Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Humble Hegemony?

Obama’s inaugural address had a sprinkling of foreign policy realism:

[Earlier generations] knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

Sounds like John Quincy Adams or Reinhold Niebuhr. You’d almost think the President supports a strategy of restraint.

Unfortunately, that sentence came just after this:

And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

A nation tempered by humility and restraint would not presume to lead every person in the world.

Schneier Interviewed by Reason

Reason has a great interview with security guru Bruce Schneier.

Two particular quotes on the Transporation Security Administration stand out:

“If I were in charge of the TSA’s budget, I’d give most of it back.”

“Oh, and stop the ID checking—the notion that there is this master list of terrorists that we can check people off against is just plain silly.”

Schneier was a participant in our recent conference on counterterrorism strategy. In early 2005, I argued in the pages of Reason for doing away with the TSA entirely. Radley Balko recently suggested that Schneier, yours truly, or John Mueller should head the TSA.

What the FISA Court of Review Said and Didn’t Say

After a quick read of the FISA Court of Review’s latest opinion on NSA wiretaps (In Re: Directives) …

Essentially, the Court affirmed that the Protect America Act was constitutional as applied to a particular telecom company.  More specifically, the Court held:  (1) A warrant might impose unreasonable delay.  There’s a “special needs” exception to the warrant requirement for foreign intelligence targeted at a person reasonably believed to be outside the US.  (2) The “reasonableness” requirement of the 4th Amendment was not violated. National security trumps the privacy right of targets even without a court-reviewed determination of the purpose, target, and particularity of the search. Executive branch review of those items, along with minimization procedures, provided sufficient safeguards.

Notably, the Court did not address the original NSA warrantless surveillance program, which covered communications between US persons in the US and persons outside the US, regardless of the target’s location.  Moreover, the Court’s holding was constitutional, not statutory.  No one challenged whether the NSA was complying with the terms of the Protect America Act.  The issue was whether that Act was itself constitutional, as applied.  Recall that my principal concern regarding the original NSA program was whether the executive branch had unilaterally adopted procedures that Congress had either not approved or expressly rejected. It was the Youngstown paradigm that the executive branch had offended, even if the original NSA program might have passed constitutional muster had it been enacted by Congress.  Nothing in the Court’s latest opinion is contrary to that assessment of the original program.

It’s also worth noting that the Protect America Act was replaced by the FISA Amendments of 2008, which requires, among other things, an individualized probable cause determination by the FISA court to surveil US persons outside the US.  In other words, the Court’s latest opinion addresses an act that, first, has been superseded and, second, was deemed by Congress to be unwise as a policy matter even if it survived constitutional scrutiny.

Ways and Means to Subvert Foreign Policy

President-elect Obama has emphasized his intention to focus on restoring America’s squandered credibility with the rest of the world. He might want to reinforce that message for Congress or begin the process of distancing himself from its leadership because, like it or not, trade policy is a tool of foreign policy, and Congress isn’t looking very diplomatic about trade.

Yesterday, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Charles Rangel and Subcommittee on Trade chairman Sander Levin introduced the Trade Enforcement Act of 2009. Among the legislation’s provisions:

  • It would make it easier for domestic industry to obtain trade restrictions in antidumping and China-specific safeguard cases.
  • It impugns and defies World Trade Organization dispute settlement decisions.
  • It compels the Commerce Department to reverse its implementation of a WTO decision last year on the issue of “zeroing.” 
  • It establishes an Office of the Congressional Trade Enforcer to investigate foreign barriers to U.S. exports and to systematically develop complaints to file with the WTO, among other provisions.

Clearly, the United States is well within its rights to bring cases against its trade partners to the WTO. And generally, if U.S. exporters are facing market barriers that our trade partners committed to dismantle, then I support efforts to seek redress. But it is a bit condescending — indeed it whiffs Rumsfeldian — to so publically berate a WTO decision and question its authority (the official language in the legislation actually includes a several-hundred word diatribe against the WTO Appellate Body’s decision) in the same bill that presumes that our trade partners will heed the WTO’s verdicts. That is the kind of exceptionalism and arrogance for which the president-elect is hoping to make reparations.

It remains to be seen what becomes of this legislation or even if there will be a noticeable uptick in U.S. protectionism. But Congress’s increasingly unilateralist instincts on trade and its willingness to humiliate important trade and security partners in Colombia and South Korea by not considering long-pending trade agreements will definitely complicate Obama’s international fence-mending efforts.

A Question for Christian Brose

In a post at Foreign Policy magazine, former Condoleezza Rice speechwriter Christian Brose points to his participation in the drafting of a Rice speech that I’ve long found vexing.  The passage I found most puzzling was this:

William Appleman WilliamsAmerican Realism is an approach to the world that arises not only from the realities of global politics but from the nature of America’s character: From the fact that we are all united as a people not by a narrow nationalism of blood and soil, but by universal ideals of human freedom and human rights. We believe that our principles are the greatest source of our power. And we are led into the world as much by our moral ideas as by our material interests. It is for these reasons, and for many others, that America has always been, and will always be, not a status quo power, but a revolutionary power - a nation with New World eyes, that looks at change not as a threat to be feared, but as an opportunity to be seized.

Emphasis mine.  Suffice it to say that this is not the conventional view by historians of American diplomacy.  It is a revisionist view that has been advanced mostly by those on the extreme left and extreme right.  Those on the left generally believed that the economic concept of the Open Door thrust America ever outward, in search of markets for its products and to deploying force to feed the machine of American capitalism.  The right-wing interpretation basically agrees with this economically deterministic view but also overlays what, for lack of a better term, I’ll call a “neoconservative” ideological orientation onto basically the entire history of American foreign policy.  Kagan, for example, interprets the foreign policy vision of the Founders as being in general alignment with the view that it would be a good idea for the United States to unravel and reweave the social and political fabric of the Middle East.

It would be really interesting for Brose to explain what he and Rice meant by this.  Was it an endorsement of the Kagan interpretation of American diplomatic history?  Does Brose really place the revolutionary character of American diplomacy before, say, 1898?  What does he think about the book his Foreign Policy colleague Aaron Friedberg wrote about the role anti-state American ideology played in preventing the United States from even becoming a player on the world stage, much less a “revolutionary power” before 1945?  (Cf., Fareed Zakaria.)

Moreover, if, as Brose and Rice argue, the United States has “always been a revolutionary power,” wouldn’t it necessarily follow, for example, that Soviet diplomacy from 1945 onward was fundamentally defensive and that the Cold War was, itself, an American creation?  After all, how, if we were always a revolutionary power should the Soviets have responded after we dropped two nuclear weapons on Japan and began aiming our rhetorical sights on them?

Can You Say Oxymoron?

The House is expected to vote today on an expansion of the State Childrens Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). My colleague, Michael Cannon, has frequently written on the problems of this poorly targeted program that moves six children from private to public coverage for every four uninsured children that it covers. However, it is interesting to note that the $33 billion expansion is supposedly paid for primarily through a 61-cent-per-pack increase in the federal cigarette tax. Yet, at the same time, President-elect Obama announced that his choice for Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services is William Corr, an anti-tobacco lobbyist and executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. So we can shortly expect the Obama administration to step up efforts to stop people from smoking, thereby reducing the taxes they are counting on to pay for their SCHIP expansion. One hardly knows whether to wish them success.