Tuesday Links

Wednesday Links

  • Osama bin Laden’s death gives us a chance to end what might have become an era of permanent emergency and perpetual war.
  • The Cold War ended–what are we doing in Korea?
  • Two cheers for President Obama for ending eight (well, three) tax breaks to oil companies.
  • Does Osama bin Laden’s death mean an end to U.S.-Pakistan relations?
  • Please join us next Tuesday, May 10 at 4:00 p.m. Eastern for a Cato Book Forum on America’s Allies and War: Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, by University of Mary Washington political scientist Jason W. Davidson. Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow and Georgetown University international relations professor Charles Kupchan will join Professor Davidson in a discussion of the book and its themes, particularly U.S. relations with NATO allies, moderated by Cato director of foreign policy studies Christopher A. Preble. Complimentary registration is required of all attendees by Monday, May 9 at noon Eastern. We hope you can join us in person, but we encourage you to watch online if you cannot attend personally.

Wednesday Links

The Senate’s Interventionist Caucus and Libya

An interesting window into the politics of the Obama administration’s war in Libya may open this week, when Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) reintroduce a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate “that it is not in the vital interests of the United States to intervene militarily in Libya,” and calling on NATO member states and the Arab League, two parties who are directly threatened by the violence in Libya, to provide the necessary assets to the mission.

Such resolutions almost never have a direct impact on the conduct of military operations. Hutchison-Manchin isn’t even the first attempt to constrain President Obama’s ability to wage war in Libya. A resolution offered by freshman Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), and cosponsored by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), went well beyond the question of whether the war advanced vital U.S. national interests, and attempted to reassert the legislature’s control over the warpowers generally. Borrowing from something that then-Senator Barack Obama said in 2007, the resolution read “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” This language, which likely strikes most Americans as eminently sensible, managed to garner just 10 votes, all from Republicans.

Still, the prospect of a vote on a much narrower resolution must worry the war’s advocates. At a minimum, an up or down vote on Libya will test the strength of the still-vocal interventionist caucus in the U.S. Senate.

These reliably pro-war members took to the Sunday shows to make the case for escalation. On CNN’s State of the Union, Sen. Lindsey Graham called on the Obama administration “to cut the head of the snake off. Go to Tripoli [and] start bombing Qaddafi’s inner circle.” Worries that the uprising might provide cover for al Qaeda to expand its operations in the Maghreb were unfounded, John McCain asserted. McCain’s long-time friend Sen. Joseph Lieberman agreed, explaining on the same program, “We’re in the fight and the political goal is to get Qaddafi out and to help the freedom fighters achieve their own independent Libya. You can’t get into a fight with one foot. You got to get into it.”

How many others in the Senate subscribe to the interventionists’ interpretation of what America’s role in Libya should be is unclear. I have never understood why Republicans would scramble to follow foreign policy advice from a Democrat, and Al Gore’s running mate, no less. Senators McCain and Graham hold more sway among their GOP colleagues, but their outspoken support for a number of other ill-considered ventures, including especially the war in Iraq, likely gives pause to some. Graham’s fellow South Carolinian Jim DeMint, for example, voted in favor of the Paul-Lee resolution, and has otherwise shown no great enthusiasm for adding to the U.S. military’s already full plate. The Boston Globe’s Theo Emery reports today that Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown isn’t yet ready to endorse an escalation of the war. Meanwhile, Maine’s Susan Collins told Emery that the U.S. military’s role in Libya should be limited to intelligence, logistics, and other capabilities that U.S. allies lack.

Who else might vote for Hutchison-Manchin? Presumably those within the Democratic caucus who still think that war is generally a bad thing, even when it is waged by a Democratic president. No Democrat voted for Paul-Lee, but Senator Manchin’s co-sponsorship of this much more narrowly worded resolution should provide cover for centrists, as well as progressives who once reliably opposed wars of choice.

One thing is clear with respect to the war in Libya: politics favors the skeptics. There is no groundswell of public opinion calling for yet another armed nation-building mission in a strategic backwater. Though the costs of the war are small relative to the gargantuan military budget, most Americans can be counted on to oppose wars that do not clearly advance U.S. national security interests, regardless of how much or how little they cost. They are doubly skeptical given that the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have vastly exceeded even the most pessimistic of predictions, and have not delivered the security that the advocates for war claimed.

It is a truism that politics doesn’t generally drive foreign policy. People who celebrate America’s role as the world’s policeman don’t expect to reap great political rewards for taking such an unpopular stand. McCain, Graham and Lieberman have always stood apart in that regard. Recall, for example, that John McCain bragged that he would rather lose an election than lose a war. He never appeared to consider that both eventualities were possible. Perhaps some of his fellow senators will.

Cross-posted from The National Interest

Pass the Freedom Fries!

Back in 2002-03, when France opposed going to war in Iraq, conservatives spared no venom for the country some called “Our Oldest Enemy.” In retrospect, though, France was a better friend to us then than she’s been in our ongoing Libyan debacle.

As the bombing began last month, the LA Times ran a piece showing that French bellicosity (yes) had been instrumental in dragging the US to war:

Earlier in the week, French papers reported that when Sarkozy asked [Secretary of State] Clinton to come out more forcefully in favor of action in Libya, she replied, “There are difficulties” and refused to be drawn out further.

“Frankly, we are completely puzzled,” a French diplomat told one of his European counterparts. “We are wondering if Libya is a priority for the United States.”

It shouldn’t be. Apparently it is now. And that, I argue in my Washington Examiner column this week, shows the dangers of NATO, a 60-year-old entangling alliance that long ago outlived its usefulness.

Much of the piece focuses on Bernard Henri-Levy, the French celebrity-philosopher who played a key role in stoking Sarko’s dreams of military glory:

Credit or blame goes to French celebrity-philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy, who, “in the space of roughly two weeks,” the New York Times reports, got “a fledgling Libyan opposition group a hearing from the president of France and the American secretary of state, a process that led both countries and NATO into waging war.”

Who is Bernard Henri-Levy (BHL)? He’s heir to an industrial fortune, and a crusading socialist who favors open-collared shirts, stylishly long locks and “humanitarian” wars. One critic summed up BHL’s persona tartly: “God is dead, but my hair is perfect.”

Henri-Levy’s 2006 book, “American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville,” was so condescending about America’s “derangements,” “dysfunctions” and “hyperobesity,” it roused NPR’s Garrison Keillor to a fit of patriotic ire. The normally placid “Prairie Home Companion” host called BHL “a French writer with a spatter-paint prose style and the grandiosity of a college sophomore.”

And yet, BHL - clever boy - helped entangle this fat, silly country in a conflict that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admits “isn’t a vital interest for the U.S.”

But if a picture’s worth a thousand words, then this one surely trumps the 600 in my column:

THAT'S the guy who helped sucker us into war!? ARRRRGH!

THAT'S the guy who helped sucker us into war!? ARRRRGH!

Rep. Ryan’s Budget Avoids Cuts to Military Spending

For all the boldness of Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposal to reduce projected federal expenditures by $6 trillion, an initiative that I support, the Pentagon’s budget emerges essentially unscathed in Ryan’s plan. This is a mistake on both fiscal and strategic grounds. Significant cuts in military spending must be on the table as the nation struggles to close its fiscal gap without saddling individuals and businesses with burdensome taxes and future generations with debt. Such cuts will also force a reappraisal of our military’s roles and missions that is long overdue.

The Pentagon’s base budget has nearly doubled during the past decade. Throw in the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus nuclear weapons spending in the Department of Energy, and a smattering of other programs, and the total amount that Americans spend annually on our military exceeds $700 billion. These costs might come down slightly as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are drawn to a close – as they should be – but according to the Obama administration’s own projections, the U.S. government will still spend nearly $6.5 trillion on the military over the next decade. Surely Rep. Ryan could have found a way to cut…something from this amount?

Defense is an undisputed core function of government – any government – and spending for that purpose should not be treated on an equal basis with the many other dubious roles and missions that the U.S. federal government now performs. But please note the emphasis. The U.S. Department of Defense should be focused on that purpose: defending the United States. But by acting as the world’s de facto policeman, we have essentially twisted the concept of “the common defence” to include the defense of the whole world, including billions of people who are not parties to our unique social contract.

The rest of the world is more than content to free ride on Uncle Sam’s largesse. Absolved of their core obligation to provide for the defense of their own citizens, the governments in other countries have been busy expanding the social welfare state and growing the public sector. The true burdens fall on U.S. taxpayers who spend two and a half times more on national security programs than do the French or the British, five times more than citizens living in other NATO countries, and seven and a half times more than the average Japanese. Meanwhile, our troops and their families are struggling to cover the many commitments that their civilian leaders have unwisely incurred. And yet the defenders of the status quo – those who prefer that Americans pay these costs and bear these burdens – cry for more. More money and more missions.

Fiscal hawks such as Ryan are not serious if they cannot see massive waste and inefficiency in the Pentagon. Robert Gates’ ballyhooed reforms barely scratch the surface of the problem. Mismanagement of major weapons programs is rampant; cost overruns are the norm. A meaningful cap on future defense expenditures will force the Pentagon to seriously confront these inefficiencies, and might also precipitate some useful competition between the services on who is best positioned to keep the country safe and secure.

If Washington is serious about cutting spending, and if the Pentagon’s budget is included in the search for savings, then we need to adopt a different strategy, one that would husband our resources, focus the military on a few core missions, call on other countries to take responsibility for their own defense, and share the burdens of policing the global commons. A serious proposal for reining in runaway Pentagon spending would have precipitated such a strategic shift. By giving the Pentagon a free pass, Rep. Ryan practically ensures that such a discussion never sees the light of day.

Cross-posted at The National Interest.

NATO Countries Meet in Lisbon

The inherent vulnerabilities and shortcomings of an alliance created in 1949 to defeat an adversary that ceased to exist in 1989 will be on display for all to see tomorrow when President Obama and leaders of NATO meet in Lisbon. I predict that President Obama will try to put the best possible gloss on the alliance’s inability to resolve its internal differences over Afghanistan, and the leaders of the other NATO countries will surely do the same. But they can not obscure the fact that an alliance that was expanded on the premise that it was uniquely suited to deal with problems far outside of Europe has revealed itself to be all but irrelevant.

Much of the media coverage has focused on the NATO mission in Afghanistan, especially the new, new target date for the handover of security responsibilities to the Afghan government some time in 2014, ignoring the fact that a number of the NATO countries that contributed troops to the mission will have already headed for the exits by then. A story in today’s Washington Post notes that Canada expects to pull out its 3,000 troops next year, and Germany will begin withdrawing in 2012.

Beyond the Afghan mission, it is to be expected that President Obama and the other heads of state will reaffirm the supposed central importance of NATO to transatlantic and, indeed, global security through a new “strategic concept.”

The reality is very different. The U.S. government chose to retain NATO after the end of the Cold War, in part to discourage the creation of an independent European military capability. The net effect of this short-sighted decision is clear: European military capabilities have atrophied, European military spending has stagnated or declined, and U.S. military personnel, and U.S. taxpayers, have been forced to bear a larger and larger share of the burdens of defending a continent eminently capable of defending itself.

It could be argued that the Europeans wouldn’t have much need for more military spending in the first place, even if Americans renounced the security guarantee under Article 5 of the NATO treaty. After all, who are they going to fight? The persistent conflicts that defined Europe for centuries have been replaced by economic interdependence and growing political integration. The notion of France going to war with Germany is about as absurd as Kentucky going to war with Tennessee. 

Regardless, Washington should not be let off the hook for its past failures to encourage European countries to do more for their own defense. Lacking such capabilities, a number of NATO countries have made a show of supporting U.S. policies, most notably in Afghanistan. But public support for such missions is weak, and elected leaders of democratic countries risk a return to private life if they consistently buck the wishes of their constituents.

NATO has become an end in itself, rather than a means to an end – security – that could command support on both sides of the Atlantic, and unpopular one, at that. Germans aren’t willing to die in Afghanistan to prove that NATO is still relevant. Though the concept has fallen into disfavor thanks to the Bush administration’s shenanigans in the run-up to the war in Iraq, a “coalition of the willing” is a lot more useful than a “coalition of the reticent and feckless.”