The Challenges of Restraint in U.S. Grand Strategy

Seeking to calm fears of a rising China’s new assertiveness in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs, professors Stephen G. Brooks and William G. Wohlforth argue that the United States has less to worry about than most believe. China is extremely unlikely to become a superpower peer anytime in the next few decades. The real test for the United States, they say, will be adapting to a “world of lasting U.S. military preeminence and declining U.S. economic dominance.”

As proponents of the “deep engagement” camp in the roiling debate over American grand strategy, Brooks and Wohlforth have long opposed arguments for a more restrained foreign policy. It is surprising, then, that a long section of their essay is devoted to the importance of exercising restraint, as is their conclusion that the “chief threat to the world’s preeminent power arguably lies within.”

Brooks and Wohlforth discuss four different challenges to exercising the appropriate restraint in the years ahead:

  1. The temptation to bully or exploit allies.
  2. Overreacting when other states such as China exercise their growing clout on the international stage.
  3. Intervening in places where its core national interests are not at stake.
  4. Adopting overly aggressive military postures in the face of challenges to its interests around the world.

Each of these challenges is real and important. But rather than problems that the United States will begin facing over the next several decades, these issues are exactly the ones that have plagued the United States since the end of the Cold War. All one needs to do is read the daily news for plentiful examples of how the United States already struggles to cope with what Christopher Preble has called the “power problem.”

In truth, the fact that Brooks and Wohlforth feel obligated to discuss the need for restraint at such length reinforces two critical arguments that we at Cato have been making for a long time.

First, the United States’ strategic situation is so secure thanks to geography and its nuclear triad that even China’s incredible economic rise and increasing military assertiveness can do little to threaten U.S. national security. In fact, contrary to the news headlines, the United States faces a less dangerous world than at any time in memory. Other “threats” to American security like Russia, Iran, or North Korea, are primarily threats to those nations’ neighbors, not the United States. Engaging those countries simply risks escalating conflicts that add nothing to American national security. Terrorism, while a real threat, is a threat to American lives and property, not to national security.

Second, U.S. preeminence creates temptations to act in ways that are both unnecessary for national security and counterproductive. The ability to project massive amounts of military power led the United States, in the wake of 9/11, to spend trillions of dollars and thousands of lives chasing imaginary threats in the Middle East. Intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya have destroyed societies and unleashed chaos. Despite these warnings, presidential candidates continue to call for indiscriminate exercise of American military power abroad in a vain effort to bring the world under control.

Brooks and Wohlforth’s warning about the challenges of restraint is timely. China’s rise, Russia’s saber rattling, the scourge of Islamist terrorism, and unrest and upheaval in the Middle East are just a few of the temptations calling out to American interventionists today. New temptations to shape and control the world will follow as surely as the sun rises. Now would not be too soon to organize plans for restrained responses to current and future concerns.

When Should Courts Defer to White-Collar Prosecution Settlements?

Deferred prosecution agreements and their close relatives non-prosecution agreements (DPAs/NPAs) have become a major tool of white-collar prosecution in recent years. Typically, a business defendant in exchange for escape from the costs and perils of trial agrees to some combination of cash payment, non-monetary steps such as a shakeup of its board or manager training, and submission to future oversight by DoJ or other monitors. Not unlike plea bargains in more conventional criminal prosecution, these deals dispense with the high cost of a trial; they also dispense with the need for the government to prove its allegations in the first place. DPAs may also pledge a defendant to future behavior that a court would never have ordered, or conversely fail to include remedies that a court would probably have ordered. And they may be drawn up with the aim of shielding from harm — or, in some other cases, undermining — the interests of third parties, such as customers, employees, or business associates of the targeted defendant, or foreign governments.

So there was a flurry of interest last year when federal district judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C., declined to approve a waiver, necessary under the Speedy Trial Act, for a DPA settling charges that Fokker Services, a Dutch aerospace company, sold U.S.-origin aircraft systems to foreign governments on the U.S. sanctions list, including Iran, Sudan, and Burma. While acknowledging that under principles of prosecutorial discretion the Department of Justice did not have to charge Fokker at all, Judge Leon said given that it had, the judiciary could appropriately scrutinize whether the penalties were too low.

AFT Message to Pearson: Hands off Our Monopoly!

Today the American Federation of Teachers – the country’s second largest teachers union – is joining “global allies” to protest outside of the shareholders’ meeting of Pearson PLC, a London-based company perhaps best known as a government contractor for standardized tests. What’s irking the AFT and friends? Pearson is heavily involved in government-imposed testing, as well as trying to help make private schooling more affordable in some of the world’s poorest places.

From the AFT’s press release:

The American Federation of Teachers, along with teachers unions and nongovernmental organizations throughout the world, will speak out during Pearson’s annual general meeting Friday, April 29, in London to call for a review of its business model that pushes high-stakes testing in the United States and privatized schools in the developing world.

How the press release sounds:

We oppose testing, and we oppose people having the ability to leave the government schools that impose it. Because, you know, we need to force taxpayers to fund these schools that impose these bad things. Because they also force taxpayers to pay for us.

I’m not a big fan of standardized testing, especially that is used to superficially deem students or schools “good” or “bad,” but I can certainly see the utility in testing. It can supply useful information. I can also understand why testing fans want assessments to have real ramifications for schools, even if I think they over-value test results. Learning should matter, right?

The key to balancing everyone’s myriad desires and judgements – especially when there is no conclusive evidence what works best for all, unique children – is to give individuals real choice and educators real autonomy to set up schools with different policies and focuses. Parents and educators who value standardized testing could work with each other. Parents and teachers who feel differently could do likewise. It’s called “freedom,” which is good in and of itself, but is also crucial for innovation, specialization, and real-but-flexible accountability.

Of course, freedom also makes it much harder to maintain a monopoly over employment terms and labor organization.

To see what this means in real life, I strongly suggest that the AFT and its allies – not to mention Pearson people and defenders of private schools everywhere – read James Tooley’s The Beautiful Tree, which documents the existence of abundant private institutions serving many of the world’s poorest people, and doing so better than the public schools.

Why better than the public schools? Maybe because public schooling is so easily subjected to things like blanket standardized testing. Or labor monopolies. Or both.

Russia and NATO Meet: Time for Allies to Call off Mini-Cold War with Moscow

The NATO-Russia Council met in Brussels for the first time in nearly two years. “We are not afraid of dialogue,” announced alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Alas, he explained: “it was reconfirmed that we disagree on the facts, on the narrative and the responsibilities in and around Ukraine.”

Of course, this should surprise no one. After all, Russia is in a mini-Cold War with the U.S. and Europe over Ukraine.

Only reassessing everyone’s respective national interests will change the existing relationship. Should the West maintain permanent confrontation with Russia over Ukraine?

None of the allies has made a security commitment to Kiev. Indeed, few if any of the 28 NATO members are willing to go to war with Russia over its neighbor.

Should the U.S. and Europe treat Kiev as if it was a member of NATO? There’s a reason the alliance has a membership process. One criterion is not to induct countries with a casus belli or two trailing behind.

More fundamentally, inclusion only makes sense if it makes the existing allies more secure. No one seemed to consider this issue during the madcap alliance expansion after the Cold War because the organization was treated as an international gentleman’s club.

What’s In a Name? Uproar Over Renaming the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University

The left must be in disarray over at George Mason University. It took the faculty senate almost a month to adopt a resolution expressing “deep concern” over the university’s decision to rename the law school after the late Justice Antonin Scalia, following grants of $10 million from the Charles Koch Foundation and $20 million from an anonymous donor. That’s slow by today’s academic standards, especially in this year of protests across the country.

What’s worse, the National Law Journal reports today that fewer than 140 faculty members have thus far signed a letter opposing the renaming. Their concerns, however, will surprise no one. It seems that Justice Scalia was less than solicitous of identity politics. Moreover, the resolution claims, he “was a significant contributor to the polarized climate in this country that runs counter to the values of a university that celebrates civil discourse.” And perhaps of greatest concern, this decision reinforces “the external branding of the university as a conservative institution rather than an unaligned body that is a comfortable home for individuals with a variety of viewpoints.” Oh the horror, at intercollegiate colloquia, to have GMU on one’s name tag.

Notice the apposition in that last concern: “a conservative institution rather than an unaligned body that is a comfortable home for individuals with a variety of viewpoints.” We’re invited to believe, first, that the average American university is an “unaligned body”—like Princeton, for example, where in the 2012 presidential election, 157 faculty and staff donated to Barack Obama’s campaign, 2 to Mitt Romney’s—a visiting engineering professor and a janitor. For a broad picture of the ideological complexion of American law schools, see the splendid article by Northwestern University Law School’s Jim Lindgren in the current Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. GMU’s law school is anomalous only in having a fairly broad ideological distribution of faculty members, where any student can find any number of sympathetic professors.

But note also and especially the implication that liberals could not be “comfortable” if GMU were, in fact, a conservative institution. Funny how that concern doesn’t seem to go both ways, as many a conservative student at your average liberal institution can attest—the evidence for which has been richly documented by the scrappy Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). But that concern is deeply revealing as well, and goes far toward explaining why our college and university faculties are so overwhelmingly of the left: They, indeed, are uncomfortable with opposing views. Witness this very incident. Does anyone believe that such conservatives as there are at GMU would come out of the woodwork in protest if a liberal justice’s name were given to the law school?

Res ipsa loquitur.

Beyond Burden-Sharing: Would a Trump Administration Really Leave NATO?

In both his March New York Times interview and his more recent foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel, presidential candidate Donald J. Trump has created tremors within America’s stodgy, utterly complacent foreign policy elite.  He has alarmed those self-anointed Mandarins regarding several issues, including his comments that under certain circumstances he would not object to Japan and South Korea acquiring independent nuclear deterrents.

But his comments about NATO have probably caused the most consternation.  Trump’s own preference appears to be for greater burden-sharing within the alliance—a unicorn that American politicians, policymakers, and pundits have been chasing for more than six decades.  But there is a much sharper edge to his demands than there are to the calls from most proponents of burden-sharing.  “Our allies are not paying their fair share,” Trump thundered in his speech at the Mayflower Hotel.  “The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense, and if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves.” [Emphasis added]

One must go back to the mid-1950s to find a warning that stark.  Probably the most significant and best known example was the threat that Secretary of State John Foster Dulles issued to conduct an “agonizing reappraisal” of America’s defense commitment to Europe if the NATO allies could not develop a united policy regarding West Germany and make a more serious effort at collective defense.  Yet even that effort at brass knuckles diplomacy ultimately failed.  European leaders never took the warning seriously, believing that their American counterparts regarded Europe as far too important to America’s own security and prosperity to ever consider abandoning the continent to possible Soviet domination.  They called the Eisenhower administration’s bluff and quickly confirmed that it was a bluff.  There was no reappraisal of Washington’s defense commitment to Europe, agonizing or otherwise.

A Trump administration would likely find intense institutional resistance even to more limited cutbacks.  Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) discovered the power of the bipartisan pro-NATO lobby in the 1970s when he merely sought to reduce the number of U.S. troops stationed in Europe. The push to expand the alliance and desperate search to find alternative missions for the organization, even though the Soviet Union (the principal reason for NATO’s creation) dissolved at the end of 1991, is ample testimony to the extent of those entrenched, vested interests on both sides of the Atlantic.

But the vastly changed economic and security environment - a fiscally stressed America, a populous and relatively prosperous democratic Europe, and a weak, declining Russia, gives Trump’s threat of a U.S. withdrawal unprecedented credibility.  The nations of the European Union now have both a larger population and a larger collective economy than does the United States.  They also have a population three times larger than Russia’s and an economy nearly ten times larger.  They can afford to build whatever military forces they deem necessary to defend their region.

The Bipartisan Immigration Act of 1965

The current partisan divide on immigration is wide and growing according to a new Pew study.  This widening divide does not come from Republicans having a more anti-immigration position than in the past but from Democrats having a much more pro-immigration position than they used to. 

In 2006, 49 percent of Democrats agreed with the statement “immigrants today strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents.”  In 2016, 78 percent of Democrats agreed with that statement.  Over the same time period Republicans went from 34 percent in agreement to 35 percent.  Prior to 2006 the opinions of the two parties were nearly identical.

This partisan divide was not present during the vote over the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the law that repealed the last vestiges of the eugenics-inspired 1920 immigration laws that ended America’s traditionally free immigration policy.

In the House of Representatives, Republican support for the 1965 Act actually exceeded Democratic support.  78 percent of Republicans voted for the 1965 Act (Chart 1) compared to 71 percent of Democrats (Chart 2).  18 percent of Republicans voted against the bill while 24 percent of Democrats did while both sides had a similar percentage of abstentions.  Both parties supported the 1965 Act by wide margins but House Republicans were more likely to vote for it. 

Chart 1

House Republican Votes

 

Source: govtrack.us

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