Tag: GOP primary

The Reckless Proposal to Impose a No-Fly Zone in Syria

Bad foreign policy ideas have a nasty habit of recirculating. One of the worst is the proposal to impose a no-fly zone in Syria to protect rebel forces attempting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s regime. President Obama has wisely resisted that scheme, but the likely Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, has endorsed it. And in the most recent GOP debate, several candidates, especially Senator Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina, enthusiastically signed-on to the strategy. Only Senator Rand Paul unequivocally opposed it.

Even under normal circumstances, imposing a no-fly zone in Syria would be a spectacularly bad idea. Such measures were a prelude of America’s disastrous, full-scale military intervention in Iraq, and a similar danger of escalation exists in this case. Moreover, the move would strengthen the position of the ideologically murky amalgam that opposes Assad. The reality is that even the non-ISIS rebel groups exhibit a disturbing level of radical Islamic influence. Indeed, the largest and strongest anti-Assad faction appears to be al Nusra, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. It is mystifying why American hawks would want to empower such forces.

But special circumstances in Syria make the no-fly proposal even more dangerous than normal. Russia has intervened in that country and is flying numerous combat missions against rebel units. Establishing a no-fly zone over Moscow’s objections would be extremely provocative. Yet neither Clinton nor the GOP hawks gave any hint that creating the zone should be contingent on Russia’s consent. Indeed, there was an undertone in the debate comments by Rubio and Fiorina that imposing the zone would be an effective way to humiliate Vladimir Putin and make it clear that Russia would not be able to exercise influence in the Middle East.

If that is the nature of no-fly zone proposals, they are extraordinarily reckless. How would we enforce the unilateral no-fly edict?  Would we actually shoot down Russian planes if they dared continue their combat flights?  That would carry the obvious risk that Moscow might respond in kind—and that would bring two nuclear-armed powers to the brink of all-out war. Even if Russia did not directly challenge the United States with aerial combat in Syria, it has other options to retaliate against a U.S. effort to humiliate the Kremlin. Putin could, for example, redouble his military efforts in Ukraine, intensifying that messy conflict. And there is always the chance that he would move militarily against the vulnerable Baltic republics, creating a crisis of credibility for NATO.

There is nothing at stake in Syria that warrants the United States risking such a dangerous confrontation with Russia. Imposing a no-fly zone under the current circumstances is utterly reckless. Anyone who embraces such a scheme should be disqualified automatically from occupying the Oval Office.

Scott Walker Proves that Neoconservative Pandering Is No Route to White House

There may be no sadder political spectacle than a Republican governor running for president. He knows nothing about foreign policy. But he panders to Neocons who dominate the GOP and expect the nominee to advocate perpetual war. Then his presidential campaign collapses.

So it was with Rick Perry. Now it is with Scott Walker, who last week abandoned his presidential bid.

The Wisconsin governor won some significant domestic political victories. He tried to compensate for his nonexistent foreign policy credentials by claiming to be tougher and meaner than any other Republican presidential candidate.

Walker assumed that to prosper “we need a safe and stable world.” Which was simple nonsense. When has the earth been “safe and stable”?

Naturally, Walker lauded Ronald Reagan, who deployed the military in only three limited actions. Reagan was appalled by the possibility of war. Neocons denounced him as an appeaser for dealing with the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev and withdrawing from Lebanon’s civil war.

Walker contended that “America is not safer” than seven years ago. True, but mainly because of the dangerous military interventions he and other Republican candidates reflexively supported.

The Wisconsin governor talked in clichés: “We just need to lead again,” he declared. The U.S. did lead in Iraq, with disastrous results.

On the Islamic State Walker declared: “I’d rather take the fight to them than wait for them to bring the fight to us.” Alas, Walker confused ISIS with al-Qaeda. The latter attacked the U.S. The former wanted to create a state, which gave ISIS reason not to attack America—until the U.S. joined the Mideast’s latest sectarian war. Yet, argued Walker: “we have to be prepared to put boots on the ground.”

Walker wanted the U.S. to jump into the Syrian quagmire: train more “moderate” guerrillas, establish a no-fly zone, and create “a broader, U.S.-led regional coalition, with real buy-in and iron-clad guarantees from our allies that they will help us shoulder the burden.” The first has been a bust. The second would trigger much deeper American military involvement. The third is a joke.

The governor promised to tear up President Obama’s nuclear agreement on his first day in office. Then, he said, he would apply “crippling economic sanctions and convince our allies to do the same.”

How? America’s friends would be less than pleased with Washington leaving them high and dry. Nor would Tehran be likely to yield to American pressure, having responded to every previous U.S. rebuff by expanding its nuclear activities.

Walker also pledged to continue treating American defense policy as welfare. He echoed other GOP contenders in arguing that “we need to stand with our friends” since “our allies are among our greatest source of strength.” In fact, Washington collects allies like Facebook Friends. The Europeans, South Koreans, and Japanese all could defend themselves but don’t.

Of course, Walker wanted to spend more on the military, even though very little of the Pentagon’s effort actually goes for America’s defense. The bulk is devoted to defending wealthy allies, rebuilding failed societies, propping up dictatorial allies, engaging in foreign social engineering, and undertaking other similarly dubious tasks.

Being a superpower means America has interests everywhere, but few of them are vital or even important. Being a leader means distinguishing between critical and minimal interests.

 “America will not be intimidated,” Walker insisted. But that’s not the issue. Avoiding involvement in unnecessary wars is the issue. He claimed: “we can no longer afford to be passive spectators while the world descends into chaos.”

But as I pointed out for Forbes online, “there is little the U.S. can do to create order out of chaos. Far more often Washington inadvertently delivers disaster. It would be far better to stay out of foreign imbroglios instead.”

Other candidates likely soon will follow Walker out of the presidential race. Posing as uber-hawks is likely to work no better for them than for Scott Walker.

A World on Fire?

A sense of historical perspective and responsible rhetoric may be too much to ask of candidates at this stage in a presidential campaign. With fifteen contenders all looking to score points some hyperbole is to be expected. Even so the level of threat inflation and “world in flames” talk last night was troublesome given how at odds it is with fundamental trends in world affairs.

Here is just a sampling of last week’s overheated discussion of global dangers:

Donald Trump: “The world is blowing up around us. …These are extraordinarily dangerous times that we live in.”

Ben Carson: “We’re talking about global jihadists who want to destroy us. …They are an existential threat to our nation.”

Rick Santorum: “Yes, they (Iran) are radical Islamists, that’s true. But their particular version of it, which is an apocalyptic version, which is a death cult, they believe in bringing about the end of the - end of the world. If you - if you poll Iranians and Iraqis, Shiites in the region, more than two-thirds of them believe that the end of the world is going to come within their lifetime. …They believe in bringing about the end of times. That’s their theological goal and we are in the process of giving them a nuclear weapon to do just that.”

Mike Huckabee: “This is really about the survival of Western civilization.”

With the candidates competing to outdo each other’s apocalyptic visions of the threats facing the U.S., it is no surprise that their policy prescriptions for Russia, Syria, Iran, and ISIL displayed a distinct tendency toward irresponsibility and overkill. Of the candidates in the debate, only Rand Paul and John Kasich articulated more temperate visions of U.S. foreign policy, Paul suggesting that sometimes intervention makes things worse and Kasich that the U.S. should actually wait to see how Iran behaves before simply ripping up the Iran deal and pursuing more aggressive options.

Watching the Debates Tonight? Get Smart Policy Analysis on Twitter With #Cato2016


Tonight, starting at 6:00 p.m. EDT, CNN will host two nationally televised debates featuring candidates for the Republican nomination for the 2016 presidential elections. Though widely regarded as the “second” debate of this election season, those of you who have been following Cato coverage will recognize tonight’s broadcasts as the fourth and fifth debates of Campaign 2016.

Cato scholars will be on hand to live-tweet both debates, bringing insightful commentary and hard-hitting policy analysis to the discussion. Follow tonight’s live-tweeters and join the conversation on Twitter using #Cato2016.

Similar to the Fox debates, the split in candidates will be based on average scores from national poll results spanning a two-month period ending last Thursday, with candidates required to average at least 1 percent support in three polls to qualify.

The first debate will feature Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, and Lindsey Graham. Then, at 8:00 p.m. EDT, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Carly Fiorina will take the stage.

Although CNN had originally intended only to include the top ten candidates in the later debate, an exception was made for Fiorina, whose performance in the first Fox debate helped her move into the top ten in polls conducted after that broadcast.

Candidates positions on the stage will be based on their overall rankings, with Trump—flanked by Carson and Bush—front and center for the primetime debate.

Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, who garnered 1 percent support in only one poll during the two-month window, did not meet the criteria for inclusion.

Join the conversation tonight on Twitter with #Cato2016.


The Bad and Ugly of the GOP’s Foreign Policy, Part II

The Republican presidential race is heating up and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is talking foreign policy. Alas, he believes intervention and war to be a first resort and seems willing to sacrifice American lives, wealth, and prosperity for almost any reason.

Rubio shares the common delusion on the Right that the world has grown more dangerous since the end of the Cold War. Actually, the end of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact has made it much safer for America.

Rubio claimed that “Turmoil across the world can impact American families almost as much as turmoil across town.” But that is only if the United States allows it. During most of America’s history, Washington avoided involvement in foreign tragedies.

Rubio worried about rising prices from foreign instability. Far more consequential is the expense of military intervention, human and financial.

The Bad and Ugly of the GOP’s Foreign Policy, Part 1

The GOP’s Cleveland debate was spirited, but shed little light on foreign policy. There are important differences among the participants, but few were exposed.

For instance, elsewhere Donald Trump opined that Crimea was Europe’s problem and asked why Washington still defended South Korea. These sentiments deserved discussion.

No multi-candidate forum can delve deeply into such complex issues, however. Even those Republicans giving formal foreign policy addresses have come up short. The GOP contenders have been largely captured by a reflexive, even rabid interventionism which ignores consequences and experience.

Leading the hawks is Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate’s unabashedly pro-war caucus. In the interventionist middle some candidates demonstrate hints of reluctance, such as Ted Cruz and John Kasich. Sen. Rand Paul brings up the rear, uncomfortably gyrating between his father’s views and the GOP conventional wisdom.

Chris Christie delivered a formal foreign policy address in which he easily staked his claim to being most committed to violating Americans’ civil liberties through surveillance of dubious value. He charged that his critics were “ideologues,” yet opposed any restraints on the new, far-reaching presidential powers that he demanded.

His foreign policy views are even worse. At age 52, Christie declared: “I don’t believe that I have ever lived in a time in my life when the world was a more dangerous and scary place.”

This is nonsense. As I pointed out on Forbes online: “Christie barely missed the Cuban missile crisis. During his life the Cold War raged, the Vietnam War was lost, the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, and China’s Mao Zedong unleashed the bloody Cultural Revolution. People talked about the potential for a ‘nuclear winter’ from a nuclear exchange. Today the U.S. vastly outspends its potential adversaries and is allied with every major industrialized power save China and Russia.”

 “Building stronger alliances” is a “pillar” of Christie’s foreign policy. U.S. foreign policy is based on “partnership with the people and nations who share our values,” he explained. Like the totalitarian Saudis, brutal Egyptian military, and dictatorial Central Asian states?

Moreover, America’s friends can defend themselves. For instance, South Korea has 40 times the GDP of the North; Japan possesses the world’s third largest economy. Europe has a larger GDP and population than America and multiple of those of Russia.

Many so-called allies are security black holes, making America less secure. Why would Washington wish to confront nuclear-armed Moscow over interests the latter considers vital by defending nations such as Georgia and Ukraine, which always have been irrelevant to America’s security?

Christie argued that “We didn’t have to be a global policeman who solved every problem.” But that’s what Washington has done with perpetual social engineering through foreign aid, military intervention, war, and more.

In Christie’s view squandered U.S. credibility is why Russia grabbed Crimea, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad used force against his opponents, and “Iranian-backed militias are rampaging across Yemen.”

In fact, Washington never was going to go to war over Crimea with nuclear-armed Russia. Assad was determined to remain in power and therefore had to fight, irrespective of Washington’s view. Yemen’s Houthis have been in revolt for decades and have never had much connection to Iran, let alone America.

Of course, Christie demanded more military outlays. But it would be easier “to keep our edge” if Washington didn’t constantly squander Americans’ resources defending other nations and rebuilding failed states.

Christie insisted that “What happened on 9/11 must never happen again.” But he failed to understand that promiscuously supporting authoritarian regimes, aiding foreign combatants, dropping drones and, most important, bombing, invading, and occupying other lands creates enemies determined to do America ill.

Rubio and Bush also have given formal speeches, but sound no better than Christie. Most GOP candidates promise brave new interventions and wars.

If Republicans really believe in limited government and individual liberty, they should promote peace. It is time for a real Republican debate over foreign and military policy.

Republican Candidates’ Spending Increases

The Republicans took the stage in their first presidential debate Thursday night. Of the 16 major candidates, eight have gubernatorial experience. I have written a number of times recently about the fiscal records of the candidates with gubernatorial experience. Their records are instructive. A governor who promises to cut federal spending is more believable if he held spending in check when he was governor.

As my blog post earlier in the week detailed, there are a number of ways to measure how and why state spending changes. Gubernatorial policies play a large role in influencing state general fund spending. Other factors, such as the state’s budget process, legislative policies, and federal mandates, can contribute to changes in spending, but as a state’s Chief Executive, governors have impact.

Using data from the National Association of State Budget Officers, I wanted to see just how much each governor increased spending on an annual basis. Analyzing the data on an annual basis allows us to control for the length of governor tenure. George Pataki was governor of New York for twelve years, while Scott Walker has been governor of Wisconsin for only four years. Comparing Pataki’s increase of 39 percent to Walker’s increase of 16 percent is unfair to Pataki.