May 14, 2015 3:03PM

Marco Rubio’s Breathtaking Myopia

Sen. Marco Rubio might fancy himself as a new type of leader for a new era, but his speech yesterday to the Council on Foreign Relations was trapped in the past. Invoking John F. Kennedy's final speech as president, more than 50 years ago, was bad enough. But Rubio's overarching message -- the Rubio Doctrine -- amounts to warmed over Cold War dogma, sprinkled with the language of benevolent global hegemony favored by so many Washington elites, but disdained by most Americans beyond the Beltway. It is difficult to understand the depths of his political and strategic myopia.

Rubio misperceives the American public's willingness to sustain the current model indefinitely, and therefore fails to appreciate the need for a genuinely new approach to U.S. global affairs. He minimizes the costs and risks of our current foreign policies, and oversells the benefits. He ignores the way in which U.S. security assurances to a host of some-of-the-time allies have discouraged these countries from taking reasonable steps to defend themselves and their interests. And he fails to see any reasonable alternative to a world in which the United States acts -- forever, it seems -- as the sole guarantor of global security. Specifically, Rubio pledged: "As president, I will use American power to oppose any violations of international waters, airspace, cyberspace, or outer space." (Any? Whew!) 

To be sure, many people around the world may be happy to allow U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines to attempt such an ambitious undertaking, and to have American taxpayers pick up the tab. It is reasonable to guess that most foreign leaders are anxious to preserve the current order -- so long as the U.S. government provides for their defense, they are free to spend their money on other things. But the fact that foreigners like this arrangment doesn't explain why most Americans would. When Rubio calls for huge increases in the Pentagon's budget, he is telling Americans that they should be content to accept higher taxes, more debt, and less money to spend here at home, so that U.S. allies elsewhere can neglect their defenses, and feed their bloated welfare states.

Americans, unsurprisingly, and by a wide margin, favor something else. A poll taken last year by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, for example, found a mere 38 percent of Americans who considered "defending our allies' security" to be a "very important" foreign goal, below "combating world hunger" and "limiting climate change." Several of Rubio's other major foreign policy goals, including "promoting human rights abroad," "protecting weaker nations against foreign aggression," or "helping to bring a democratic form of government to other nations" ranked even lower.

To be sure, Rubio is hardly alone in his embrace of the decades-old status quo. A parade of politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, routinely speak of the United States as the indispensable nation, and celebrate the U.S. miltary's role as a global constabulary. But it seriously undermines Rubio's claim to represent the hopes and aspirations of a new generation when he invokes the policies of the same-ol' generation, and the one before it. His relative youth and stirring personal narrative will appeal to some, including possibly younger voters turned off by a cast of familiar names and has-beens. But Rubio's fresh face alone is unlikely to compensate for his strangely stale foreign policies.  

September 25, 2014 10:34AM

Use Education to Transform China From Within

BEIJING—China’s university system is growing.  However, the People’s Republic of China still lags behind the U.S. and other Western nations.  Chinese students increasingly are heading to America for higher education. 

While recently playing tourist in Beijing I spoke to a number of young Chinese.  They were bright and inquisitive, ambitious and nationalistic.  They worried about finding good jobs and were irritated by government restrictions on their freedom. 

Beijing’s global influence depends upon domestic economic growth and political stability.  And that ultimately depends upon China’s young. 

The PRC’s university students today are most likely to become the country’s leaders tomorrow.  The number of college graduates has increased to seven million, a four-fold jump over the last decade. 

While the number of universities in China is growing, few have national, let alone international, reputations.  Undoubtedly that will change over time.  Today, however, competition for the few available spots at top schools is extraordinary. 

For instance, Peking and Tsinghua Universities are the only Chinese universities among the world’s top 100.  They have space only for 6000 new students a year. 

Obviously, far more Chinese students could succeed, indeed thrive, at fine universities.  So more than 400,000 young Chinese are heading abroad every year. 

The Chinese government increasingly accommodates students who desire to study overseas.  Indeed, in 2011 President Hu Jintao admitted:  “While people receive a good education, there are significant gaps compared to the advanced international level.”  The daughter of his successor, President Xi Jinping, attended Harvard University. 

The U.S. remains the favored destination of Chinese students.  There were 235,000 Chinese students in America during the 2012-2013 school year.  In the past most Chinese students were in graduate school, but the share of undergraduates has been increasing—up more than ninefold from 2005 to 2012. 

U.S. universities offer a greater variety of courses, making it easier to specialize.  They also provide an education more attuned to the global economy in which China is expanding its role. 

A foreign degree is particularly helpful for the three of ten Chinese students who remain overseas.  Chen Yuyu of Peking University observed:  “High-end jobs that should have been produced by industrialization, including research, marketing and accounting, etc., have been left in the West.” 

Foreign companies doing business in China also desire employees with a Western-oriented education.  Even Chinese students destined to work in China gain an advantage from schooling that sets them apart. 

Of course, while many Chinese students are capable of succeeding at foreign universities, many find foreign study difficult.  Some prospective applicants turn to private companies to help them prepare.

The Chinese educational surge is good for America.  Chinese students deliver $24 billion to the U.S economy. 

Moreover, educating many of China’s future leaders is more likely to lead to better bilateral relations and a more peaceful future.  Attending American colleges won’t turn Chinese into Americans, but will yield many personal friendships and business relationships. 

A common educational experience also may encourage a more liberal international vision.  Western schooling certainly does not guarantee humane views, but as I wrote in Forbes online, “a U.S. university education is more likely to reinforce the independent impulses evident in so many Chinese students today.”

They still will be Chinese patriots (and likely quite nationalistic in the eyes of most Americans).  But Western-educated Chinese may be more likely to appreciate if not share U.S. worldviews and objectives.  At least, the possibility is there.

The U.S.-China relationship is the most important bilateral relationship of the 21st Century.  Both nations must work through the inevitable disagreements and make cooperation rather than confrontation the hallmark of their relationship.  While there’s no panacea to make that happen, the growing number of Chinese attending U.S. universities is a hopeful sign.

August 22, 2014 2:32PM

The Interventionist Bias (on Both the Left and Right)

Over at Reason today, I have more to say (beyond here and here) about recent goings on in Iraq and Syria, and the debate over what, if anything, the United States might have done, or might do now, to change things.

As I note:

some commentators insist that the current chaos is a direct result of President Obama's reluctance to intervene decisively in the multi-year conflicts in Iraq and Syria. Most notably, Obama's own former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in an interview with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, suggested that Obama's failure to aid the Syrian rebels led to the rise of [the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Clinton claims "that the failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad ... left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled." Inherent in that statement is the belief that there was a cadre of relatively liberal-minded opponents of Bashar al-Assad's regime inside of Syria, and that American support would have been the decisive factor in ensuring that they would triumph over both Assad and the ISIL extremists. By this logic, if the United States had chosen to arm the "correct" anti-Assad rebels in Syria, we would not now be bombing ISIL in Iraq.

But experts, including George Washington University’s Marc Lynch, aren’t so sure. Others question how “moderate” some of the so-called moderates really are. Indeed, many so-called moderates, in turns out, are just “Caliphate, later” people. That is, unlike their “Caliphate, now” brethren, they are willing to use U.S. support to overthrow Assad. Once his regime is defeated, however, many will fight to implement an extremist government, one that is likely to be a thorn in the side of their regional neighbors, as well as the United States. That explains, in part, why we are now fighting in Iraq at least some of the people who we trained in Syria, And yet, the interventionist bias—do something—remains pervasive inside the Washington Beltway.

Ironically, many of the same people who are skeptical of government intervention to deal with domestic problems seem to believe that that same government can somehow cure the ills of other nations. This cognitive dissonance reflects what Michael Munger calls a “unicorn” government: “a State that has the properties, motivations, knowledge, and abilities that they can imagine for it.”

Even if the advocates for U.S. military intervention—on both the left and the right—find that magical, mystical state, they must also show that the problem in question can't be handled by others, or by nonmilitary means. Just because we have the ability to do something doesn’t mean that we should, or must, do it, nor does it mean that military intervention would improve the situation.

Here, again, some on the right have departed dramatically from their intellectual forefathers who advised that “masterly inactivity” is often preferable to action for action’s sake. Calvin Coolidge advised against the impulse to preemptively deal with any possible problem, no matter how distant. “If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you and you have to battle with only one of them.”

This is particularly sage advice for the United States, a nation with blessed geography and great wealth, and one that has a robust nuclear arsenal and an unrivaled military that is sufficient to deter any nation wishing to attack us directly. Thus the burden of proof for U.S. military intervention should fall on those making the case for action, not those advising against.

So far at least, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The interventionists are still winning.

January 13, 2014 4:03PM

Nothing New Under the Sun, Diplomacy Edition

A second-term American president begins a diplomatic opening with a long-time adversary. Neoconservatives, citing the adversary’s interpretation of the agreement, suggest that diplomacy harms US interests and tips the balance of power, perhaps irreversibly, in favor of the other party. They cultivate a sense of growing threat and a weakening America. The president responds by suggesting that those opposed to diplomacy seem to believe war is inevitable, and that they fail to appreciate that diplomacy provides an opportunity to avoid such a war, benefiting US interests. His opponents counter by accusing him of appeasement and a lack of will, calling him a “useful idiot for [enemy] propaganda.”

It’s 1988, and Ronald Reagan has just negotiated the INF treaty.

The parallel, of course, is to the current garment-rending over the interim deal negotiated between the permanent 5 members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) and Iran. There is absolutely no plausible interpretation of this deal that puts Iran with or closer to a nuclear weapon at the end of the six month period covered by the deal. At worst, it either puts 4-6 weeks onto the breakout time frame, or else Iran cheats and that cheating is detected, given the increased inspection schedules in the deal. As the New York Times’ account notes:

The interim agreement is, in effect, an elaborate pause button that provides a basis for pursuing a larger accord. It adds at least several weeks to the time Iran would need to acquire enough enriched uranium for a bomb if it decided to pursue a military option, but it can be reversed if either side changes its mind.

Under the interim deal, Iran agreed to stop enriching uranium beyond 5 percent, a level that is sufficient for energy production but not for a bomb. The country’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent, a step toward weapons-grade fuel, will be diluted or converted to oxide so that it cannot be readily prepared for military purposes.

Iran also agreed not to install any new centrifuges, start up any that were not already operating, or build new enrichment facilities. The agreement does not, however, require Iran to stop enriching uranium to a low level of 3.5 percent, or to dismantle any existing centrifuges.

Increasing Iran’s more highly enriched stockpile of uranium is a necessary condition for their acquisition of a nuclear bomb. This deal either will reduce that stockpile, or the deal is off. Those are the possible outcomes.*

Objections to this interim agreement are really hard to understand on the merits. Supporters of the current Menendez-Kirk bill, which would preemptively hang more sanctions over the Iranians’ heads, insist they support diplomacy, but given that the Iranians have said repeatedly they’ll walk if the bill passes—and given that if they do walk, there are going to be a lot more calls for military strikes—that’s tough to believe. Only two Senate Republicans have yet to sign onto the bill--Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky--both of whom had supported previous sanctions legislation but are exhibiting the conservative values of caution and prudence while diplomacy (and diminution of Iran's stockpile of 20% enriched uranium) ensues.

Then again, it is also hard to understand on the merits the neoconservative objections to the INF treaty (and to diplomacy with the Soviet Union altogether), and that turned out okay. Here’s hoping cooler heads prevail. Again.

* Some observers have worried about a nuclear facility whose location we don't know at present. This is indeed a concern, although it is the same concern with or without the nuclear deal.

September 12, 2013 11:39AM

Obsession with Syria Obscures Other Middle East Problems and Pertinent Lessons

The Obama administration and most of the U.S. foreign policy community have become so obsessed with Syria that other important developments around the world are receiving inadequate attention. In a piece over at the National Interest Online, I describe some of the key trends in South Asia and East Asia, two regions that are more important than the Middle East to long-term U.S. security and economic interests.

Crucial events include India’s growing financial woes, the simmering tensions between China and its neighbors over territorial disputes in the South China and East China Seas, and Japan’s increased willingness (in large part because of its problems with China) to boost its military spending and adopt a more confrontational stance toward Beijing. 

I also note that Syria is hardly the only source of worry in the Middle East itself. The renewed sectarian violence next door in Iraq is escalating at a frightening pace, Sunni-Shiite tensions in Bahrain are moving from a simmer to a boil, Libya is imploding, and Egypt is perched on the brink of civil war. The problems in Iraq and Libya hold pertinent lessons for those Americans who are eager to embark on a war against Syria. After all, those were Washington’s last two military crusades to oust odious dictators. And to be blunt, they have not turned out well.

Since the early spring, the level of bloodshed in Iraq has reached alarming proportions. And much of the violence reflects bitter sectarian divisions similar to those that make Syria such a fragile political entity. Iraq after the United States overthrew Saddam Hussein has not turned out to be the peaceful, democratic, multi-religious society that George W. Bush’s administration touted as the goal of U.S. policy. 

The situation in Libya is even worse. Overthrowing Muammar Qaddafi has led to an awful aftermath. The horrifying September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans was an early symptom of the chaos that has made Libya a thoroughly dysfunctional country. Today, a growing number of militias (many of which have rabidly Islamist orientations) have established small fiefdoms throughout the country, and the national government in Tripoli becomes increasingly impotent. Libya’s oil production has plunged, and with it the government’s principal source of revenue. 

Given the dismal outcomes of Washington’s last two military ventures in the Middle East and North Africa, one would think that proponents of a crusade in Syria would be sobered by the experience. But warhawks such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Representative Peter King, and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol appear to have learned nothing from those debacles. More prudent figures in Congress and the broader foreign policy community need to overrule their wishes.

May 3, 2011 8:49AM

After bin Laden

As Chris Preble noted early Monday morning, Osama bin Laden is dead. In addition to celebrating V-OBL Day, we should take a moment to reflect on wars of the last decade and the civil liberties we have sacrificed since September 11, 2001. Malou Innocent makes the case for reconsidering our foreign policy, and Jim Harper asks if he can have his airport back. We lay out these thoughts in more detail in this Cato video, After bin Laden.

The phrase “after bin Laden” has a nice ring to it. Cato held counterterrorism conferences in 2009 and 2010, and there’s more Cato work on counterterrorism and homeland security here.

April 1, 2011 5:33PM

The Trouble with Doctrines

Many presidential foreign policy doctrines ago, George Kennan figured out what was wrong with them. In my latest post for The Skeptics, I rely on his insight to try to stop pundits from inventing an Obama Doctrine.

The national effort to discern an Obama Doctrine from our attack on Libya is likely to be futile. If it succeeds, it will be harmful. No one can make foreign policy without some theory or strategy. But as Kennan’s lament about the Truman Doctrine points out, doctrines tend to be post-hoc rationales of actions that confuse policy later. If taken seriously, they typically encourage foolish wars.

Kennan attributed the American desire for doctrines to our love of law and rules. I see it more as a product of divided power, which heightens the need for sales. Doctrines have a pseudo-scientific air that helps legitimate policy. They endow the messy process of presidential decision-making with false order. They over-generalize.

The rest of the post briefly applies this formula to all our presidential doctrines, from Monroe to Bush. With the exception of Nixon's, almost all arose to justify military action and thus tend to encourage war. While I can imagine doctrines, like Weinberger-Powell, that might marginally help keep us out of trouble, even that substitutes a formula for careful consideration of action based on theory.

So I propose the Kennan Doctrine, which says don't have a doctrine.