Tag: rand paul

Will Congress Act to End the War in Afghanistan?

This week, Senators Rand Paul and Tom Udall introduced a joint resolution to end the war in Afghanistan. This legislation gives the Department of Defense 45 days to formulate a plan for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops within one year. This new plan would accelerate the Trump administration’s current timetable to withdraw after 5 years. President Trump campaigned on leaving Afghanistan and has reiterated this interest since taking office. This bill will give him the opportunity to make good on his campaign promise during his first term.

My colleague Christopher Preble argues in The National Interest:

The case for this resolution is simple and straightforward. The U.S. military has achieved its core objectives spelled out after 9/11. Bin Laden is dead. Al Qaeda is crippled. The Department of Defense reported last June: “The Al Qaeda threat to the United States and its allies and partners has decreased and the few remaining al Qaeda core members are focused on their own survival.”

…The Paul-Udall resolution is consistent with the wishes of the American people, 61 percent of whom support withdrawal, whereas advocates for war-without-end openly defy public sentiment. The latter should explain why the American people’s views are irrelevant.

Many in Washington don’t want to leave until America “wins” the war, though it’s not clear at this point what victory would look like. They fear a complete U.S. withdrawal and a return to Taliban rule will make Afghanistan a sanctuary for terrorists to launch transnational attacks against America and its allies. But as I argue in the New York Daily News, the fear of a safe haven is misplaced:

Al-Qaeda’s presence Afghanistan in the lead up to 9/11 did not have real operational utility in perpetrating the attacks on New York and Washington. The attacks were also planned from Germany and Malaysia, and even the United States itself. In an age of instant global communications, a territorial haven in remote, land-locked Afghanistan isn’t much help to terrorist groups plotting to attack the west.

In any case, terrorism is not some kind of existential peril warranting perpetual war. It is a relatively minor and manageable threat. One estimate, employing standard risk analysis, found that in order to even begin to justify the $75 billion in annual anti-terrorism homeland security expenditures, there would have to have been about three 9/11 attacks every four years.

Afghanistan has cost about $2 trillion on top of that. Most people who attempt to commit terrorist attacks here in the United States are home-grown and there is no evidence – none – that battling insurgents there has deterred terrorist attacks here. Clearly, the resources we spend on the war exceed any plausible benefit to national security.

In any case, in negotiations with Zalmay Khalilzad, Trump’s special envoy to Afghanistan, the Taliban have agreed in principle to deny al Qaeda a presence in the country going forward. We should take that as a fair compromise and begin the business of getting out.

Critics are right to warn that things may get nasty following U.S. withdrawal, but, as with Iraq, that will be true no matter when we decide to leave. Another five years won’t erase that problem.

As I conclude in my op-ed: “Watching democracy roll back in Afghanistan will be difficult, but it should serve as a reminder that the nation-building mission we elected to adopt after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 was a lost bet from the beginning…Policymakers must learn the limits of U.S. power and refrain from adopting ambitious missions for peripheral interests. Refusing to fight unwinnable and unnecessary wars is the first step to not losing them.”

If adopted, this resolution could have implications beyond Afghanistan, as it calls for a repeal of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which the executive branch continues to dubiously rely on as the legal permission to engage in hostilities in numerous countries around the world. As my other colleague Gene Healy and I argued in the New York Times last year, repealing (and not replacing) the AUMF is long overdue. 

Did Rand Paul Persuade Trump to Withdraw from Syria?

In the Washington Post, Josh Rogin warns us that “Rand Paul is quietly steering U.S. foreign policy in a new direction.” Indeed, the Post’s overwrought headline is 

Welcome to the world of President Rand Paul

Rogin goes on:

Several U.S. officials and people who have spoken directly to Trump since his Syria decision tell me they believe that Paul’s frequent phone conversations with Trump, wholly outside the policy process, are having an outsize influence on the president’s recent foreign policy decisions. The two golf buddies certainly are sounding a lot alike recently….

Paul told CNN on Dec. 23 that he had talked to Trump about Syria and was “very proud of the president.” That night on Twitter, Trump quoted Paul as saying, “It should not be the job of America to replace regimes around the world… The generals still don’t get the mistake.”

If Paul did in fact persuade the president to withdraw U.S. troops from one of the seven military conflicts we’re currently engaged in, Bravo. He tried to keep us out of the Syrian conflict back in 2013. That’s not Rogin’s view, though. He grumbles:

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a senator advising the president on foreign policy. Hawks such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) do it all the time. But the Trump-Paul bromance is troubling because Trump may be taking Paul’s word over that of his own advisers. 

Well, presidents are allowed to choose their own advisers. But how is it “troubling” that Trump might take advice from Senator Paul, but it’s fine to take advice from Senators Cotton and Graham? And by the way, check the quote above: how is a president’s conversation with a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee “wholly outside the policy process”?

Of course, Paul isn’t responsible for the fact that Trump is unable or unwilling to set a clear policy, implement it in an orderly manner, articulate a defense of it without using “alternative facts” and words like “suckers,” and make an inspirational, presidential speech to troops in a combat zone. It’s better to withdraw from unnecessary wars inarticulately than to stay in them with a 500-page report.

Rogin concludes by bemoaning “dangerous … isolationism [and] retreat.” “Isolationism” is a term that the foreign policy establishment throws around any time anyone questions whether all seven wars are actually wise. The New York Times also uses the term, reporting that the Syrian withdrawal “has been condemned across the ideological spectrum,” “with the exception of a few vocal isolationists like Senator Rand Paul.” And a few realists and noninterventionists like my colleagues John Glaser and Christopher Preble. And about half the American people.

Fear and Mass Surveillance: Our Constitutionally Toxic Political Cocktail

At 12:51pm on January 18, 2018–just a day before it was set to expire–the Senate followed the House’s lead and reauthorized the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act (FAA) Section 702 mass surveillance program for another six years by a vote of 65-34.

Writing for JustSecurity.org in October 2017, I made this prediction about the then-looming debate over extending the mass surveillance authority embodied in Section 702: 

Absent another Snowden-like revelation, Section 702 of the FAA will be reauthorized largely without change, and any changes will be cosmetic, and almost certainly abused. Whether it has a “sunset” provision or not is now politically and practically meaningless.

As it turns out, that prediction was optimistic. But first, a recap of the events of this week.

House FISA Reform Battle Enters Final Stage

Last night, the House Rules Committee made in order one alternative to the HPSCI FISA Sec. 702 reauthorization bill, the USA Rights Act. You can view the Rule here

The bill was originally introduced in the Senate by Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY). You can view a one-pager on the USA Rights Act here.  

None of this would have happened without the relentless effort of Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) and a number of his House Freedom Caucus colleagues, who’ve made clear for some time that they would not support the reauthorization of the extremely controversial (and constitutionally dubious) FISA Sec. 702 mass surveillance program in its current form. Amash is an original cosponsor of the House version of the USA Rights Act. 

To be clear, the USA Rights Act is itself a significantly deficient surveillance reform measure. The bill does not require the IC/FBI to purge their databases of data on Americans not the subject of a criminal investigation, nor does it mandate the kind of GAO audits that are necessary to truly help end surveillance abuses. It also accepts the USG framing that 702 is necessary, legitimate, and effective—assertions I’ve challenged previously. 

Despite those serious flaws, the USA Rights Act is a vastly more comprehensive FISA Sec. 702 reform measure than every existing alternative. It restores the 4th Amendment probable cause standard for searches of the data of Americans stored on FBI or IC IT systems, and it makes it easier for innocent Americans to sue the federal government for unlawful spying. And precisely because it would, if enacted, give citizens more tools to discover if they are the targets of unlawful or politically-motivated surveillance, I expect the House GOP leadership to do everything possible to defeat it on the House floor, as will the IC/FBI. Even if the USA Rights Act passes, the House GOP leadership has shown time and again that they are willing to ignore the will of the House and strip out real surveillance reform measures in conference with the Senate, as I’ve explained elsewhere

All of which underscores a point I’ve made for years: traditional advocacy on surveillance issues has generally proven ineffectual in stopping, much less rolling back, post-9/11 surveillance powers that we know have been abused. The reason is simple. The groups that lobby on these issues do not engage in electoral politics—which means politicans can vote for more surveillance powers in the name of “public safety” without fear of organized, targeted political reprisal from Bill of Rights supporters. Until that dynamic changes, enduring surveillance reform will remain elusive.

Ignoring Rand Paul

Desperately searching for an establishment Republican who can block Donald Trump, many observers are ignoring the strong and politically astute performance of Rand Paul in Wednesday night’s Republican debate. A classic example this morning is Michael Gerson, the big-government Republican who has written for George W. Bush and the Washington Post and is the most anti-libertarian pundit this side of Salon. Recognizing the need for the Republican party to reach new audiences, especially “with minorities, with women, with younger voters, with working-class voters in key states,” Gerson writes:

The relatively rare moments of economic analysis and political outreach in the second Republican debate — Chris Christie talking about income stagnation, or Marco Rubio lamenting the “millions of people in this country living paycheck to paycheck,” or Ben Carson admitting the minimum wage might require increasing and fixing, or Jeb Bush setting out the necessary goal of accelerated economic growth, or John Kasich calling for a “sense of hope, sense of purpose, a sense of unity” — served only to highlight the opportunity cost of the Trump summer.

What’s missing? Well, Rand Paul talked about marijuana reform, an issue that is far more popular than the Republican Party, especially among younger voters. And criminal justice and incarceration, an issue of special concern to minorities. And especially about our endless wars in the Middle East, at a time when 63 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of independents say that the Iraq war was not worth the costs, and when 52 percent of Americans say the United States “should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.” (Not the best formulation, as noninterventionists are not opposed to international activity, just to imprudent military action. But you go to print with the polls you have, not the polls you wish you had.) Those are attempts to reach new audiences that a fair-minded debate watcher would have noticed.

Rand Paul Makes His Pitch for War-Weary Voters

At The National Interest, I write about Rand Paul’s clear and forceful presentation of his noninterventionist views at last night’s Republican debate:

Rand Paul found his voice last night. He’s a sincere noninterventionist in foreign policy. If he can get that message across, there’s a Republican constituency for it, and even broader support among independents.

Coincidentally or not, Paul’s standing in the polls has fallen as he seemed to move away from the noninterventionist positions associated with his father, congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul. He called for a declaration of war with ISIS, more military spending, and rejection of President Obama’s Iran deal.

Meanwhile, hawkish conservative pundits consistently underestimate the extent of non interventionist and war-weary sentiment in the Republican party….

Standing in front of Reagan’s Air Force One, he embraced Reaganism:

“I’m a Reagan Conservative. I’m someone who believes in peace through strength, and I would try to lead the country in that way knowing that our goal is peace, and that war is the last resort, not the first resort. And, that when we go to war, we go to war in a constitutional way, which means that we have to vote on it, that war is initiated by congress, not by the president.”

And most particularly in electoral terms, he set up the alternatives for voters:

“If you want boots on the ground, and you want them to be our sons and daughters, you got 14 other choices. There will always be a Bush or Clinton for you, if you want to go back to war in Iraq.”

That’s Paul’s best path to the top of the polls. All the other candidates supported the Iraq war (except Donald Trump) and threaten more military action today….

Guy Benson of Townhall and Fox News tied his comments to politics: “Rand Paul making case that Iraq war didn’t make us safer…which most Americans agree with.”

I wrote more about noninterventionism at National Review in May, drawing on arguments from The Libertarian Mind.

Rand Paul’s “No” on Trade Promotion Authority Gets It Backwards

Not entirely unsurprisingly, the Senate failed to reach cloture on Tuesday, falling eight votes shy of the 60 needed to start the timer on debate over Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which will be needed to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations and bring it to a timely vote in Congress.  The cloture vote concerned two of four pieces of trade legislation voted out of the Finance Committee two weeks ago (TPA and Trade Adjustment Assistance).  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell excluded the other two bills, which contain language that would attract Democratic support. So, while I wouldn’t bet the ranch on TPA’s passage, there’s still room for horse trading.

In more surprising (and disappointing) news, one senator who will say “no” if TPA makes it to the floor for a vote is Rand Paul, who explained his reasoning on a New Hampshire television news broadcast:

We give up so much power from Congress to the presidency, and with them being so secretive on the treaty, it just concerns me what’s in the treaty.

Let me take Paul’s issues with power, secrecy, and content in order.

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