is obvious. But if candidate Barack Obama claimed to have learned the right lessons, as president, ironically, he became even more of a regime-change proponent than George W. Bush.

The slippery slope began with Egypt in 2011. After a series of mostly peaceful protests, President Obama inexplicably abandoned President Hosni Mubarak, an ally of 30 years, telling him he “had to go.”

Having set such a precedent, Obama likely felt compelled to do even more in Libya and Syria. He signed off on overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi, despite strong internal opposition within his cabinet, and half-heartedly tried to overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Even though Washington did not cause these conflicts, picking sides in local civil wars prolonged them—contributing to more instability, suffering, and terrorism than likely would have occurred otherwise.

Finally, the bad effect of regime change policies was made worse by the Obama Administration’s commitment to reaching a deal with Iran on nuclear weapons. In practice, the arrangement has only empowered Iran at the expense of U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, further destabilizing the region. Trump was not wrong in his assessment that if “our leaders had done nothing and gone to the beach” from 2003 to 2016, the United States would be better off in the Middle East.

Confusing Symptoms for Causes

The bipartisan establishment foreign policy view of the Obama and Bush years considered problems in the Middle East to be top-down. Dictators such as Saddam Hussein were seen as the “cause” of the problem, due to their suppression of democratic activity and authoritarianism.

A more accurate diagnosis is “down-up.” The interrelated problems of the growing appeal of the anti-establishment jihadist narrative, the migration crisis, and the weakness of democratic politics, is a mere reflection of vast socio-economic, religious, cultural and tribal divergences and rivalries within Arab countries. Only through authoritarian leadership is any kind of orderly rule possible.

How President Trump Can Get Better Results

An “America First” policy in the Middle East (or elsewhere, for that matter) does not mean isolationism. It means smarter and more realistic engagement that ensures U.S. interests, contributes to regional stability, and doesn’t make anything worse than it already is through counter-productive interventionism. Here are three ways to do that:

1) Keep top allies “healthily confident” as key to a successful nuclear deal and a return to regional stability.

That U.S. relations with top allies Saudi Arabia and Israel have never been worse than during the second Obama Administration must be viewed as a reflection of their sense of abandonment because of the Iran nuclear deal. Proponents of the deal can criticize Israel and Saudi Arabia all they want, but if these nations feel like they are “on their own,” they are going to do their own thing—which may or may not comport with U.S. interests.

For Saudi Arabia in particular, destabilizing activities—such as stoking the flames of civil war in Syria and their aggressive military campaign in Yemen—are driven by a rational need to project strength given their profound sense of insecurity versus Iranian aggression. This was made possible by the U.S. decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime which acted as a Sunni check against that Iranian aggression during Bush plus the nuclear deal during Obama.

One area where Trump could foster renewed Saudi confidence is by supporting their ambitious reform program, Saudi 2030, a serious attempt to fundamentally restructure the economy, create new jobs and diversify away from oil. Success would mean a Saudi government with greater prestige that it can bring to bear in its challenge from Jihadist groups, and would form the foundation for a revamped mutually beneficial U.S.-Saudi relationship.

2) Focus on economic empowerment as a new strategic “third way.”

The sources of terrorism, migration, and political instability in the Middle East ultimately can be traced to socio-economic weakness. In most Arab countries, the economic pie in a ruthlessly competitive global economy is large enough to provide social and economic status to only a small segment of the population.

The basic divide is this: roughly 20 percent of the population is content with the “establishment.” About 80 percent to varying degrees are not. It is the people from this latter group who are susceptible to the anti-establishment jihadist narrative; who seek to flee to Europe as economic migrants; and who gain nothing from the outcome of democratic elections. These elections typically do nothing to change the economic situation, thus ensuring political instability and zero-sum politics.

Addressing that economic equation is a more productive approach than the hyper-interventionism of the Bush and Obama administrations and the instinct toward total disengagement of many Trump voters. Senior Trump advisor Tom Barrack, Jr. has proposed a 21st century Middle East Marshall Plan. This should be strongly embraced. Even a few billion dollars—a drop in the bucket compared to the overall defense budget—could make a huge difference.

3) Be ruthless on counterterrorism but shift focus to addressing the underlying causes.

The United States is great at killing terrorists. Virtually every member of al-Qaida operating on September 10, 2001 has been killed or imprisoned. Yet in 2017 vastly more jihadists are ready, willing, and able to fight. In 2000 and 2001 there was one terrorist attack in the United States. Last year alone several hundred people were arrested in the United States for joining jihadist groups. For every one that has been taken out, there are literally dozens of new jihadists in the field in 2017.

The threat has shifted from one of organized terrorist groups to a decentralized anti-establishment jihadist insurgency. Understanding this is critical to addressing the underlying causes of why so many people are joining—and addressing the underlying causes would represent a major departure from a counterterrorism policy that has been focused primarily on killing terrorists.

President Trump’s reform agenda is too important to the future of the United States to jeopardize over more unnecessary and counterproductive American involvement in the Middle East. Trump’s non-interventionist instincts are correct. If the United States follows these three principles, the United States should have more productive relations with the Middle East.

Defense of the West • Deterrence • Foreign Policy • Terrorism • The ME Agenda • Trump White House

Secretary Mattis Hits The Ground Running

Demonstrating to the world there is ‘No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy’ than a U.S. Marine

Since last Friday when Congress granted the waiver to retired General Jim Mattis to assume the role as defense secretary there has been an uptick in the deaths of Islamist militants.

Coordinated attacks like the ones that have been taking out Al Qaeda and ISIS fighters take time to plan, and no, Secretary Mattis wasn’t there for the planning. Still, one gets the sense that just by Team Obama handing off the baton to Team Trump the U.S. has gotten more serious—and lethal.

For instance, last Friday, according to Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, U.S. airstrikes took out more than 100 Al-Qaeda fighters in a Syrian training camp. Additionally, U.S. airstrikes took out more than 10 boats on the Tigris River used by ISIS to flee Mosul.

When Mattis, at long last, arrived at the Pentagon on Saturday, the U.S.-led coalition Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve bombed the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq 31 times. Raqqa, ISIS’s capital, was especially hammered, taking 22 of the hits.

While this certainly seems like an impressively successful weekend in the war against Islamist militants, it is merely a glimpse of the much larger campaign that is to come with Mattis in the Pentagon. Mattis, who was the head of Central Command from 2010 to 2013, once called President Obama’s war on ISIS “unguided by a sustained policy or sound strategy [and is] replete with half-measures.”

The world will soon be afforded the opportunity to see what a sustained strategy carried out by full measures looks like.

Worth noting, coalition nations besides the United States that have conducted strikes in Iraq include the Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Jordan, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. In Syria, coalition nations that have conducted strikes besides the United States, are Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, France, Jordan, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.

But will those nations play a larger role in the fight? Early indications are that at least some understand they are going to need to.

Aside from presiding over the flurry of military operations, Mattis also conducted some diplomacy. He reportedly called British Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg who have expressed concerns over President Trump’s tough talk about NATO’s contributions to the fight against ISIS and the individual NATO member states’ failing to meet their obligation to commit at least two percent of their respective GDPs to collective security.

In his call with Fallon, Mattis “emphasized the United States’ unshakeable commitment to NATO” and thanked him for Britain’s willingness to meet and go beyond the 2 percent GDP commitment. Secretary General Stoltenberg just weeks ago applauded Britain’s example and urged other NATO countries to keep increasing defense spending. He said of Britain’s increased spending, “By doing so you lead by example. It’s good to see that other allies are now following you and they are starting to increase defence spending. They still have a long way to go but are starting to move in the right direction. More defence spending in Europe is important for the transatlantic bond, for fair burden-sharing between Europe and the United States.”

I think it’s pretty safe to assume at this point that in the months and years to come Secretary Mattis will be issuing more death sentences to Islamists and more thank-yous to allies for increased help.

And that is a very good thing for American security.

2016 Election • America • Conservatives • Defense of the West • Deterrence • feminists • Foreign Policy • Government Reform • History • Obama • Republicans • The Culture • The Left

It’s the Job of Men to Fight Wars. Period.

Any culture that pushes its women toward the battlefield is a culture plunging toward destruction. Only a degenerate culture substitutes women for men in war. It doesn’t deserve to survive and, in the very long run, probably won’t.

In a parting act of vandalism, President Obama has expressed his support for requiring 18-year-old women to register for the draft.

But it would be unfair to blame only Obama. Nominal “conservatives” and military brass have joined the conga line. And taking sophistry to a new level, even libertarians repulsed by the very idea of conscription are supporting the initiative on the principle that what’s good for the gander is good for the goose.

Have you people lost your minds?

I’m not a fanatic, and I respect and admire women who wear the uniform. From 2007 through 2009, I was a civilian contractor for the U.S. Army in Iraq, and some of the best young intelligence officers there were women. But men and women are not interchangeable, and the attempt to make them so is destructive socially and ruinous militarily.

I view this issue as an anthropologist, a student of history, a Vietnam veteran, and a former journalist who has done some reporting on the military. Until very recently, every known society has had a taboo against sending women to fight while healthy young men were still available. Taboos, such as the incest taboo, develop when the rewards of an activity are immediate and obvious but the penalties are shrouded and delayed.

In the current all-recruited force, the short-term benefit of relying on 42-year-old grandmothers and lactating mothers is clear: it makes up for the male no-shows. As the late Charles Moskos, the dean of U.S. military sociologists, put it: “Americans seem to prefer somebody else’s daughter dying rather than their own sons.” So wouldn’t drafting women be a salubrious corrective? No. Instead it would be a step toward enshrining the interchangeability falsehood. We don’t need to draft women. Since the end of the Korean War, we’ve had more young men of military age in the U.S. population than the armed forces could possibly absorb.

We’ve been able to get away with this debased method of staffing our military because the United States still is a vast, rich country that—although it engages in distant, elective, brushfire wars—still holds a huge advantage in resources, population, and technology over any probable combination of existential enemies. I define an “existential enemy” as a coalition that could defeat our main forces, occupy our homeland, or hammer the United States back into the status of a regional power.

The long-term costs of violating the taboo are hidden but deadly. Our survival as a society is geared not to good conditions, or even average conditions, but to an ability to get through the worst crises. Militarily, that worst crisis is total war, but even in World War I and World War II America got off easy in terms of manpower. (Only the Confederacy approached full mobilization.) With the exception of the Soviet Union, which ran out of men during World War II, none of the major 20th century belligerents pushed women toward combat.

Why? Because men fight better than women, and men fight better when women aren’t around.

War is the great auditor of institutions. All other things being equal, an army of men will beat an army of women. All other things being equal, a society that puts women in the field at the expense of fielding a like number of men will lose its wars. Luckily, all other things aren’t equal, which is why we’re still here.

On December 3, 2015, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced that all military roles would be opened to women, including those in first-line ground combat units whose mission is to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy. In preceding decades, the public had come to accept the presence of women in support units. But even this is misguided for three reasons.

First, support troopers in combat zones are required to perform heavy physical labor more suited to men than women. This includes such tasks as digging entrenchments, filling and stacking sandbags, and moving ammunition crates. The more fluid and chaotic the battlefield, the more these things must be done by hand rather than by machine.

Second, to use a sports metaphor, support units are the infantry’s “bench,” or reserve, and if it’s necessary to use the “bench,” the situation is out of control by definition. It’s not something your own leadership decides. It’s a condition the enemy imposes. The worse the situation on the ground, the more blurred becomes the line between the infantry and everyone else. And when women dilute the pool of reserve infantry, the commander has less force and fewer options at his disposal.

In 1942, for example, PT boat sailors, fighter pilots, and ground crews were assigned infantry duties on Bataan. Late in 1944, the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes was stopped largely by the work of small, isolated combat engineer units (now sexually integrated) fighting as infantry. After the Luftwaffe was all but destroyed, U.S airmen were ordered to Eisenhower’s depleted infantry divisions as replacements—even though the Allies had the initiative at the theater level.

In the summer of 1950, in Korea, the 34th Regiment of the Army’s 24th Infantry Division was almost wiped out and had to be reconstituted from support troops. The backbone of the new regiment was the 3rd Engineer Battalion, but soldiers also were taken from supply, ordnance, communications, and headquarters assignments to fight as riflemen along the Naktong River at the Pusan Perimeter. And, of course, during the withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir the following winter, Army and Marine support troops had to fight as infantrymen.

No good would have come from women being involved in these operations at the expense of a like number of men. The deeper the “bench,” the stronger the army.

The third reason why women don’t belong in support units is the matter of sexual attraction and distraction, favoritism or even the appearance of favoritism, as well as damage to unit cohesion and morale. In Vietnam, I commanded a company in a support battalion that then was all male but now is mixed sex. I shudder to think of how much more difficult my job would have been if the outfit had included women. The military isn’t just another “job,” and you can’t go home at the end of the day.

In 1988, as a reporter, I covered the deployment of U.S. forces to the mountains of Honduras. While frustration, heartbreak, and jealousy didn’t seem to be a problem for the Army reservists and National Guard members who came into the camp and returned to the United States after a few weeks, they certainly were present among the sexually mixed camp cadre, who had to live with each other for almost a year.

How about Iraq? Let’s just say that, on missions, the chatter over the Humvee intercoms was both enlightening and consistent with my earlier observations. Human nature doesn’t change, and we are asking for trouble by pretending it has or will.

As for pregnancies, some instances are intentional as a form of malingering and a way to shirk overseas assignment. Women also have a much higher injury rate. And there is the matter of children left motherless by repeated deployments.

It was drilled into my head when I was on active duty that the mission came first and the welfare of the people I led came second. Aren’t those who demand equal opportunity for women in combat violating that most basic principle of military leadership? What’s good for individual careers isn’t necessarily good for the country.

The mission of the armed forces is to win wars, not under the best conditions or average conditions but with a margin for error under worse conditions than can be imagined. In extremis, the country that puts women in the field at the expense of men will lose. Meeting such a crisis successfully is never easy, and it might become impossible if our culture changes to the point where American men are no longer embarrassed to have women do their fighting for them.

This essay incorporates material the author has published in other forums.

2016 Election • America • Defense of the West • Democrats • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Obama • Russia • Terrorism • Trump White House

Why the Deputy Secretary of Defense Matters: The Case for Robert O. Work

One of the greatest misconceptions that civilians have about the U.S. Secretary of Defense is the belief that his  primary task is that of an administrator. Wrong. In  fact, the secretary’s job is that of a strategist. The role of administrator falls to the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

The Secretary of Defense needs to understand intuitively the way that the world works and America’s role within it.  More important, he must understand the U.S. military’s contribution to that role. So the Secretary of Defense is not simply a glorified bean counter. The role of his  deputy, however, is to manage the Pentagon’s vast bureaucracy on behalf of the secretary in order to accomplish the secretary and the president’s directives.

General Jim Mattis, Donald Trump’s nominee for the Secretary of Defense, is not only a strategist, but as his testimony at his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday showed, he is well-equipped to deal with these detail-oriented bureaucratic issues. But the incoming Secretary of Defense should not be bogged down by bureaucratic minutiae. His primary concern should be ensuring that America’s warfighting capabilities remain unmatched.

The next Secretary of Defense will also need to provide President Trump with timely, reliable, and realistic strategic advice on the military. The internal workings of the Pentagon—from procurement issues to budget reform (which is desperately needed)—should be left to the deputy secretary.

In fact, the DepSecDef (if you will forgive the bureaucratese) is likely the most important (and little understood) job  in the Pentagon. It is often said that if one wants to get things done in the Pentagon, you go to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, not the Secretary. Yet, in previous administrations—both Republican and Democratic—the vital role of Deputy Secretary of Defense has very often been filled by the wrong kind of person.

For instance, as brilliant as he is, the choice of Paul Wolfowitz for Deputy Secretary of Defense under Donald Rumsfeld was, frankly, bizarre. Wolfowitz would have been far better suited for the State Department (indeed, rumors abounded that he had wanted originally to be the Secretary of State, but hope for that outcome was quickly dashed in the early days of the Bush transition in 2000).

Wolfowitz was a global strategist at heart and an ideologue to boot. As such, the Pentagon’s daily operations were often unfocused and sloppy. This had profoundly negative implications for the overall defense policy of the Bush Administration. Indeed, Wolfowitz was a major impediment to making necessary changes early on in the Iraq War. Such changes, had they been implemented in late 2003, would have likely avoided the mistakes that we ultimately ended up paying for from 2004-2006.

William Lynn III served as deputy secretary under the Obama Administration. The former lobbyist had the misfortune of being controversial from the day of his nomination. He was named two days after the Obama Administration had embraced a new law that forbade lobbyists from working in a part of the government that they had previously lobbied for at least two years (in Lynn’s case, he was a former lobbyist for Raytheon, a huge defense contractor).

Although Lynn had the managerial and administrative background that was commensurate with the qualifications for DepSecDef, he presided over one of the worst periods for America’s defense in recent history. Not only did Lynn implement the congressionally mandated defense sequestration budget cuts, but he also resisted actual reforms to the Pentagon, while exploding the civilian workforce in 2010.

Indeed, from his earliest confirmation hearings, Lynn insisted that reforming the Pentagon’s acquisition process was a bad idea (of course he would say that, since changing the way that the Pentagon buys things would have direct, negative implications for his previous employer.) Lynn ultimately left a Pentagon that was less effective and more choked with  bureaucracy than it ever was.

Setting aside Lynn’s poor administration of the DoD, his first boss, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, claimed that he relied heavily on Lynn to run the space and cybersecurity policy portfolios. Yet America’s space and cybersecurity capabilities under the Obama Administration have been at their weakest. Even as a policy person, Lynn was as ineffectual in the role of Deputy Secretary of Defense as the much-maligned Paul Wolfowitz was (but for different reasons).

So what is this secret ingredient to being a successful Deputy Secretary of Defense? It is likely the potent combination of previous military experience coupled with some previous service in the Pentagon’s civilian apparatus. This is why the recent reports that General Mattis wishes to retain the current Deputy Secretary of Defense, Robert O. Work, for at least the next three to six months, are heartening to hear.

Work has been instrumental at the Pentagon. He has performed admirably under tough conditions since his confirmation in 2013. The Deputy Secretary has helped create the much-needed Third Offset Strategy. Born in an age of constraint, it is Work’s brainchild for blunting the numerical superiority that many of America’s enemies have over the U.S. military today. The Third Offset relies on technological supremacy in spite of a constrained budget. As Peter Navarro describes:

Robert Work’s twenty-first century search for a Third Offset Strategy is driven by this sobering recognition: The repetitive cycles of weapons superiority the United States has relied on for decades is becoming shorter and shorter as America’s enemies develop—and often steal—the cutting edge technologies that have constituted the U.S. advantage.”

What’s more, Work’s views on space warfare (and his understandable fear of recent Chinese and Russian advances in space warfare capabilities) make him a prime candidate to help the Trump Administration ensure that America retains its military dominance.

Now, Work certainly has his negatives—not least of which is the fact that he is a registered Democrat who willingly supported the defense policies of the worst president in recent history.

In addition, Work has expressed skepticism over the international consulting firm McKinsey & Company’s recent proposal to cut $125 billion from the defense budget. He also supported the DoD’s bizarre insistence that it could not increase efficiency by cutting its budget and, instead, needed to significantly increase its already-bloated civilian workforce.

More troubling, in 2012 when he was the Undersecretary of the Navy, Work wrongly submitted a budget request that reduced submarine construction. Under this plan, should war with China ever break out over Taiwan, only a single U.S. submarine could operate in the Taiwan Strait. That was potentially his worst decision in government, since submarines would be integral in any potential conflict with China.

Yet, barring the arrival of a candidate who would gel more completely with Mattis (and doesn’t have the baggage of an Obama appointee), Work is probably the best candidate for deputy. His managerial experience, his previous service as a Marine, and a majority of his policy positions would likely allow for him to operate in a symbiotic fashion with his new boss.

Work would likely keep the Pentagon running, implementing Mattis and Trump’s desired policies, and still allow for Mattis to focus on the big picture. Further, his retention—even if only for three to six months—would be a smart move to try and placate some of the new administration’s detractors in the bureaucracy.

The role of Deputy Secretary of Defense is vital to the proper implementation of America’s defense policy. The role of DepSecDef is not unlike that of a plumber: when he does his job, no one really notices him. Yet, when he is ill-suited for that job, the pipes begin to clog and the system overflows with sewage. Work is not only the Deputy Secretary of Defense that we deserve, but he is also most assuredly the deputy that the Pentagon needs.

2016 Election • America • American Conservatism • Conservatives • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Republicans • Russia • The Media • Trump White House

Trump’s Bitter-Ender Critics Are Consumed With Projection

Friedrich Nietzsche famously warned, “he who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster.” Judging from the ongoing neoconservative meltdown in response to president-elect Donald Trump’s feud with the Intelligence Community, the lesson has fallen completely on deaf ears.

Perhaps the ur-text of the species arrived this past Friday, when self-proclaimed “conservative” Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker asked the question these people were, to this point, too shamefaced to utter out loud: “If Obama is a Muslim, is Trump a Russian spy?” There are many tragic, or even tragicomic, facets of this altogether unhinged piece, but for our purposes, two will suffice to illustrate the larger trend.

First, there is Parker’s brief flirtation with self-awareness:

Respecting others despite differences is, generally speaking, the hallmark of an enlightened soul, as well as a desirable disposition in a leader. Yet, those who sided with Trump interpreted Obama’s gentle touch toward the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims as evidence of a hidden agenda to advance Islam in the United States—notwithstanding Obama’s rather robust drone operations, which eliminated quite a few bad actors who happened to be, or said they were, Muslims.

Noteworthy is that these same Obama doubters weren’t bestirred to suspicion when then-President George W. Bush visited a mosque immediately after 9/11. Nor, thus far, have they expressed any concern about Trump’s cavalier approach to Russia’s cyberattack on the United States.

Given this history and recent evidence, isn’t it about time Trump be declared a Russian spy?

No, I don’t really think he’s a spy because, unlike the man himself, I’m not given to crazy ideas. But what’s with this double standard? Under similar circumstances, how long do you think it would have taken for Obama to be called a traitor for defending a country that tried to thwart our democratic electoral process?

Translated, this masterpiece of sniveling passive aggression says roughly: “I’m too reasonable to call Trump a spy or Obama a Muslim, but dammit, I wish the people whose unreasonableness I feel safe in looking down upon would do it!”

Unfortunately, Parker can’t even bring herself to stop with that backhanded bit of McCarthyism. At the end of the essay, she has to give up the ghost entirely, as she writes: “In sum, when the president-elect persists in a state of denial, siding with the enemy against his own country’s best interests, one is forced to consider that Trump himself poses a threat to national security.”

And for anyone not fluent in supercilious Beltway contempt, she finishes by noting longingly: “In Russia, they’d just call it treason.”

Now, one could spend an entire column on the obvious rhetorical sleights of hand and weasel words endemic to those final two sentences. For instance, when was it formally announced that Russia (post-Communist Russia, I mean) is “the enemy?” Did I miss the declaration of war by Congress? Was there so much as a word from any president since the fall of the Berlin Wall to the effect of “we are at war with Russia?”

Of course, the answer is no. Both President George W. Bush and President Obama actually tried to cultivate Putin in their own ways, the former by trying to form an alliance against Islamic terrorism with the former KGB colonel whose soul he’d seen, and the latter by literally gifting Putin a big red “reset” button. Before that, President Bill Clinton was trusting enough to sell the country uranium.

At one time, even some neoconservatives made favorable noises about Russia. Parker’s colleague, Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, remarked approvingly in a 2001 article for The Weekly Standard that “On his trip to European Union headquarters in early October, President Vladimir Putin made clear that he sees Russia’s future with the West—and that he wants the West to see its future including Russia.[…][I]n a world realigned to face the challenge of radical Islam, it is hard to see why Russia could not, in principle, be part of the West.”

Such a world appears to be precisely what the president-elect seeks now, and while it’s not at all clear that such a world is viable 15 years and many developments after Krauthammer’s article, the fact remains that the idea was not considered so ridiculous by even Russia’s newfound foes in America’s foreign policy community, provided a sufficiently globalist president (which Trump apparently isn’t) saw it come to pass.

Language of ‘Treason’

Second, when did a new cold or (worse) hot war with Russia become one of America’s “best interests?” Flirting with conflict against a rival nuclear superpower is dangerous, and even when it is unavoidable and justified (as it was during the Cold War), it’s hardly something to be argued for by sliding it into a column, unexplained, through weasel words.

Yet that’s precisely what Parker does, only to then conflate such a conflict with national security! Last I checked, national security is about making the United States safer, and baiting a rival superpower seems opposed to that by definition. Clearly, the closing paragraph should have been the column.

But these are concerns I will have to ignore for the nonce, as Parker’s final sentence requires the most attention: “In Russia, they’d just call it treason.” Matched with the passive aggressive tone of the first passage quoted, we can be in little doubt that Parker would prefer to call Trump’s dovish stance toward Russia and his skepticism of the intelligence apparatus precisely that.

This is more than dangerous—though it is that—and more than illiberal—though it is that, too. It is a deeply revealing bit of projection. If one grants my reading of these passages, then Parker is saying in effect that to fight Russia effectively, we must become more like Russia; which is to say, more prepared to suppress opposition or even skepticism of the revealed word of our governing elite, as expressed both by its diplomatic and intelligence functionaries, with charges of treason.

Now, perhaps Parker simply wrote inelegantly. Perhaps the final line is meant to show the superiority of America’s tolerance for dissent. Unfortunately, even if she didn’t intend to offer a sample of this species of thinking, she’s not the only source one can turn to in order to prove its existence. In fact, her column might be the most ambiguous source for discovering such musings about carting off Trump and his supporters to jail for daring to disagree with the CIA/the State Department/the Atlantic Council (though in mentioning the last two, I may be repeating myself).

A Conspiracy So Brainless

Much more honest, chilling, and detailed versions of the same thinking can be found on that famous proverbial toilet full of word vomit—Twitter—just by perusing any number of neoconservative Trump-hater feeds.

Thus, we hear Evan McMullin state flat out that Trump is “not a loyal American” (in other words, he is a traitor) because he dares to question the CIA and express friendly sentiments toward Russia. McMullin’s campaign manager, the not-quite-so hairless but equally brainless Rick Wilson, is even more blunt. Speaking of Trump’s “alliance” with Russia and laying the election results at the feet of “pro-Russian treason,” Wilson offers the kind of commentary that were it not published by someone with Washington media pedigree, would be the sort of thing one would expect to read on conspiracy blogs.

Speaking of conspiracy blogs, one can’t leave out the worst offender of all: former Heat Street editor Louise Mensch, whose open conspiracy theorizing about Russia is so unhinged that even a fellow anti-Russian pundit called her out for it. (Mensch’s response? “Girl I’m trying to save the world.” Alex Jones couldn’t have said it better.)

Some of Mensch’s other greatest hits include indicting poor Jeff Sessions as part of “the Russian faction”; tweeting at Steve Bannon that she “can’t wait to see [him] tried for treason”; alleging that Alex Jones and Mike Cernovich are Russian spies; calling for “precision bombing runs,” “bank hacks,” and “massive cyber war” against Russia; writing articles likely sourced to her cats alleging that entire swaths of the Trump team are being investigated by the FISA court; out and out screaming that FBI Director James Comey has fingered Trump as a Russian asset; and, of course, calling for Trump’s arrest.

In short, along with peddling disinformation, Mensch is calling for certain journalists and media figures (Cernovich, Jones, and Bannon, until recently) and political figures (Trump) to be thrown in jail for the crime of disagreeing with her. Given Mensch’s history as a successful romance novelist, one wonders if this is all deep cover for a “love among enemies” story about a Russian dictator and a courageous failed Western politician forming affection on the basis of their mutual intolerance for dissent.

An Attack on Liberalism Itself

All of this is bad enough, but worse still is the fact that all of these people also frequently smear even good-faith questioners of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s fallibility as closet Putin spies: yet another common tactic authoritarians use against their critics. Never mind that Steve Bannon himself agrees that conservatives should take Putin’s gestures toward social and cultural conservatism as simply flattery by a cynical, untrustworthy kleptocrat.

However, what separates Bannon and Trump from the new cold warriors is the recognition that, even if you grant that Putin is an authoritarian monster, this does not preclude him being useful to the United States. Indeed, there are excellent reasons and great foreign policy minds one can muster in defense of the idea of tolerating this particular authoritarian monster as the least of all current evils. Those arguments deserve a better response from Russia hawks than the sort of mindless smear campaigns they’ve offered.

Further, no American institution should be treated as infallible—least of all our intelligence agencies, which Trump correctly fingered as having gotten the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction issue disastrously wrong, and whose report explaining its conclusions regarding Russian intelligence is thin on evidence at best. Granted, it may be that the classified version is more thorough, but the public version is weak sauce. That so many people who are now turning on Trump probably also sought to impugn the patriotism and loyalty of people who questioned that WMD stinker (since all of the people mentioned supported the Iraq War) is no excuse: if anything, it makes this particular fixation worse, since they should’ve learned skepticism from their last religious attachment to intelligence that confirmed their biases.

More important than all this, though, I believe that resorting to charges of treason against people with whom you disagree while claiming to defend liberalism is both disgustingly hypocritical and dangerous to the integrity of liberalism itself. The projection of Trump’s neoconservative haters does precisely that: it transforms those afflicted by it from thoughtful people into would-be authoritarian apparatchiks hiding in some foxhole plotting the return of their own personal inquisition. This is bad for their ideas, bad for politics, and bad for the country.

What Neocons and Putin Have in Common

But ironically, the one thing this projection doesn’t do is permit its sufferers insight into the biggest question on their mind: namely, why Putin would prefer Trump over Hillary Clinton.

If the CIA report is to be believed, the reason is simple—because Putin believed Hillary Clinton had acted to manipulate an election against him and wanted to be sure that sort of thing wouldn’t happen again, which it assuredly would have done had she been President. In other words, Putin felt about Clinton roughly the same way the neoconservatives feel about Putin: as if she was an enemy determined to meddle in a country that rightly belonged to him and steal it away. Compared to the prospect of such a person having four years to destroy his government, almost anyone would have been preferable, especially a Russia dove like Trump.

And so perhaps the neoconservative hatred of Putin and, by extension, Trump really can be chalked up to rage against the mirror. After all, the evidence that Putin’s meddling actually swung the election is purely speculative, and just as dubious as the idea that the continued flailing of the Bush era’s shipwrecked minds might actually delegitimize or damage the president-elect. Any harm that was done exists purely in the realm of the possible, and frankly not terribly probable.

But whatever Putin’s effectiveness, neoconservatives have absolutely no ground to reproach him for the fact that, faced with the prospect of political extinction, he apparently decided that threatening the greatest institutions of Western liberalism was worth the risk. Based on the evidence of their own writing, it’s just what they wish they could do.

2016 Election • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Russia

A Note to DNI Clapper: There Are No Slam-Dunks When It Comes to Signals Intelligence

The use of signals intelligence (SIGINT) has become the preferred method for the Intelligence Community  to gather information on America’s enemies. Essentially, SIGINT is electronic surveillance as opposed to Human Intelligence (HUMINT), which is when human beings—as opposed to distant satellites—do the actual spying. Since the end of the Cold War, America has come to rely predominantly on SIGINT collection, since it minimized the risk to human life and and of capture. However, the over-reliance on SIGINT has led to many mistakes. It is often unreliable and lacking context.

When former Secretary of State Colin Powell presented evidence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction program to the United Nations in 2003, much of his presentation relied on communications intercepts of senior Iraqi military personnel. In one such intercept—a snippet of a much longer conversation, really—the public was presented with what appeared to be a phone conversation between two Iraqi leaders discussing the need to cover up Iraq’s extensive chemical weapons program.

It would later turn out that the conversation was taken out of context. In fact, the snippet in question had nothing to do with chemical weapons at all. Of course, by that point, former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet had already assured a skeptical President George W. Bush that the CIA’s reporting on Iraqi WMDs was a “slam dunk.”

Now, 13 years later, the Intelligence Community is once again using snippets of conversations between high-ranking Russians as proof that Russia was manipulating the U.S. election in Donald Trump’s favor. Their evidence consists of nothing more than celebrations between senior Russian leaders after it was announced that Trump had won.

What  James Clapper, the current Director of National Intelligence, neglected to mention was that the Russians were similarly caught celebrating President Obama’s victory both in 2008 and 2012. After the perceived hawkishness and extreme militarization of U.S. foreign policy under Bush, Vladimir Putin apparently hoped that Obama would prove to be a more positive influence on U.S.-Russia relations. Or rather, Putin hoped Obama would prove to be an American president that he could push around. (It turns out Putin was prescient in having such hopes.)

But if American weakness in the face of Russian attempts at world dominance really troubles the the Intelligence Community, then why wasn’t there any objection from the IC when Obama assured former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that he would be more flexible after he won the 2012 election?

When listening to Clapper’s testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, one is left with the impression that the entire ordeal was all hype. There was absolutely nothing concrete presented (aside from the signals intelligence that high-ranking Russians were celebrating Trump’s electoral victory). The DNI claimed that the Intelligence Community is convinced that Russian hacking was designed to help Trump because the president-elect’s worldview conformed more closely with that of the Kremlin’s. But how could this be? We are told that the Russians value predictability in foreign leaders above all else. How is Donald Trump more predictable than seasoned political operator, Hillary Clinton?

Our biggest national security threat?

Yet, even the intelligence experts involved in the report admitted to the Washington Post that the intercepts “were not regarded as conclusive evidence of Russian intelligence agencies’ efforts to achieve that outcome [the election of Donald Trump].” Also, U.S. officials said “there are no major new bombshell disclosures even in the classified report.” Those statements alone illustrate just how unserious these charges are.

Trump did not win the presidency because of Russian interference. He soundly defeated a bad Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton. Furthermore, Americans voted for him not because they were all bamboozled by Russian hacking of the Democratic Party, but rather, because they were tired of the failed policies of the Left.

Trump is right about the U.S. Intelligence Community: serious reform is needed. The men and women in our intelligence-gathering agencies are generally among the most patriotic and dedicated in the country. But there are some bad apples among them (as there are in any large organization) who stand in the way of true reform. These great organizations have been hijacked by Leftists, now intent on damaging Donald Trump—thereby doing greater damage to America’s political system and national integrity than Russia ever could have hoped to do.

Clapper is also right: Russia has been engaged in a cyber war against the United States.  But Trump’s election is not a part of that campaign. Indeed, there remains little conclusive evidence that it was, in fact, the Russians who hacked the DNC servers. Very few in our defense policy community understand or care much for the threat of cyber war. Often those who do acknowledge the dangers of cyber warfare can offer little in the way of prevention—only retaliation (at which point it is already too late to stem the damage).

The kind of reform our intelligence agencies require to be more capable of resisting cyber attacks is the kind of innovation and reorganization that the Trump Administration proposes to implement. Yet the same Democratic political appointees who issued this suspicious, politically motivated report on Russian meddling abhor the kind of reform that threatens their ideological and personal fiefdoms.

Clapper and the Intelligence Community should have learned from Iraq: there are no slam dunks in signals intelligence. SIGINT exists in the eye of the beholder. Absent the proper context, it will be misused for political gain—as happened in the run-up to the Iraq War.

The sloppy analysis that went into this politically charged report will end up doing more damage to the strained credibility of the Intelligence Community than any Russian cyber attack could ever accomplish. Further, this will only slow down the implementation of necessary reforms to America’s cyber and intelligence policy. That’ll be a bigger boon for Putin than the President Trump of the Left’s more imaginative nightmares.

2016 Election • America • Defense of the West • Department of Homeland Security • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Obama • Religion of Peace • September 11 • Terrorism

The Bookends of Failure: President Obama Teaches What Not To Do

If a monument is to be created commemorating President Barack Obama’s anti-terrorism and foreign policy legacy, etched in marble above it should be the phrase: “What Not To Do—A Legacy of Failure.” Indeed, we now see in blinding light the eight year experiment in appeasement and abdication of leadership: more terrorism, more death.  The bookends of his presidency begin with his first interview as president, on an Arabic television network; his first acts as president in trying to close Guantanamo and in ending enhanced interrogation, theorizing such acts would “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great;” and his first tour commencing in Turkey and going through Saudi Arabia, ending in Egypt.

About Guantanamo, he would go on to say the prison was “a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause.” In Turkey, he would speak of America’s “darker days,” while also praising Recep Erdogan. In thinking Guantanamo helped al Qaeda in its recruitment, he never thought to look at the calendar that ran from the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing to the 1998 African Embassy Bombings to the 2000 USS Cole bombing, to the 2001 World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks—all when there was no Guantanamo prison.

While his tour through the Middle East in that first year did take him from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, the curious country he did not visit, the one most aligned with American values, the tip of the spear in the war against terrorism, and the bull’s eye for most of it, was Israel. Then came his radio address to the Iranians, putting the people and the leadership on equal moral footing. Then the miraculous Iranian Green Revolution, where a unique organic uprising seeking American support against the mullahs arose—and President Obama famously abetted its equally quick death by saying he did not want the United States to “be seen as meddling.” Not content enough in appeasing the Mullahcracy, his State Department invited Iranian diplomats around the world to come to American embassies for hot dogs on July 4 of that year.  Along the way that year, the administration also publicized it would no longer speak of “the war on terror” or “jihadists.”

Someone or someones did not get all these memos and statements. Or, more likely, maybe they did: when they go low, we blame ourselves. That first year ended with the Fort Hood massacre and the attempted massacre that would have come from the successful bombing of Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit. “Attempted,” because then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said “the system worked.” It worked, alright, if the system was the chance, single, brave civilian passenger from the Netherlands who stopped the terrorist on the flight. The rest of the “system” let a known radical board a plane with a bomb.

Along the way we would get more and more diplomatic and rhetorical appeasement. This would include the non-application of the “not meddling” doctrine with allies like Hosni Mubarak and Benjamin Netanyahu. Or its non-application in Libya (what President Obama calls his “worst mistake.”). This would include comparing Islamic terrorism (in front of the U.N., no less) to the police doing their job in Ferguson, Missouri. And it would include comparing modern day Islamic terrorism to the centuries’ old Crusades and Christianity, saying we Americans should not be on “a high horse,” language quite familiar to fatwa readers, not so much to Americans.

Results? After Fort Hood, we would go on to see more Islamic terrorism not only abroad, with the rise of ISIS and Boko Haram, but here at home the terrible toll at the Boston Marathon, and in Chattanooga, San Bernardino, and Orlando. There was Nice, Berlin, Paris, Brussels. And so much more. And we ended 2016, back where we started, in Turkey: 39 dead in Istanbul. Meanwhile, Syria thought it could cross President Obama’s “red line,” and it was right–and it now looks like Beirut circa the 1980s. And Iraq, “sovereign, stable and self-reliant,” only five years ago, gets put back on Donald Trump’s plate.

For all the late honesty of the political class who admitted they got so much of the 2016 election wrong, let us now have similar honesty about what the policy of appeasement, American abdication, and self-blame has brought. In like a lamb in 2009, out like a charnel house.

2016 Election • America • China • Defense of the West • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Russia

The Case for Space Dominance

For nearly two weeks in 480 B.C., a massive Persian army numbering as many as 300,000 troops was prevented from invading Greece by a small band of dedicated Greek warriors, heroically led by the Spartan King Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae. Despite being numerically superior, the Persian force was hemmed in by unfavorable geography (which the Spartans used decisively to their advantage) and were therefore unable to dislodge the Greek defenders from August 20 until September 10 of that year. That is, until a Persian force managed to make it to higher ground and rain down death upon the Greek defenders.

The capture of the high ground was the coup de grace that the Persians needed to defeat the tiny, but unflappable contingent of Greek defenders at Thermopylae. Since the dawn of history, the military force that came to dominate the strategic high ground usually won the battle. Today, space is the ultimate strategic high ground. As such, he who controls the strategic high ground of space controls the world.

Right now, the United States controls space. But rivals such as China and Russia are attempting to change that reality. They are now closer to achieving this goal than at any other point in history.

The American military is currently the dominant force on the planet. Why? Because the United States dominates the strategic high ground. First, America came to dominate the air. Then, with the advent of space travel, the U.S. military came to dominate space—the ultimate high ground.

Today, the U.S. military is the smallest it has been in decades at a time when it is being challenged by more diverse threats globally than it ever has. This is an untenable situation, especially in the face of growing challenges from increasingly competent forces in Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. Space is the linchpin to America’s global dominance.

Despite this fact, space is the one strategic area that has largely been ignored by American policymakers—and our enemies know this. With the advent of the Trump Administration, the U.S. military needs to reassert its unequivocal command of the strategic high ground by embracing space dominance as its preferred strategy in that domain.

Space dominance calls for the complete weaponization of space coupled with the willingness to aggressively use space forces to ensure America’s continued supremacy on land and in the sea and air. The strategy not only calls for American forces to be so overwhelmingly powerful in space that they can prevent other powers gaining access, but also insists that U.S. forces be able to exert their will from space as well. It is a hegemonic policy.

Most Americans are totally unaware of just how dependent we are on space for military and civilian operations alike. Satellites make it possible, for instance, for our forces on the Korean Peninsula to operate effectively by linking these far-off forces with their combatant commands thousands of miles away. Satellites made possible the 2011 raid in Pakistan that killed Osama Bin Laden. Satellites also make it possible for you to go to your local ATM and pull out some money.

The signals that we all rely on are relayed through space using satellites. These satellites are all vulnerable to disruption and attack from the ground. What’s more, rival states, such as Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea are all keenly aware that they cannot challenge the American military directly without removing its ability to act as one, cohesive entity. By eliminating America’s satellites in orbit, rivals like China seek to prevent our forces from coordinating an effective defense of, say, Taiwan. Russia would hope to delink NATO’s abilities to muster an effective defense of Ukraine.

Also, given how dependent our society is on civilian satellites, rivals would seek to debilitate non-military satellites, so as to sow confusion and discord at home. States like Russia and China believe that such confusion on America’s home front would give them a freer hand to attack their neighbors. American rivals believe that if they remove the capacity for American civil society to function normally, then America would demur from responding adequately to aggression abroad in order to restore peace and stability at home. To some extent, these adversaries might be correct.

But our national security space policy incorporates more than just satellites.

Rogue states such as North Korea and Iran are believed to possess rudimentary nuclear arsenals and are rapidly working on ways of expanding their capabilities. These states have expressed their hostility to the United States and its allies. What’s more, these states have been pernicious state sponsors of global terror and criminality. Former CIA Director James Woolsey wrote an op-ed earlier this year positing his suspicion with nascent nuclear capabilities coupled with a drive to launch satellites in orbit, the North Koreans might be attempting to place Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) devices in orbit.

Earlier this year, the North Koreans managed to place a satellite in orbit that most observers believe to be unorthodox—in that it’s not behaving as most communications or traditional military satellites would. Yet, it remains in a controlled orbit. An EMP device detonated high enough above the continental United States could wipe out all advanced technology instantly, reducing America to an 18th century-level of development and potentially killing 90 percent of the population within two years.

Meanwhile, the Iranians are poised to acquire nuclear arms. Wedded to an apocalyptic worldview of Shia Islam and espousing hateful rhetoric about their neighbors—Sunni Arabs and Jews alike—what’s stopping the Iranians from launching a devastating attack on allied states (many of whom have significant numbers of Americans living on military bases)? What do we do about these threats?

We’ve tried negotiation. In both cases it only induces these rogues toward greater levels of aggression. Do we invade? Imagine the Iraq War but with our people facing nuclear reprisals. Launch airstrikes? Most believe that striking either country from the air would be ineffective.

The solution is for the United States to weaponize space. We must develop methods to better protect our critical assets in orbit. Building smaller, cheaper, and more easily replaceable satellites is a good start. Placing a true space-based missile defense system in orbit would also mitigate the threat from rogue states. What’s more, fielding non-nuclear offensive weapons in orbit—such as large tungsten rods (or, “Rods From God,” as the military dubs them)—will be essential in deterring future aggression from our strategic rivals.

For several years, America’s space capabilities have been allowed to wither on the vine at the same time that it has increased its reliance on space technology for even the most basic societal functions. The arrival of the Trump Administration is heralding historic reappraisals in U.S. foreign policy. National security space policy deserves to be reassessed as well. Russia has committed itself to fielding space weapons. China is currently developing methods to debilitate U.S. satellites. Both North Korea and Iran are seeking to upend global stability with nuclear arms. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to ignore space at its own peril.

The world is less safe and America’s military is more vulnerable to strategic defeat than at any other time. There has rarely been a situation in history where a force that didn’t command the strategic high ground won any war. Space is the ultimate strategic high ground. Therefore, the United States must dominate it at all costs. The Trump Administration must embrace the space dominance model if the U.S. is to retain its global hegemony.

America • Center for American Greatness • Defense of the West • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Obama • Russia • Trump White House

Russia: What Is It To Us?

The current hubbub about Russian interference in the U.S. political process, subsequent to anonymous whispers to the New York Times and Washington Post by U.S. intelligence officials, as ever aligned with the Left side of American politics, is based on exactly, precisely, zero facts we know of.

Contrast this with the Soviet era, when the Kremlin’s arguably principal preoccupation was destructive interference in American life, and when these very U.S. officials and media spared no effort to minimize the obvious existence and import of countless pro-Soviet, anti-American organizations and “front groups.” Today, statements such as those of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that the Russians “interfered in our elections” and “are trying to destroy democratic movements all over the world” compound partisanship with ignorance.

The Good News
Today’s Russia is not the Soviet Union, not in its internal structure or in any of its capacities, nor in its leaders’ intentions, nor most importantly in the sentiments it inspires among the world’s peoples.

Vaclav Havel is right: The Russian people are freer than they have been in a thousand years—admittedly a low bar. When Communist ideology died, the Kremlin lost the capacity to marshal Russian society’s forces through the vast, pervasive party structure that ruled thought, word, and deed from the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin’s powers, much diminished in Russia, do not reach beyond its borders. More than we, Putin knows that the international hand he plays is weak because he can only ask, not command, from a people who have little to give and less inclination to give it.

It is weak most directly in relation to its most important international objective: securing as much of the former Soviet empire in as many ways as possible—Ukraine above all. That is because while the Russian army can defeat those of any and all of the empire’s successor states, it would be incapable of holding any of them against popular resistance. Nor would the Russian people support the attempt to do so. That is why Putin has pushed against mostly open doors: absorbing mostly Russian Abkhazia, Crimea, and the Donbass at the cost of heightening already high anti-Russian sentiments in the “near abroad.”

Russia’s hand is weak because its economy, unlike the Soviet economy, is not largely self-sufficient. Tied to the rest of the world, dependent on the sale of commodities, with a convertible currency the value of which rests on the supply of reserve currencies that come through international channels, it is vulnerable to sanctions as well as to ordinary economic vagaries.

Above all, Russia’s hand is infinitely weaker than the Soviet Union’s because it utterly lacks the fascination that monster exercised on the world’s intellectuals and rulers. Within recent memory, whole sectors of the world’s polities had defined themselves de facto if not viva voce by allegiance to Moscow’s priorities and spared no effort to support them. Today, nobody does that. The bitter divisions among Americans today are, in substantial part, the legacy of the affections for Soviet communism that used to threaten our regime.

In sum, Putin’s imperialism, being of the traditional Russian kind, does not threaten our regime.

America’s Interest
There is no good reason for enmity between America and Russia. During our Revolutionary War, Russia was neutral on America’s side. John Quincy Adams’s excellent relations with the czar contributed to his initiative for peace in the War of 1812. Lincoln called the czar his “great and good friend.” Theodore Roosevelt helped end the Russo-Japanese war of 1905 on terms better for Russia than military results would have indicated.

America’s natural focus on the oceans and Russia’s equally natural one on Eurasia augur natural harmony. But the Soviet era taught us that, while Russia as a major power among other Eurasian powers with due influence in its neighborhood is very much in America’s interest, a Russian empire that bids for hegemony over Eurasia, never mind overseas power, is to be avoided even at substantial cost.

The Bad News
Putin has played his weak hand masterfully. While he has pushed only against mostly open doors, entirely too many doors from the Baltic to the Mediterranean have been open. The doors leading to the Atlantic are ajar and undefended politically as well as militarily. Putin has moved to the edge of resistance. But serious resistance has been lacking. This means that circumstances and opponents’ incompetence, as much or maybe more than Putin’s willfulness, may make of Russia a Eurasian hegemon inimical to America’s interest.

Necessarily, Ukraine is the focal point. Without Ukraine, Russia is a European power. With Ukraine incorporated, Russia’s “near abroad”—the Baltics, Belarus, and Georgia—would be hard put to maintain their independence. With these more or less incorporated, a 21st-century Russian empire would overawe today’s terminally somnolent Europe. It might well be welcomed by it as protector of what is left of European civilization against Islamic barbarism.

Thus far, the fact that U.S policy maintains an excess of commitments over the capacity or even the intention to meet them has only increased this prospect’s likelihood by telegraphing a lack of seriousness. The United States induced Ukraine to give up its nuclear arsenal to Russia in exchange for a half-sincere promise to uphold its independence and territorial integrity. When Russia struck, U.S. support amounted to words plus its armed forces’ “meals ready to eat.” (At least it might have paid for Italian rations, which come with wine).

The United States expanded NATO to “cover” the Baltic States. But as Russia looms over them, the United States is orchestrating the deployment of one battalion to each country to serve as “trip wires.” But what happens when Russia trips these “wires” by surrounding the battalions with, among other things, S-400 anti-aircraft systems that foreclose resupply because are beyond U.S. technology’s capacity to surmount? American surrender and Russian hegemony. Not good.

What Is To Be Done?
A bargain is possible, if the United States will a) get serious about our own armed forces; b) decide what boundaries we are willing to enforce between our interests in Eurasia and Russia’s; c) get serious about what Eastern European countries we will enable to defend themselves and how; d) decide, for real, that if Russia tries to break those limits, it will—in addition to running into the local resistance we will have armed—suffer a U.S. cutoff of financial relations and a secondary trade embargo.

Seriousness in negotiation about war and peace with a nuclear power require actual, workable plans for the use of nuclear weapons. Currently, the U.S. government has zero preparations for the conduct of nuclear war principally because, since the mid-1960s, the U.S. government (rhetoric notwithstanding, sometimes) has built, planned and trained to make sure that America is wholly without defense against Russian (and Chinese) nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. This is not the place to discuss that issue—only to note that Russia’s armed forces today equip, plan, and train for using nuclear weapons, that the Soviet Union and Russia have always done everything in their power to safeguard their population against missiles, and that Putin is fully aware that the U. S. government has an unbroken history of backing off any and all commitments as soon as the remotest possibility of nuclear war arises. American fecklessness adds an ace to Putin’s otherwise weak hand.

Today, the official U.S. position is that Russia must give back Crimea and the Donbass to Ukraine. To that end, the U.S. government is maintaining economic sanctions that cause Russia enough inconvenience to let Putin blame America for his people’s deprivations, but not enough to force anything. Earth to D.C.: Cheap sanctions are not serious. Serious ones are not cheap. The U.S. government had better decide what it is really prepared to do. Russian-speaking areas were Stalin’s poison-pill gift to Ukraine and remained Moscow’s levers over Kiev. Hence, while keeping Moscow from absorbing Ukraine makes sense for America, doing it halfheartedly for the whole thing does not.

The independence of the Baltic States and Georgia, in addition to that of Ukraine, is important to forestalling a Russian political juggernaut to the Atlantic. Fortunately, as we have seen, Russia does not have the military capacity to undo their independence. But for the United States to take these countries formally under its wing via NATO or the 1994 semi-treaty with Ukraine while doing next to nothing to bolster their capacity to deter eventual Russian forays, ended up provoking Russia while leaving it free to work its will.

Common sense dictates the opposite. Speak softly to Russia. But arm their targets to the teeth.

Putin, who is even less stupid than crazy, may be trusted to respect actual indigenous forces arrayed against Russian forays just as he can be expected to have contempt for “tripwire” battalions and solemn declarations. In the unlikely case that he were to press the issue, the United States could remind Putin by deeds rather than words that we are unique in the world with the capacity to devastate any country by instituting a secondary trade embargo—because nobody can afford to choose dealing with the target thereof rather than with the United States.

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2016 Election • America • Defense of the West • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Republicans • Trump White House

Trump’s Sanity on Nuclear Strategy

Ignore the hysteria from the choice “experts” the media is eager to quote about the president’s-elect’s recent statement on nuclear weapons. Donald Trump is absolutely right to say “the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” as he did via tweet on Thursday. Arms controllers immediately condemned his remarks and accused him of flirting with an arms race. Unmoved by the wave of condemnation, he doubled down on his position and said during an interview with MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski: “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

There are three major takeaways from the incoming president’s firm and gutsy stance on American nuclear weapons that go beyond the significance of nuclear weapons themselves.

First, adversaries are expanding their nuclear capabilities both in quantity and in quality—and they have been doing it right under our noses—even as we have decreased our nuclear weapons and have self-imposed limits on how to improve them. It would make a lot more sense for Americans in the business of trying to prevent nuclear proliferation, and ultimately, the horror of nuclear employment, to focus their energy on thinking about how we might constrain our foes, rather than looking for ways to constrain the United States.

Take just Russia, for example. It is Russia, not the United States, that has moved nuclear weapons to the center of its military strategy during the Obama era. Russian military doctrine has shifted to include the troubling “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, which means Russia would seek to de-escalate a strictly non-nuclear conflict with a “limited” nuclear strike. This would only actually deescalate a conventional conflict if Russia’s calculation is right and its enemy—most certainly NATO—chooses not to respond with a nuclear weapon, and instead relents to Russia. This outcome is unlikely. What is far more likely is a nuclear exchange, escalating to the unimaginable.

In addition to the change in military doctrine, Russia is in the middle of a serious nuclear modernization program. When U.S. officials talk about “modernizing,” they talk about patching together existing capabilities, rather than ensuring current capabilities are improved to meet the developing threats. In fact, President Obama has made it U.S. policy (at least under his administration) that the United States will not develop new nuclear capabilities. Russia does not tie its hands behind its own back for the sake of “stability.” Rather, it is constantly looking for ways to get the upper hand over the United States and our NATO allies.

Russia has also threatened U.S. ships in international waters, flown nuclear-capable aircraft into U.S. and ally airspace, and of course, has invaded and annexed a portion of a sovereign nation. It is also currently in violation of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which banned an entire class of nuclear cruise missiles that are especially destabilizing because they can hold NATO allies at risk at a moment’s notice and with great precision. Russia’s deployed strategic nuclear weapons also number more than 200 above the New START Treaty. While the treaty’s restrictions do not go into effect until February 2018, it is certainly concerning that the Russians are comfortable expanding their forces under the treaty in the meantime while the United States currently deploys 200 fewer than the treaty permits.

Second, the president-elect’s refusal to back down from his original statement via tweet is stunning and must not be underappreciated. His critics condemn the statement, believing it is necessarily the result of sloppy thinking, dangerous carelessness, and a failure to consult the many “experts” (them). But Trump’s pattern of interest and prioritization in understanding nuclear weapons and preventing nuclear employment over the course of the campaign, taken with his unwavering commitment to his original statement in the face of criticism tells another story. Trump has been receiving briefings on the status of the global threats and has been seeking input from those he has tapped to provide the most-valued counsel. He wasn’t just casually pondering nuclear weapons and firing off a haphazard tweet. It certainly seems as though the incoming president has been convinced—persuaded by strong arguments—that the United States has inadvertently encouraged adversary nuclear investments because of, at least in part, a weak U.S. nuclear policy.

The adage “weakness is provocative” is true, and Trump is determined not to provoke. If neglecting to fully modernize the U.S. nuclear force, swearing off nuclear testing (even if we might need to do it to increase reliability and safety of our weapons), and refusing not to build new capabilities (even though our adversaries are) is having the effect of encouraging our adversaries and increasing the likelihood of nuclear conflict,

Trump doesn’t want to play by that guidebook, especially if the reason for doing so is “that’s the way we do it.” Not anymore, it isn’t.

Third, the president-elect’s nuclear commitment should finally, ultimately, put to rest the nonsense about Trump being an unwitting puppet of the Russian government. I mean this despite any nice or complimentary thing Trump might have already said about the authoritarian Russian ruler and anything Trump might say in the future. American unwillingness to invest in our strategic capabilities has hinged on a fear of what the Russians might do. Trump clearly understands that the Russians are already investing in ways to exploit U.S. weaknesses to coerce and deter us,

Perhaps Trump understands this better than any U.S. president since Reagan. When President Obama was running for reelection in 2012, he infamously mocked Governor Mitt Romney for calling Russia the United States’s number one geopolitical foe. And then Obama, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, launched the “Russia reset” policy that included kowtowing to the Russians on everything from missile defense deployments to the strictness of the Iran nuclear deal. It was Obama who was caught on the open microphone pleading with then Russian President Medvedev to give him more space on strategic issues because “[a]fter my election I have more flexibility.”

Trump appears to be taking a different approach than the Obama “speak softly and carry a bushel of carrots” approach to Russia. No doubt he is willing to work with the Russians where there are common interests, but the message is quite clear at this point for those whose judgement is not clouded by anti-Trumpism: speak softly and carry a big stick. And if Putin’s efforts to downplay the significance of Trump’s statements mean anything, he’s sensitive to that stick and would like to avoid it.

Imagine that.  The United States is getting back in the deterrence game, preventing war, and ensuring that if our enemies still insist on war, we will win it.

2016 Election • America • Defense of the West • Democrats • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Hillary Clinton • Immigration • Republicans • September 11 • Terrorism • The Culture

What’s Truly De·plor·a·ble

The “most qualified” candidate for president is briefed on bombings in New York and New Jersey and the best she can muster is: “I think it’s always wiser to wait to until you have information for making conclusions, because we are just in the beginning stages of trying to determine what happened,” and, “Well I think it’s important to know all of the facts about an incident like this…. That’s why it’s critical to support the first responders, the investigators who are looking into it, trying to figure out what did happen.”

Did some 243 million Americans really not know what happened, and also want to do everything they could—if they could—to support first responders and investigators?

She, of course, was not alone in trying to fool all the people all the time. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio came right out of the box with: “To understand there were any specific motivations, political motivations, any connection to an organization — that’s what we don’t know.” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo tried, “It depends on your definition of terrorism.”

But this morning? Turns out that little thing hundreds of millions of adult Americans expected turned out to be, well, the wisdom of the crowd.  This morning the New York Times leads with how “police are searching for a 28-year-old man, described as a naturalized citizen of Afghan descent, Ahmad Khan Rahami, in connection with the bombing in Manhattan on Saturday night, sending out a cellphone alert to millions of residents.” And we used to say the media was always the first to get major terrorist events wrong.  [Update: We got him].

Now, let us think about a candidate and party that wants to expand the importation of Syrian refugees at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. Of course this would be the same candidate who, as secretary of state, tried to sell the country on the notion that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad was not like his dad but was, rather, “a reformer.”  This is the same candidate and secretary of state who was responsible for pushing the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, an act that even President Barack Obama would say was his “worst mistake” in office.

With the “most qualified” candidate for president, whose tenure as secretary of state includes the key decisions on and portfolios of Syria, Russia, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and beyond, we may very well have one of those rare elections based on national security and foreign policy. Now add the continued and attempted blinkering of the American people by that candidate and her party on the issue of domestic terrorism—the chances of that kind of election escalate dramatically. This, as so much else, of course, remains to be seen and will reveal itself November 8.

The other open question, far more important, far more durable: Why do so many political leaders continually try to distract us from, whitewash, and minimize terrorism that is so clearly here and so clearly obvious every time it is launched?  This we may never know. But we do know this: terrorism is deplorable, to put it no lower—and there’s no excuse for denying it. In fact, it should be easier to recognize and denounce than our political opponents and their supporters.

2016 Election • Deterrence • Greatness Agenda • Second Amendment

Trump Speak 101

800px-Mr_Donald_Trump_New_Hampshire_Town_Hall_on_August_19th_2015_at_Pinkerton_Academy_in_Derry_NH_by_Michael_Vadon_06American Greatness Managing Editor, Ben Boychuk, writes a column in the Sacramento Bee exploring the many supposed “gaffes” of the Trump campaign and begins to note in them a pattern. That is to say, Trump predictably elicits outrage from the usual quarters when he speaks. This outrage leads the news cycle. People argue, at first, about whether or not Trump ought to have said what he said and then over whether he ought to have said it in the way that he said it. But in the end, they usually get around to debating the substance of the thing he said and that thing, it turns out, is usually something about which people have long since ceased to think about in an original way. The effect is that they end up having to consider the fundamentals of the point he raises in a different way than they had been accustomed to consider it, no matter if their purpose is to condemn or to defend him. Love him or hate him, he’s forcing people to get out of their comfortable intellectual boxes and-dare I say it?-think for themselves.

Take, for example, two (possibly related) cases in point:  Trump’s controversial comments about  “Second Amendment people” and his alleged comments about the use of nuclear weapons. People argued he was trying to incite violence in the first case and that he was an intemperate madman in the second. But in both cases, people ended up having to rethink the fundamental question of purposes. That is to say: Why do we have a Second Amendment? What important public good is served by respecting an armed citizenry? And why does the United States have nuclear weapons? What purpose do we facilitate by maintaining a nuclear arsenal?

Boychuk notes that:

In the United States, with the exception of an unpleasant period between 1861 and 1865, we settle our political differences with ballots, not bullets. But the Second Amendment is a lot like the nuclear deterrent the Republican national security establishment worries that Trump doesn’t understand . . . Trump understands deterrence very well.

Deterrence. That’s it in a nutshell. We have a Second Amendment because, as a sovereign people, we reserve unto ourselves the right to stop tyranny. We are, after all, a nation founded in Revolution. We set things up so that we might always prevent tyranny with ballots because we understood that perpetual and persistent revolution (aka, direct democracy) is just another road to tyranny. So we put a lot of restraints on our ability to exercise that right of revolution. We made democracy representative and difficult and republican. We did not trust our own judgment so much that we thought it should be heeded in every question before the public. We established mechanisms to facilitate reflection before choice. But we weren’t suicidal in ceding so much of our decision-making powers to elected officials. We retained the franchise and sanctified certain rights in our Bill of Rights so as to keep them beyond the powers of the legislature to regulate away. Gun ownership, especially, is an ace in the hole. We maintained the right to arm ourselves not, as one wag noted, because we had an inordinate fear of deer but because we have a healthy fear of government and its tendency to abrogate power unto itself. Ballots, yes. But deterrence requires that government officials are not the only ones with bullets.

Similarly, we don’t keep nuclear weapons just to provide nuclear scientists with a jobs program.

Of course, Donald Trump might have said, “We need to have a national conversation about deterrence.” Everyone is laughing at this point in the reading here, right?  Because much to the consternation of politicos right, left, and everywhere, Trump does not and, seemingly, will not talk that way. But is his way the wrong way?  Scott Adams, the famous cartoonist and creator of Dilbert, doesn’t think so.  He sees a kind of sly genius in the way Trump upends the chessboard. Adams suggests that Trump is appealing to the irrational part of men’s souls because he understands that people don’t make political decisions based solely (actually, he would say “at all”) on the reason.

I don’t agree with Adams when he suggests that the irrational part of the soul is the only thing worth engaging.  But I do think he is on to something in noticing how it may help him win.  Trump can reach people by appealing to them in ways other Republican politicians have scorned for at least a generation.  It is true that at first he can be an irritant and a source of upheaval or outrage.  But Trump’s long game may be that in shaking up things on an emotional level, what’s actually happening is a loosening up of the staid and settled (and also irrational) consensus surrounding too many issues of public policy.  If that kind of disturbance can get people to question and think about first principles again (such as “what is the purpose of the Second Amendment or a nuclear arsenal?”) then in what sense is this method rightly called “irrational”?  Might it not be, in fact, the beginning of an awakened political wisdom in the American people?  Might it not be an attempt to reach for a higher form of consent, even, than mere electoral victory?