Cato Recent Op-eds The Cato Institute seeks to broaden the parameters of public policy debate to allow consideration of the traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty, free markets and peace. Toward that goal, the Institute strives to achieve greater involvement of the intelligent, concerned lay public in questions of policy and the proper role of government. en North Korea’s New Arduous March: What Biden Should Do (and Not Do) <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Ted Galen Carpenter</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Kim Jong‐​Un</a>’s&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">downbeat and surprisingly candid comments</a>&nbsp;on April 9&nbsp;caught many U.S. and international observers by surprise.&nbsp;North Korea’s leader called on officials to brace for a&nbsp;prolonged campaign (an “arduous march”) to tackle the country’s worsening economic problems, comparing the current crisis to the 1990s famine that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.&nbsp;He placed much of the blame on the effects of U.S.-led sanctions, but he also conceded that the coronavirus pandemic had taken a&nbsp;major toll.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Kim’s admission creates an occasion for the Biden administration to make a&nbsp;fundamental choice about the direction of its&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">policy toward North Korea</a>. Advocates of a&nbsp;hardline policy could see Kim’s comments as an opening to increase U.S. pressure on the regime, concluding that it is now exceptionally vulnerable.&nbsp;Such a&nbsp;strategy would include adopting even more robust sanctions and being even less willing than previous administration to show any flexibility on Washington’s long‐​standing demand that Pyongyang agrees to a&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">complete, verifiable, and irreversible</a>&nbsp;end to its nuclear weapons program.&nbsp;Although that approach might seem tempting, given the new signs of&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">North Korean weakness</a>&nbsp;and vulnerability, it would be a&nbsp;serious, potentially tragic, mistake.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>Kim’s language conveys a&nbsp;tacit admission that North Korea’s chronic policy of self‐​isolation has not served the country, or the regime, particularly well </p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Indeed, the Biden foreign policy team should adopt the opposite approach.&nbsp;Kim’s language conveys a&nbsp;tacit admission that North Korea’s chronic policy of self‐​isolation has not served the country, or the regime, particularly well.&nbsp;Minimizing interaction with the outside world did not even shield North Korea&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">from the ravages</a>&nbsp;of the coronavirus pandemic.</p> <p>That realization may well make Kim more receptive to productive negotiations on an array of issues.&nbsp;The Biden administration should seize that opportunity by making timely concessions and seeking to achieve some attainable goals.&nbsp;The demand for complete denuclearization, though, is not on the list of such goals; it remains, as it always has, a&nbsp;poison pill that terminates any prospects for constructive diplomacy.</p> <p>A key timely concession would be the easing of economic sanctions.&nbsp;In addition to being one creative component of a&nbsp;wiser foreign policy, such a&nbsp;move would constitute basic humanitarianism—especially if North Korea is facing a&nbsp;crisis comparable to the horrible famine of the 1990s.&nbsp;That concession also would facilitate negotiations on other important issues.</p> <p>Beyond easing sanctions, the Biden administration should propose a&nbsp;major breakthrough on&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">the normalization of bilateral relations</a>.&nbsp;One step would be to finalize a&nbsp;treaty to replace the 1953 armistice and formally end the state of war on the Korean Peninsula.&nbsp;Another would be to establish formal diplomatic relations, open embassies in Pyongyang and Washington, and appoint ambassadors to those new posts.&nbsp;As an additional confidence‐​building measure, the administration should propose an indefinite freeze on U.S.-South Korean military exercises and a&nbsp;large reduction in the number of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea in exchange for a&nbsp;freeze on the&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">North’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests</a>&nbsp;and a&nbsp;pullback of&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">North Korean troops</a>&nbsp;and weaponry from the Demilitarized Zone.</p> <p>Such an agenda would not have the resonance of the dramatic demand for&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">North Korea’s total denuclearization</a>, but it would have the virtue of being feasible.&nbsp;Even achieving a&nbsp;portion of those pragmatic goals would significantly reduce the dangerous, heavily armed stand‐​off on the Peninsula.&nbsp;Kim’s speech tests whether the Biden foreign policy team is perceptive enough to see an opportunity for conciliation and diplomatic progress or instead embraces a&nbsp;myopic strategy of trying to increase pressure on a&nbsp;beleaguered regime.</p> </div> Sun, 18 Apr 2021 09:59:17 -0400 Ted Galen Carpenter No F‐​35s for UAE, Please <p><a href="" hreflang="und">A. Trevor Thrall</a> and <span class="text-semibold">Jordan Cohen</span></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>The Biden administration told Congress&nbsp;on April 13 that it&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">plans to proceed</a>&nbsp;with a $23 billion sale of advanced weaponry to the United Arab Emirates originally approved by the Trump team — including the F-35 advanced joint fighter aircraft. Biden has yet to provide a&nbsp;clear rationale for continuing the sale, but following the previous administration’s logic,&nbsp;advocates believe it will help&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">curb Iran’s ambitions</a>&nbsp;in the Middle East. The reality, however, is that these sales will further entangle the United States and amplify existing conflicts in the troubled region.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>The first problem with the sale is that it will deepen the American commitment to Israel’s defense while simultaneously making that commitment more expensive. At present, Israel is the&nbsp;<a href=";source=gmail-imap&amp;ust=1619206396000000&amp;usg=AOvVaw3pfbLn1JSA0jiWtOe3cTjK" target="_blank">only country</a>&nbsp;in the region with access to the high‐​tech F-35, which provides it a&nbsp;significant advantage in any potential conflict. Given this, one might imagine that Israel would oppose UAE’s purchase of F‐​35s.</p> <p>On the contrary, however, though Israel has little love for the Emirates, the Israeli government has not opposed the sale because the United States&nbsp;<a href=";source=gmail-imap&amp;ust=1619206396000000&amp;usg=AOvVaw3gexghqDGyxdDB2MwT-etq" target="_blank">agreed to</a>&nbsp;“significantly upgrade Israel’s military capabilities” in return. Ensuring that Israel has enough firepower not to worry about F‐​35s in the neighborhood will be expensive indeed. Worse, however, is that the American&nbsp;<em>carte blanche</em>&nbsp;will give Israel the confidence to behave aggressively towards its neighbors, as its&nbsp;<a href=";source=gmail-imap&amp;ust=1619206396000000&amp;usg=AOvVaw1AML32THaaYfowCPQr7D4T" target="_blank">recent attack</a>&nbsp;on Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz indicates.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>The sale is likely to deepen existing conflicts and further enmesh the U.S. in the region. </p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Selling the F-35 to the UAE also raises the risks of a&nbsp;regional arms race, as well as increased tensions between the United States and Russia. Russia is&nbsp;<a href=";source=gmail-imap&amp;ust=1619206396000000&amp;usg=AOvVaw2UWng-490XBP_TfvUtVczI" target="_blank">discussing</a>&nbsp;selling its answer to the F-35, the S-400 anti‐​aircraft system, to Iran. The S-400 is&nbsp;<a href=";source=gmail-imap&amp;ust=1619206396000000&amp;usg=AOvVaw0P0RSPbEwwFw43U31itXWo">designed</a>&nbsp;to overcome the F-35’s stealth technology, and its potential deployment has&nbsp;<a href=";source=gmail-imap&amp;ust=1619206396000000&amp;usg=AOvVaw02z-fFim4uS2J2nSzDDuNX" target="_blank">produced concern</a>&nbsp;in Israel because it would make future Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets much more dangerous.</p> <p>The temptation in Jerusalem to carry out more attacks before Iran finishing installing the S-400 would be significant. What Iran might do in response is anyone’s guess. At a&nbsp;minimum, rather than deterring Iran, selling F‐​35s to the UAE is likely to spur more intense regional competition and violence and fuel increased tensions between Russia and the United States.</p> <p>Finally, selling advanced aircraft to the UAE is likely to amplify existing conflicts. Until 2019, the UAE was a&nbsp;primary participant in the Saudis’ tragic and fruitless intervention in Yemen — itself part of the regional struggle between Iran and Iran’s adversaries. UAE and Saudi airstrikes have prolonged a&nbsp;deadly civil war and helped create one of the world’s worst humanitarian situations. Were the UAE to use the F-35&nbsp;in Yemen—or Libya where it is also active–its stealth and other high‐​tech capabilities would promise even more devastation.</p> <p>Though the UAE&nbsp;<a href=";source=gmail-imap&amp;ust=1619206396000000&amp;usg=AOvVaw0L2xhN-Mdg82R-JKgbeV1H" target="_blank">pulled out</a>&nbsp;of the Saudi coalition during 2019, there is little evidence that they intend to stop working to counter Iran in Yemen. American officials were horrified in 2020 by&nbsp;<a href=";source=gmail-imap&amp;ust=1619206396000000&amp;usg=AOvVaw3hUQ3-DEVm-aHaRboLfbqa" target="_blank">reports</a>&nbsp;that American weapons sold to the UAE as part of a $2.5 billion deal had been illegally funneled to militias and other non‐​governmental forces in Yemen.&nbsp;<a href=";source=gmail-imap&amp;ust=1619206396000000&amp;usg=AOvVaw0zpyc-8LkfahN0WTU95R9J" target="_blank">In June 2020</a>, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs argued that the situation in the Middle East demanded a&nbsp;more “activist” foreign policy. Given this mindset, there is little reason to believe that the UAE will not use its most advanced weaponry to pursue its strategy.</p> <p>The Biden administration’s decision to approve the sale of F‐​35s to the UAE is troubling, but it also raises more general concerns about Biden’s weapons transfer policy. On the one hand, Biden made the right decision to halt the sale of “offensive weapons” to Saudi Arabia in an effort to end American complicity with the war in Yemen. On the other hand, the Biden administration has approved billions of dollars in sales of major conventional weapons that to countries that pose great risks, such as&nbsp;<a href=";source=gmail-imap&amp;ust=1619206396000000&amp;usg=AOvVaw29fwSzqm5BE1tet8jXBdDk" target="_blank">Jordan</a>,&nbsp;<a href=";source=gmail-imap&amp;ust=1619206396000000&amp;usg=AOvVaw3-uBI8CqznC-xeYK5WxEPc" target="_blank">Egypt</a>,&nbsp;<a href=";source=gmail-imap&amp;ust=1619206396000000&amp;usg=AOvVaw0XpW8-XoQOWiEO2oo86ESj" target="_blank">Taiwan</a>,&nbsp;<a href=";source=gmail-imap&amp;ust=1619206396000000&amp;usg=AOvVaw2b28BpR4gdMLeiQB-GOYmf" target="_blank">the Philippines</a>, and&nbsp;<a href=";source=gmail-imap&amp;ust=1619206396000000&amp;usg=AOvVaw0IKxZnxjkqMXg4NLgJjlcm" target="_blank">Chile</a>,&nbsp;while also&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">maintaining</a>&nbsp;sales of any weapon that can be used for self‐​defense to Saudi Arabia.</p> <p>In his statement about the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden noted that it is time to “<a href=";source=gmail-imap&amp;ust=1619206396000000&amp;usg=AOvVaw1HmmiRApzh0GwZl_a6zekD" target="_blank">end the forever wars</a>.” But, if Biden truly wants the U.S. to reduce its footprint in the Middle East and peacefully end the war in Yemen, providing the F-35 to the UAE is a&nbsp;step in the wrong direction.</p> </div> Sat, 17 Apr 2021 10:43:01 -0400 A. Trevor Thrall, Jordan Cohen Don’t Sell Arms to the Philippines <p><a href="" hreflang="und">A. Trevor Thrall</a> and <span class="text-semibold">Jordan Cohen</span></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Given its location in the South China Sea and its utility as a&nbsp;place to station American forces, the Philippines has long been able to count on American military support as a&nbsp;deterrent to antagonism from China. Historically, this support has included a&nbsp;steady flow of arms transfers.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Since 2002, the United States has sold the Philippines&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">nearly $900 million</a>&nbsp;in weapons and provided&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">over $1.3 billion</a>&nbsp;in security assistance. In February 2021, the Philippines said it would move ahead on a&nbsp;purchase of&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">15 Black Hawk helicopters</a>.</p> <p>Selling weapons to countries like the Philippines that have disastrous human rights records and chaotic leadership, however, is a&nbsp;recipe for disaster. Neither the helicopter sales nor most of the previous arms sales have any utility for deterring Chinese aggression. Continuing American arms sales to the Philippines, in fact, is both bad for the Philippines and dangerous for the United States.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>There are nearly 2&nbsp;million unregistered firearms in the country, which has in turn fueled a&nbsp;vigorous black market and amplified the problems of gun violence and vigilantism in the Philippines. </p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>The most obvious downside of arming the Duterte government is that the regime is actively using American firepower to kill and imprison its own people. In 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte told a&nbsp;televised audience that citizens had his support if they wanted to kill drug dealers themselves,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">telling them</a>: “Shoot him and I’ll give you a&nbsp;medal.”</p> <p>Since then, as Amnesty International&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">noted</a>&nbsp;recently, thousands of civilians have been executed in extrajudicial killings by the Philippine police and military in Duterte’s “War on Drugs,” many of whom are armed with American handguns, machine guns, and semiautomatic rifles. Duterte has also used a&nbsp;strong police force backed by recent weapons deliveries in combination with a&nbsp;COVID-19 lockdown to&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">execute and arrest</a>&nbsp;over 30,000 people who oppose the regime.</p> <p>None of these horrors should have come as any surprise. The Philippines has long had a&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">terrible human rights record</a>, and it has only gotten worse under Duterte. Sadly, despite occasional attempts to halt arms sales to the Philippines, the country remains one of the&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">top five</a>&nbsp;recipients of American handguns. There are nearly 2&nbsp;million unregistered firearms in the country, which has in turn fueled a&nbsp;vigorous black market and amplified the problems of gun violence and vigilantism in the Philippines.</p> <p>From an American strategic perspective, there is no positive payoff from fueling the Philippines’ internal conflicts. None of these small arms sales or Black Hawk helicopters have any deterrent value when it comes to China. Instead, Duterte will likely put this weaponry to use in his draconian counterinsurgency campaign, which has already displaced over 450,000 civilians on the island of Mindanao.</p> <p>American arms sales, on the other hand, do raise the prospects for a&nbsp;deadly conflict by turning the Philippines into an overconfident ally. In early April, China sent 30 of its naval ships into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in an act clearly designed to intimidate. In response, the United States reaffirmed its commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty and began its annual two‐​week military drill with Manilla.</p> <p>U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price reinforced the message publicly,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">telling reporters</a>&nbsp;that “an armed attack against the Philippines’s armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific, including the South China Sea, will trigger our obligations under the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.”</p> <p>The strong American response has in turn emboldened the Philippines, which has&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">called for more weapons transfers</a>&nbsp;in the event of any Chinese aggression and has made it clear that its primary strategy to resist China is to get America to do the work.</p> <p>Philippine Defense Department spokesman Arsenio Andolong&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">said</a>&nbsp;that “as the situation [in the South China Sea] evolves, we keep all our options open in managing the situation, including leveraging our partnerships with other nations such as the United States.”</p> <p>Back in 1951, when the United States signed the Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines, the risk of making a&nbsp;commitment to the Philippines was quite low. China was a&nbsp;poor country, recovering from World War II and its own civil war. It simply did not matter whether China felt threatened by Washington’s support for Manila. Today, however, China is confident, well armed and extremely sensitive — as all superpowers are — about how things go in their near abroad.</p> <p>The last thing the United States needs is for the Philippines to provoke a&nbsp;conflict with China thinking that the United States will step in to save them.</p> <p>Though the United States clearly needs a&nbsp;strategy for dealing with China, attempting to counter China’s regional strength by depending on unstable countries like the Philippines should not be part of it. Arms sales to the Philippines do little to deter China while raising the risk of entangling the United States in a&nbsp;war that would not be worth the costs. Ending those arms sales would not only lower the prospects of conflict — it would also end American complicity with the violence and abuses of the Duterte regime.</p> </div> Fri, 16 Apr 2021 15:39:38 -0400 A. Trevor Thrall, Jordan Cohen It’s Full of Contradictions <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Chris Edwards</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Washington is on a&nbsp;spending spree. President Trump approved $3 trillion in pandemic relief last year, and President Biden approved another $1.9 trillion in March. All this spending has gone on the national credit card, which has an accumulated balance of $22 trillion, or $172,000 for every household in the nation.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Biden is now proposing another $2 trillion in spending, this time for infrastructure. He apparently recognizes that we can’t borrow‐​and‐​spend forever, so his plan is financed by a&nbsp;massive corporate tax increase rather than debt. Nonetheless, his plan makes no sense because of three major contradictions.</p> <p>The first is that Biden’s corporate tax increase would undermine America’s infrastructure because most of it is owned by the private sector, such as the broadband network and the electric grid. While Biden would subsidize broadband by $100 billion, the electric grid by $100 billion, manufacturing by $300 billion, and electric vehicles by $174 billion, corporations in those industries would slash their own investment in the face of Biden’s large tax hike. It would be a&nbsp;wasteful circular flow of cash from corporations to Washington in higher taxes, and then back to politically favored corporations in subsidies.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>Biden’s plan is supposed to help mitigate climate change, but the green way to fund infrastructure is through user charges that restrain consumer demand. </p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>That raises the second contradiction. During the presidential campaign, Biden said “we do not reward corporations, we reward individuals,” and he complained that Trump’s “strategy is trickle‐​down economics that works for corporate executives and Wall Street investors, but not working families.” But Biden’s own plan features trickle‐​down corporate subsidies.</p> <p>All the subsidies would create a&nbsp;third contradiction. Biden’s plan is supposed to help mitigate climate change, but the green way to fund infrastructure is through user charges that restrain consumer demand. Gas taxes restrain automobile use; water charges restrain water use; and airport charges restrain airport use. But Biden’s plan includes large new subsidies for automobiles, water systems, airports, and other facilities — all funded by income taxes, not by pro‐​environment user charges.</p> <p>Biden’s infrastructure plan is a&nbsp;bad solution looking for a&nbsp;problem. The private sector is already investing billions of dollars in infrastructure favored by the president, such as electric vehicles, broadband and the electric grid. Many states have raised their own gas taxes in recent years to invest more in highways. The nation does not need a&nbsp;big new spending plan from Washington, especially one funded by infrastructure‐​killing corporate tax increases.</p> </div> Fri, 16 Apr 2021 08:47:30 -0400 Chris Edwards Meaningless Gun Control Efforts <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Trevor Burrus</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Recent tragic shootings in Atlanta and Boulder have led to a&nbsp;new round of executive orders from the Biden administration. Part of those orders will focus on home gun manufacture — so‐​called “ghost guns.”&nbsp;The problem is, those guns are not a&nbsp;meaningful source of weapons that are used for criminal activity.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>The fact that someone can manufacture an “assault weapon” may scare some, but assault weapons are used in a&nbsp;tiny percentage of crimes per year compared to other guns. Nevertheless, they get all the headlines.&nbsp;This is unfortunately how gun politics plays out in America: a&nbsp;tragic shooting leads lawmakers to focus on the weapon that was used, invariably described as a “uniquely dangerous weapon of war.”</p> <p>A shooting in white, wealthy, and suburban Boulder understandably attracts the attention of pundits, reporters, and politicians who probably reside in similar areas. In between such tragedies, however, handguns kill thousands of people per year — about 30 times more than “assault weapons” — and in ways that garner far less attention: mostly inner‐​city gun violence and suicides by middle‐​aged men. But we invariably focus on “assault weapons,” the guns that are used in the shocking spree killings that occur in otherwise extremely safe locations.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>Anyone who fears they may be a&nbsp;target for gun violence or wants to commit violence themselves is much more likely to hide a&nbsp;handgun in a&nbsp;pocket or in his waistband. </p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Meanwhile, in Chicago during one weekend at the end of February,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">27 were shot, 6&nbsp;fatally.</a> And while we don’t have the full data, it’s very likely that a&nbsp;handgun was used in every instance.</p> <p>There is no agreed upon definition of “assault weapon,” but proposed bans, like the federal ban from 1994–2004, usually focus on a&nbsp;few cosmetic features of some semi‐​automatic rifles. Whatever the definition, they are still rifles, and rifles are used in comparatively few murders — <a href="" target="_blank">between 300 and 400</a>&nbsp;over the last few years, according to data covering from 2015 to 2019. That makes sense as rifles are difficult to conceal and often more expensive. Anyone who fears they may be a&nbsp;target for gun violence or wants to commit violence themselves is much more likely to hide a&nbsp;handgun in a&nbsp;pocket or in his waistband. Consequently, handguns are usually used in around&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">6,500 homicides</a>&nbsp;per year.</p> <p>Among homicide victims, more than half are young men, and&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">more than two‐​thirds of those are Black</a>.</p> <p>But two‐​thirds of&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">gun deaths in this country</a>&nbsp;are suicides, and men kill themselves about three times more often than women and with guns roughly&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">seven times more often</a>. In suicides, while we don’t have comprehensive data, handguns are used far more often than other types, if only because it can be physically difficult to use a&nbsp;long gun on oneself. When it comes to teenagers, while every school shooting with an “assault weapon” is a&nbsp;tragedy, schools are still very <a href="" target="_blank">safe places</a>&nbsp;for children to be. A&nbsp;student is fourteen more times likely to commit suicide with a&nbsp;gun than be shot at school.&nbsp;</p> <p>In short, gun deaths in America are primarily young Black men who are victims of homicides and men between 25–64 who commit suicide. Almost all of this death comes from handguns, yet questions about “assault weapons” and what guns scare Diane Feinstein are pushed to the fore. We debate onerous and nearly impossible to implement “high‐​capacity” magazine restrictions that will have no effect on suicides — it only takes one bullet after all — <a href="" target="_blank">or crime</a>.</p> <p>What we tend not to do, however, is discuss policies that will make a&nbsp;meaningful impact in the number of gun deaths in America. And those policy proposals need to look beyond guns. We need to first acknowledge that America is saturated with guns, and that’s not realistically changing soon. If half of all guns in the country were eliminated, we’d still have 150–200 million guns in private hands.</p> <p>But if we look beyond this performative and ineffective focus on gun laws, there are changes that would dramatically impact gun deaths. First, there is ending the war on drugs, which has failed and been a&nbsp;disaster by every conceivable metric. While ending the drug war wouldn’t end street gangs, it would significantly cut back on their reach and the activities that make them profitable. More importantly, the drug war has devastated inner cities by causing havoc in schools, families, and communities. It will take a&nbsp;long time to recover but stopping the madness of drug prohibition is a&nbsp;necessary first step.</p> <p>For suicides, unfortunately, crafting effective policies is more difficult. Whereas guns rarely “cause” crime — in the sense that a&nbsp;would‐​be criminal only decides to commit a&nbsp;crime after he acquires a&nbsp;gun — guns can more directly&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">“cause” a&nbsp;suicide</a>. The ready availability of a&nbsp;gun, often mixed with substance abuse, can turn a&nbsp;split‐​second decision into a&nbsp;fatal one.</p> <p>But suicides are mostly not split‐​second decisions, and&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">in one study </a>&nbsp;38 percent made a&nbsp;health care visit a&nbsp;week before a&nbsp;suicide attempt and 64 percent made a&nbsp;visit a&nbsp;month before. Some have proposed that doctors should inquire into whether there are guns in the house and possibly report to the authorities. Yet this could dissuade many from seeking help. Finding the balance between helping and scaring away potential gun‐​suicide victims will not be easy. But we do know that offering compassionate help and support is usually the most effective way to avert these tragedies, and for good reason that is where suicide prevention experts and organizations focus their efforts.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ultimately, however, if we’re not focusing the homicides of young black men and male suicide, we’re not seriously addressing gun deaths in America. Mass shooters get the attention, but the biggest issues are behind the headlines.</p> </div> Thu, 15 Apr 2021 12:56:37 -0400 Trevor Burrus What Led to Our Worst Pandemic Errors? In Many Cases, Faulty Economic Thinking. <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Ryan Bourne</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Retrospectives on the U.S.’s COVID-19 failures are soon to be written. Misguided decisions and the individuals who made them will take center stage. A&nbsp;good analysis, though, might step back and ask: What fundamental errors of thinking lay behind the most egregious mistakes?</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Looking back, it’s clear a&nbsp;lot of the worst public health decisions were themselves underpinned by faulty&nbsp;<em>economic</em>&nbsp;analysis, implicit or explicit. The most consequential were driven by failures to accurately define the reality that would exist in the absence of the policy, so miscalculating the balance of its costs (or risks) and benefits.</p> <p>Our “original sin” was the lack of early diagnostic testing for COVID-19. The FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization rules delayed the approval of new tests here and the importing of tests from abroad. Why?&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Commissioner Stephen Hahn</a>, then head of the FDA, claimed there was a&nbsp;trade‐​off between assessing test quality and timeliness.</p> <p>In public health terms, though, having more tests sooner, even if some were less sensitive, was clearly preferable to having barely any tests at all. With a&nbsp;virus that spreads pre‐​symptomatically and asymptomatically, identifying the infected and their contacts was crucial. The risks associated with greenlighting less accurate tests relative to scarcely any tests were therefore tiny. The benefits of catching more of the infected through broader testing availability, especially when cases were growing exponentially, were large.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>Regulators frequently flunked basic risk‐​benefit analysis. </p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>The ironic result was worse information for public health officials, as more infected people went about their lives without knowing they were carriers. With so many infections spreading undetected, the option of adopting a&nbsp;South Korea‐​style test‐​and‐​trace regime—a framework that has coincided with 35 deaths per million to date there, against 1,736 here—was dead on arrival. As a&nbsp;result of these failures, all of us were then forced to live our lives as if all our contacts were potentially COVID-19 positive.</p> <p>Did we learn from this error? Cheap, at‐​home rapid tests have only recently been approved, despite being a&nbsp;clear improvement on people “seeing how they feel” or waiting until symptoms necessitate a&nbsp;PCR test, with results taking days to return. Yet for many months the FDA failed to approve such at‐​home tests because they judged them as a&nbsp;diagnostic tool—and hence one required to have PCR test‐​like accuracy—rather than as an additional screening device that could reduce the virus’s transmission rate by informing more infected people they should isolate sooner.</p> <p>This regulatory model, in other words, delayed a&nbsp;technology that would have reduced the transmission rate over the community—with barely any downside—by judging it against the accuracy of more expensive, slower PCR tests, but without considering cheap rapid tests’ benefits of speed and cost. As a&nbsp;result, Americans forwent the potential for a&nbsp;smarter reopening, one with more “normal” activity undertaken at lower risk as people took tests regularly at home or at their work.</p> <p>Though the vaccination program is now accelerating, erroneous risk‐​benefit analyses have dominated vaccine policy, too. Donald Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers reckoned the pandemic was costing Americans up to&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">$20 billion per week</a>&nbsp;in lost output and the value of lost lives before vaccines were rolled out, even before considering the impacts on liberties. Any measure that could speed up vaccine‐​acquired herd immunity by even a&nbsp;month would therefore have produced hundreds of billions of value.</p> <p>Yet, as Nobel Prize winner&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Paul Romer has bemoaned</a>, Congress focused heavily on funding economic relief to “boost demand” and under‐​focused on the more lucrative cause of using further incentives beyond Operation Warp Speed to speed up vaccine production. As George Mason University’s&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Alex Tabarrok has argued</a>&nbsp;as well, we ignored the potential of human challenge vaccine trials, whereby volunteers would be offered payment to be deliberately infected with the virus to test vaccine efficacies more quickly. The potential&nbsp;trials could have been restricted to the young and healthy to keep health risks to participants low. But the potential social benefits of speeding up the end of this pandemic were, again, massive.</p> <p>U.S. regulators have forgone millions of additional vaccine shots in American arms already by insisting AstraZeneca deliver an additional U.S. clinical trial for its vaccine, due to concerns over the company’s original trial data. Given economists estimate the value of mitigating the statistical likelihood of any given death at between $1 million and $10 million (depending on whether you control for age), it’s difficult to see what marginal benefit the new trial elicited which overcame this massive marginal cost for each life lost as a&nbsp;result of vaccine delay.</p> <p>This week, of course, the FDA and CDC recommended pausing use of the Johnson &amp;&nbsp;Johnson vaccine out of an “abundance of caution” over the risk of blood clots. But that advice, already acted upon in some states, itself potentially brings worse societal risks associated with more people catching and dying of COVID-19, absent the protections afforded by vaccination. It was as if regulators, informed that several young women had been killed by electric scooters on sidewalks, had closed those sidewalks, instead allowing thousands of people instead to walk in the middle of the road.</p> <p>Misanalysing costs and benefits, sadly, is just the tip of the iceberg for economic errors that have compounded our pandemic pain. Whether it be wrongly thinking of important product markets (especially masks) as zero‐​sum, failing to sufficiently consider incentives, ignoring the fact that people alter their behavior when risks are changed by policy, or failing to think about how lockdowns and regulations interact with one another, mistakes in economic reasoning have made this pandemic cost more in lost lives, output, and liberties than was necessary.</p> <p>Yes, devising policy in the heat of an emergency was always going to be a&nbsp;breeding ground for mistakes. In a&nbsp;crisis with costs as high as this, experimentation is necessary. When we evaluate our failures, however, it’s no good just identifying poor individual decisions or culpable villains. To truly learn from the pandemic, we need to understand why the faulty economic instincts underpinning those choices have been so entrenched.</p> </div> Thu, 15 Apr 2021 11:58:58 -0400 Ryan Bourne Should We Go to War for Taiwan? <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Doug Bandow</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Last month, Admiral Philip S. Davidson, commander of U.S. Indo‐​Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Taiwan is one of China’s targets and “the threat is manifest during this decade, in fact, in the next six years.”&nbsp;Some observers, noting increased Chinese military action, believe a&nbsp;crisis could come even sooner.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>What would the U.S. do? Washington’s policy of “strategic ambiguity” dictates no answer. When asked about the issue, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded: “Our position on Taiwan remains clear. We will stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values in the Indo‐​Pacific region,” whatever that means.</p> <p>The American people deserve to know what they might be expected to die for. Washington is filled with people who believe that being a&nbsp;superpower means never having to limit one’s ambitions, consider the actions of other nations, or fear the consequences of military interventions. Yet the impact of war over Taiwan would be disastrous.</p> <p>By any normal measure, the Republic of China, its official name, is an independent country. However, the island of Formosa, plus some much smaller possessions, is claimed by China. And the ROC is recognized by only 14 small countries. Most nations, including the U.S., accept Beijing’s “one China” policy while maintaining an unofficial relationship with Taiwan focused on trade.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>The American people need a&nbsp;debate now, before a&nbsp;crisis arrives </p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>The island was detached from imperial China by Japan in 1890, recovered by the ROC in 1945 at the end of World War II, and separated again by the retreating Nationalists in 1949. For years, the U.S. recognized the ROC located on Taiwan as the legitimate government of all China.</p> <p>That began to change with President Richard Nixon’s trip to the People’s Republic of China in 1972. President Jimmy Carter completed the process on January 1, 1979, establishing formal diplomatic ties with the PRC.</p> <p>Chinese speak of the “century of humiliation” during which various European powers, Japan, and the U.S. forced the once great empire to surrender (or “lease”) territory. Taiwan is the final significant “Chinese” territory which remains separated from the mainland. The PRC long lacked the ability to conquer the island, but the military balance is shifting strongly toward the mainland.</p> <p>Beijing once assumed that the Taiwanese people would choose to come “home” to the growing colossus. However, the increasingly authoritarian superstate holds ever less appeal to residents of the small, vibrant capitalist democracy.</p> <p>Last year 83 percent of the population said it viewed itself as Taiwanese; 78 percent of people said they would resist a&nbsp;Chinese invasion. Taiwan’s people ranked trust in China at two on a&nbsp;scale of zero to 10. Younger Taiwanese were skeptical of even economic ties with the PRC. Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong destroyed any illusions that any Taiwanese might once have had about “one country, two systems.”</p> <p>Which means the possibility of peaceful reunification has disappeared.</p> <p>Relations between Taiwan and the mainland deteriorated after President Tsai Ing-wen’s election in 2016, since her Democratic Progressive Party long has been inclined toward independence. The PRC refused to have any contact with her government and worked to deny Taiwan membership in and even recognition by international organizations, convince governments to switch diplomatic recognitions from Taipei to Beijing, and intensify military pressure on Taiwan.</p> <p>What should Washington do?</p> <p>Under “strategic ambiguity” no one is sure how this or any future administration would react to an attempt to coerce Taipei. The theory is that Taiwan can’t take U.S. support as a&nbsp;given and therefore won’t do anything reckless. And that China can’t be sure that America wouldn’t send in the cavalry and therefore won’t take any chances.</p> <p>Yet current uncertainty is more likely to run the other way. Taiwanese officials have told me that they expect American support even if their behavior, such as a&nbsp;declaration of independence, triggered Chinese action. And Beijing officials consistently express skepticism that Washington would act against its own interest, risking, as one Chinese general put it, Los Angeles for Taipei.</p> <p>However, as PRC ambitions have expanded, military power has increased, and human rights have worsened, Washington opinion against China and for Taiwan has hardened. Elbridge Colby, a&nbsp;Trump DOD official, opined: “We just need China to understand that we would come to Taiwan’s defense.” Even reliably left‐​wing Barney Frank, a&nbsp;former Democratic congressman, recently wrote that the U.S. should “resolve now that we will commit our full military force to helping Taiwan repel a&nbsp;Chinese invasion.”</p> <p>Support for dropping ambiguity has correspondingly increased. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, along with David Sacks, also at the Council, last year argued that “The time has come for the United States to introduce a&nbsp;policy of strategic clarity: one that makes explicit that the United States would respond to any Chinese use of force against Taiwan.” Author Francis P. Sempa contended that the U.S. should “make it unmistakably clear to China that we will defend Taiwan if China attacks.”&nbsp;Even Adm. Davidson argued that strategic ambiguity “should be reconsidered.”</p> <p>This is not a&nbsp;debate for the faint‐​hearted. Beijing calls Taipei’s status an internal affair, in which the U.S. plays no legitimate role. Top Chinese officials indicate that their willingness to wait to resolve the issue is diminishing. For the PRC, Taiwan’s status is a&nbsp;likely casus belli.</p> <p>Last year, Chinese&nbsp;Premier Li Keqiang said that Beijing would&nbsp;“resolutely oppose and deter any separatist activities seeking Taiwan independence.” More explicit were remarks by&nbsp;Li Zuocheng, Joint Staff Department chief and Central Military Commission member: “If the possibility for peaceful reunification is lost, the people’s armed forces will, with the whole nation, including the people of Taiwan, take all necessary steps to resolutely smash any separatist plots or actions.”&nbsp;Blunter still was Wu Qian, spokesman for China’s Defense Ministry, who recently allowed that “Taiwan independence means war.”</p> <p>The common presumption of the usual suspects in Washington is that the U.S. need only express its resolve and the PRC will slink away, never to be heard from again. Consider&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">the comments of former defense secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta</a>: “We’re not going to allow China to invade Taiwan, and to undermine their independence” and “you cannot militarize these islands in the South China Sea, you cannot violate international laws with regards to freedom of the seas, we’re not going to allow you to do that.” Might the result be war? No, he explained: “I think frankly if China understands that we’re serious about that, China’s not going to do that. They may be a&nbsp;lot of things, they’re not dumb. They’ve got to get that signal that the United States is a&nbsp;player in the Pacific, that we are a&nbsp;power in the Pacific.”</p> <p>These presumptions are common but dangerous, and not because the Chinese are dumb.</p> <p>First, they reasonably believe the U.S. is bluffing. Look at a&nbsp;map. Geographically, Taiwan is to the U.S. like Cuba is to China. In Beijing’s view, Washington can’t seriously claim that Taiwan is an important security interest. Propinquity alone suggests that who rules Taipei is more likely to be vital for China than America.</p> <p>Second, however much some Americans feel for Taiwan, a&nbsp;great power just 100&nbsp;miles away from the island cares even more. The U.S. foolishly engaged in endless Third World wars without catastrophic risk. America can’t do the same against nations with serious militaries, including nuclear weapons. Hence the Chinese jibe that the U.S. won’t risk nuclear war over Taiwan. No rational nation would.</p> <p>Third, if war comes, the PRC has a&nbsp;good chance of winning. Not threatening or occupying America, which wouldn’t be at issue, but thwarting a&nbsp;U.S. attempt to prevent Chinese coercion or conquest of Taiwan, in whole or in part. The tyranny of distance favors deterrence over power projection. China can rely on mainland bases while America’s allies, despite blustery rhetoric today, would be reluctant to become instant targets and permanent enemies of the PRC by aiding U.S. forces.</p> <p>In this case American strikes on the mainland would be inevitable, which would guarantee retaliation and escalation. Indeed,&nbsp;in 2005 Gen.&nbsp;Zhu Chenghu warned: “If the Americans draw their missiles and precision‐​guided ammunition on to the target zone on China’s territory, I&nbsp;think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons.”</p> <p>Even defeat would probably build popular support in China to double down and prepare for the next attempt, when the U.S. likely would be more beleaguered economically, enfeebled by debt, and focused on its own problems. MIT’s Barry Posen noted: “The U.S. commitment to Taiwan is simultaneously the most perilous and least strategically necessary commitment that the United States has today.”</p> <p>What could justify such a&nbsp;risk? Taiwan is a&nbsp;good friend but is not a&nbsp;serious security interest for America.&nbsp;Sen. Josh Hawley called the island “the lynchpin of a&nbsp;free and open Indo‐​Pacific,” yet the Chinese navy is active and aggressive even now. The Stimson Center’s James Loomis was even more extravagant in his claim: Taiwan is&nbsp;increasingly the “lynchpin” of Washington’s “overall strategy to contain China’s hegemonic ambitions.” That objective alone makes conflict much more likely. The island might look like a&nbsp;great base in peacetime. However, in war there would be no more vulnerable target than land so close to China.</p> <p>Although&nbsp;Taiwan’s friendship might advance U.S. influence in East Asia, that doesn’t make an island 7,600&nbsp;miles from America worth war. In 2018, Rep. Michael McCaul said the Taiwanese “stand for freedom and democracy in the region.” They do, but that’s not a&nbsp;good reason for going to war anywhere, especially against a&nbsp;major power, which happens to possess nuclear weapons and has genuinely vital interests at stake.</p> <p>Moreover, it will become ever more difficult for the U.S. to defend Taiwan. The U.S. is essentially bankrupt. The deficit already was running $1 trillion annually before COVID-19 hit. The pandemic will ultimately add as much as $16 trillion in debt, which already exceeds 100 percent of GDP. With the baby boomer generation continuing to retire, the latter number, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is likely to hit 200 percent by 2050.</p> <p>These numbers do not even count the Biden administration’s spending plans for everything from infrastructure to education, health care, and more. Are Americans prepared to spend tens or hundreds of billions of dollars annually—it costs far more to project military force than to deter its use, especially halfway around the world against a&nbsp;serious power—to effectively support just Taiwan?</p> <p>Before the Biden administration commits the U.S. to war with China over Taipei, the American people should have a&nbsp;serious conversation about the issue. Loomis admitted: “Any sustained military action taken to defend Taiwan will require the domestic support of the American public.”&nbsp;The promise might be more costly than anyone imagines. Just what is worth war, and how much?</p> <p>Instead, Washington should be developing alternatives: e.g., providing Taipei with weapons to create its own deterrent, sufficiently robust to deny China the certainty that it would desire before attacking; bringing together Asian and European nations to warn of the grievous diplomatic and economic consequences of aggression against Taiwan; and looking for a&nbsp;peaceful modus vivendi, perhaps one that trades China dropping threats of military action in return for America’s assurance not to forge a&nbsp;military relationship with Taipei and Taiwan’s agreement to drop its campaign to achieve a&nbsp;larger, separate international existence.</p> <p>U.S. officials hand out security commitments rather like hotels set chocolates on pillows, free for anyone who asks. But a&nbsp;promise to go to war is serious, especially when directed against a&nbsp;nuclear‐​armed adversary. Taiwan deserves to be independent. But a&nbsp;war with China is too high a&nbsp;price for Americans to pay.</p> </div> Thu, 15 Apr 2021 10:37:54 -0400 Doug Bandow Afghanistan Exit Is the Right Call <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Doug Bandow</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>It appears that President Joe Biden is determined to make at least one good decision in his presidency: leaving Afghanistan. Unlike his predecessors, he does not plan on letting American personnel die far from home while kicking the geopolitical can down the road, hoping to shift blame for a&nbsp;failed military invasion onto his successor. An unnamed aide explained to the&nbsp;<em>Washington Post</em>, “If we break the May 1st deadline negotiated by the previous administration with no clear plan to exit, we will be back at war with the Taliban, and that was not something President Biden believed was in the national interest.”</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>After 9/11, President George W. Bush acted rightly to destroy al‐​Qaeda for killing thousands of Americans and oust the Taliban for hosting the terrorist group. This necessary and proper use of military force quickly succeeded. Indeed, Osama bin Laden might have been captured or killed in the fight over Tora Bora in December 2001 had the administration not even then been shifting attention and resources to prepare for it disastrous Iraqi misadventure.</p> <p>Unfortunately, Bush then made a&nbsp;common mistake, engaging in mission gallop. He radically transformed America’s presence from killing enemies to nation‐​building, social reconstruction, democracy expansion, and progress promotion. The result has been a&nbsp;disaster.</p> <p>Afghanistan is a&nbsp;wreck and a&nbsp;failed state. The national government’s writ extends only tenuously beyond Kabul in a&nbsp;country always governed in the valley and village. After two decades, the bulk of the security forces remain incapable, inefficient, or absent, unable to defend the Afghan regime. Expensive but failed development projects litter the land. Corruption drained public finances, looted aid, and created a&nbsp;class of nouveau riche living in garish “poppy palaces” in Kabul with families and bank accounts secured overseas. Opium production undergirds the rural economy and insurgent activity. The Taliban controls or contests almost half of the country, with the government steadily weakening.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>The U.S. spent much treasure and sacrificed many lives in a&nbsp;heroic effort to transform Afghanistan into a&nbsp;stable modern state. That campaign failed. </p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Even the streets of Kabul, the capital city, on which I&nbsp;traveled safely a&nbsp;decade ago, are no longer secure.</p> <p>All this despite combat support from allied forces ranging up to 140,000. For two decades. That’s longer than the Mexican–American War, Civil War, Spanish–American War, World War I, World War II, and Korean War combined — and with no end in sight.</p> <p>Absent a&nbsp;U.S. troop withdrawal — the ongoing negotiations with the Taliban are best seen as useful cover for getting out — Americans could spend another 20&nbsp;years dying as presidents keep pushing the tough decision to their successors. Washington is long overdue in ending another doomed nation‐​building attempt to install a&nbsp;never‐​before‐​tried system of centralized governance and liberal democracy.</p> <p>None of the common objections to departing make sense. One is that the U.S. is finally at the point when the stars have aligned and a&nbsp;bountiful future for Afghanistan is within reach. Sticking around just a&nbsp;little longer will unlock the dream as former enemies, however reluctantly, join hands. In contrast, leaving, as in Iraq, would toss away this opportunity and risk America’s forced return in the future.</p> <p>Yet assuming success to be just a&nbsp;short time away is a&nbsp;pipe dream, repeated by every U.S. administration, allied military commander, and Afghan apparatchik. Even some advocates now exhibit doubt. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., co‐​chair of the Afghanistan Study Group and one of the debacle’s many architects as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">recently opined</a>, “If we take advantage of the opportunity we have right now then there is at least a&nbsp;prospect of achieving that end state [a U.S.-friendly outcome] even as we recognize how difficult it will be.” That’s it? There is “at least a&nbsp;prospect of achieving” a&nbsp;positive outcome? That is the justification for tossing away more cash and lives, potentially forever?</p> <p>This presumes that sticking around — about 3,500 Americans and 7,000 Europeans are still in Afghanistan — would be simple and cheap. U.S. casualties are way down because the few troops there do little fighting and the Taliban did not target them during negotiations. Break the agreement reached by the Trump administration and all bets would be off: U.S. forces likely would be at the top of the target list in an attempt to drive them out. Yet 3,500 personnel aren’t likely to achieve what 100,000 Americans a&nbsp;decade ago were unable to do.</p> <p>Nor was America’s departure from Iraq discretionary. President George W. Bush was unable to convince the Iraqi parliament to approve a&nbsp;status of forces agreement, necessary for any continuing U.S. military presence. And a&nbsp;small force could have done little to prevent larger social collapse without being placed in combat, which would have turned Americans into targets. Indeed, ousting America’s garrison was a&nbsp;shared objective of nationalistic Shia and antagonistic Sunnis alike.</p> <p>Another claim is that America has invested too much to quit: $2 trillion in cash, more than 7,000 lives (about 6,000 U.S. service members and contractors and 1,100 allied soldiers), thousands more wounded, many grievously, and enormous effort and emotion. These costs must not end up being incurred in vain. The emotion behind this argument is powerful. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez observed, “I just am concerned that after so much blood and national treasure that we don’t lose what we were seeking to achieve.”</p> <p>But this is the fallacy of the sunk cost. The money and lives are gone and cannot be returned or redeemed. The question is whether or not the endeavor is worth future costs. Afghanistan is not. The best, indeed the only, way to honor those sacrificed by a&nbsp;succession of myopic political leaders is to stop wasting more lives and money. This presumably is why the vast majority of&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Afghan vets back withdrawal</a>.</p> <p>No doubt the air will filled with complaints about lost resolve, trust, and reputation. A&nbsp;couple years ago several Rand Corp. analysts warned that leaving Afghanistan in defeat “would be a&nbsp;blow to American credibility, the weakening of deterrence and the value of U.S. reassurance elsewhere.”&nbsp;Such claims were constantly tossed at Donald Trump, who&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">questioned</a>&nbsp;the bloody conventional wisdom, by insulated, pampered Blob members who sent Americans from across the country to fight and die in multiple endless wars that damaged rather than advanced U.S. security.</p> <p>The problem is not that America failed, however — the U.S. quickly dispersed al‐​Qaeda and ousted the Taliban — but that Washington unrealistically expanded its objectives. Moreover, the belief that America must sustain every stupid, peripheral undertaking lest adversaries believe Washington will not keep serious, central ones ignores history and reality. No country can be forever bound by zombie commitments.</p> <p>The U.S. has always “cut and run” when necessary, without causing a&nbsp;global cataclysm. Washington abandoned efforts to liberate North Korea in 1950, failed six years later to back its encouragement of Hungarians to revolt against the Soviet Union, fled South Vietnam with the last Americans escaping via helicopter from atop the embassy in 1975, and dropped support for various friendly dictatorships and insurgencies over the years. None of these actions left the Soviet Union in doubt that America would defend itself or Europe. Indeed, the USSR and other nations acted similarly — the Soviets, too, left Afghanistan in humiliating defeat.</p> <p>Of course, these are all arguments against withdrawing. Inertia tends to dominate policy. What has always been must always be. Doing what we have always done seems safer than making changes. Indeed, that’s why the last three presidents pushed the problem to their successors. Let someone else make the difficult decision!</p> <p>But it is time to ask: Are there any reasons for&nbsp;<em>staying</em>? No. Not any good ones, at least.</p> <p>Imagine we were looking at Afghanistan on September 10, 2001. Who would have advocated an invasion and 20‐​year occupation? Not even the neocon cabal pushing so hard to target other nations, such as Iraq and Iran. Even for Washington’s activist war lobby, Afghanistan made no sense. And that lack of enthusiasm persisted as the Bush administration rapidly shifted troops to the conflict that they really wanted: Iraq. Afghanistan was just a&nbsp;convenient sideshow, unexpectedly dropped in their laps by Osama bin Laden’s location.</p> <p>So why invade Afghanistan? Not because it is critical for Washington to dominate Central Asia. Of course, Uncle Sam tends to think he is akin to God in the sense that he is interested if anyone anywhere is doing anything just as God is concerned if a&nbsp;sparrow falls to Earth. But while being a&nbsp;superpower means having interests all over, few are important — such as in Central Asia. It is too far from America and too close to several powerful states. What happens there is of interest to Washington, but not vitally so, and certainly not worth decades of war. In fact, China, India, Iran, Pakistan, and Russia all have reason to promote stability in Afghanistan even though they prefer the U.S. to handle the problem.</p> <p>There is also the broader call for nation‐​building as a&nbsp;positive good. For instance, Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">wrote</a>&nbsp;about</p> </div> , <blockquote> <div class="fs-lg"> <p>the undoubted risk to all of the Afghans who have risked life and limb to build a&nbsp;new country since 2001. Think of all the girls going to school, all the women in the workforce, all the brave soldiers and police officers fighting the Taliban despite heavy casualties, all the young entrepreneurs starting businesses, all the government officials trying to build a&nbsp;fragile democracy.</p> </div> </blockquote> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Yes, and there are many nations around the world in which an American invasion and occupation might be similarly seen as a&nbsp;virtuous act: South Sudan, Haiti, Burma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Venezuela, Yemen, and more. Alas, as America has learned, creating a&nbsp;modern liberal order in other countries is no easy feat. Why do Afghanistan instead of the others? And how long should the U.S. persist if the wonderful transformation promised continues to remain but a&nbsp;glint in a&nbsp;Washington policymaker’s eyes? If not 20&nbsp;years, then 40? Sixty? One hundred? Or as long as it takes? As a&nbsp;Biden aide&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">observed</a>, “The president has judged that a&nbsp;conditions‐​based approach … is a&nbsp;recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever.”</p> <p>The status of women in Afghanistan has understandably gained special attention. If that is a&nbsp;casus belli for America, however, then Washington should be bombing Riyadh, Tehran, and several other Muslim nations. There is much injustice, unfairness, and hardship around the world. The U.S. government’s chief responsibility is to its own people, to protecting them — their security, liberty, and prosperity — not acting as a&nbsp;social avenger for whatever cause happens to dominate Washington’s zeitgeist at the time.</p> <p>Nor is Afghanistan likely to end up where it was before even after the U.S. departs. Two decades of invasive international contact have changed the country. And the Taliban is unlikely to be strong enough to replicate its prior monopoly on power nationally. It might even decide that treating urban and rural rule is in its interest.</p> <p>Might leaving Afghanistan without a&nbsp;strong, friendly government in control of the entire country result in terrorists overrunning America? Trump once noted that his staff said&nbsp;that “if we don’t go there, they’re going to be fighting over here.” That fear assumes al‐​Qaeda and other groups would turn Afghanistan into a&nbsp;terrorist haven and target America.</p> <p>But the Taliban is made up of insurgents, not terrorists, and it has no interest in again suffering the wrath of the U.S. by tolerating attacks from al‐​Qaeda or anyone else. Even today much of Afghanistan is relatively uncontrolled by either the Kabul government or America, and thus it presumably could act as a “terrorist haven.”</p> <p>As could many other areas on Earth. Given the world’s size, trying to occupy every ungoverned or badly governed territory would be an impossible strategy. Off‐​shore counter‐​terrorism operations, in conjunction with other similarly minded states — in this case India, Pakistan, and even China and Russia share America’s anti‐​terrorism objectives — is the better practice.</p> <p>More important, terrorism is not tied to geography. The 9/11 plot was conceived, planned, prepared, and carried out almost entirely outside of Afghanistan. The man labeled by the 9/11 commission as the “principal architect” of that attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, rejected Osama bin Laden’s entreaties to move to Afghanistan. Bin Laden later escaped to Pakistan, where he remained active until U.S. SEALs dropped in uninvited.</p> <p>Finally, along with its strategy of killing or incapacitating its enemies, the U.S. should create fewer foes. Ending foreign bombings, occupations, and wars would help. America must stop making&nbsp;enemies faster than it kills them.</p> <p>Afghanistan is a&nbsp;tragedy by any measure. The civil war has entered its fifth decade. Withdrawal creates “awful danger,”&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">complained</a>&nbsp;<em>Washington Post</em>&nbsp;columnist David Ignatius. Perhaps. But Washington’s participation only spreads the pain and loss to Americans. The U.S. spent much treasure and sacrificed many lives in a&nbsp;heroic effort to transform Afghanistan into a&nbsp;stable modern state. That campaign failed. Now it is the time to focus on Americans’ needs.</p> </div> Thu, 15 Apr 2021 10:17:56 -0400 Doug Bandow President Joe Biden Set for Summit with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Doug Bandow</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Tokyo’s boosters call Japan America’s most important ally. Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe forged a&nbsp;close relationship with President Donald Trump, playing to the latter’s vanities. In response, Trump seemed to go easier on Tokyo, a&nbsp;longtime Pentagon cheap rider, than South Korea or Europe.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is due in Washington on Friday, April 16, and is sure to ask the Biden administration to do more to deter Chinese adventurism in nearby waters. He lacks his mentor Abe’s impressive pedigree and record, but President Joe Biden, having promised to “restore” America’s alliances, is likely to prove a&nbsp;soft touch. Indeed, the administration earlier gave away the store when it agreed that the Senkaku/​Diaoyu Islands, controlled by Tokyo but also claimed by Beijing, fell under the “mutual” defense treaty and that the U.S. had an “unwavering commitment” to intervene in any conflict over them.</p> <p>Alas, the obvious question, which went unasked in last month’s professed lovefest between the two nations’ foreign and defense ministers, was: why does Tokyo spend so little, barely one percent of GDP, on its military if it fears war with a&nbsp;great power rival over conflicting territorial claims? Why isn’t Japan rapidly adding more ships, planes, and missiles to deter offensive Chinese action?</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>Prosperous democratic allies should take over their own defense, instead of expecting Washington’s guardianship forever. Why not start with Japan? </p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Tokyo cannot argue that it is overburdened since it devotes less effort to the military than do its Asian neighbors, including even the Philippines. More important, Japan lags far behind its potential adversaries, China and North Korea. Tokyo also devotes a&nbsp;smaller share of its GDP to the military than does almost every European member of NATO. Either Japan faces no serious threats or figures America will handle its security.</p> <p>If the former, why should the US waste effort and resources on Japan’s defense? If the latter, why should overloaded Americans, who also are paying to protect several other East Asian nations, most of Europe, much of the Middle East and North Africa, and part of Central Asia, do more so Japan can do less? The current relationship makes no sense.</p> <p>To raise these issues is not to reject mutually beneficial security cooperation between the two nations. However, the seven‐​decade‐​old alliance — it is not and never has been a “mutual” relationship — discourages Tokyo from doing what every serious nation should do, provide for its defense. There were historical reasons why the American commitment and deployment originally operated like the infamous “cap in the bottle” claimed by American Lt. Gen. Harry Stackpole. However, that world has been swept away.</p> <p>It is now 76&nbsp;years after World War II, making that conflict as distant from today as it was from the Meiji Restoration. The likelihood of an imperial revival with Japan conquering its neighbors has passed into the realm of fantasy. Once fearful nations like the Philippines now ask Tokyo to do more militarily.</p> <p>Moreover, regional challenges are increasing. Both North Korea and China raise significant security concerns, but far more to nearby countries and especially Japan than America.</p> <p>The North has long‐​standing grievances against its onetime colonial masters in Tokyo, which is vulnerable to missile attack. In contrast, Pyongyang’s weapons are only deterrents to the US, since a&nbsp;first strike would result in devastating retaliation. The People’s Republic of China also has historically rooted antagonisms toward Japan. The PRC is arming against America too, but for defense in its own neighborhood. Any conflict would occur thousands of miles from America.</p> <p>Hence, Japan is at greater risk than the US and capable of doing much more on its own behalf. Tokyo should stop relying on the bankrupt republic a&nbsp;large ocean away.</p> <p>Japan is well‐​positioned to constrain Chinese aggressiveness. Even its modest military efforts have yielded a&nbsp;sizable and modern force. Despite having a&nbsp;smaller economy overall, Tokyo remains far wealthier than the PRC and diverts far less funds to internal security, i.e., repression, allowing Japan to spend substantially more than present on its armed forces. As an archipelago with no land borders Japan also is in a&nbsp;better strategic position than China. In contrast, the PRC is surrounded by countries with which it has been at war over the last century: India, Korea, Russia, and Vietnam. Tokyo could mimic China and emphasize anti‐​access/​area denial capabilities, which Beijing hopes will deter US military operations nearby.</p> <p>Moreover, Tokyo could help establish a&nbsp;collaborative network with its neighbors. In its report&nbsp;<em>Defense of Japan 2020&nbsp;</em>the Abe government noted that “a regional cooperation framework in the security realm has not been sufficiently institutionalized in the Indo‐​Pacific region.” A&nbsp;growing if informal coalition beckons.</p> <p>Australia’s attitude toward the PRC has hardened. South Korea has suffered economic reprisals by China, which continues to underwrite North Korea. Manila’s efforts to ingratiate itself with Beijing have not limited the latter’s aggressive maritime activity. Vietnam has clashed with the PRC over conflicting claims involving the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Similarly, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, while not interested in a&nbsp;formal anti‐​China alliance, share an interest in regional peace and stability.</p> <p>Significantly, India, at serious odds with the PRC over their land borders, has extended its reach into the Pacific. In a&nbsp;report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies Mitsuko Hayashi observed: “Defense ties with India have developed in the maritime sphere since the first [Japanese] participation in the multilateral Malabar exercise in the Indian Ocean in 2007 but also among the ground services, such as anti‐​terrorism exercises held in India in 2018 and 2019.”</p> <p>Of course, it is up to the Japanese people to decide how much to spend on their military. Washington will inevitably badger its allies to do more when it is tasked with defending them since the less they do means the more Americans are expected to spend, provide, and risk. The frequent result is the pitiable spectacle of US officials complaining, commanding, entreating, insisting, criticizing, exhorting, demanding, whining, insulting, and finally begging friendly governments to do more militarily&nbsp;<em>for themselves</em>. Yet any suggestion that Washington do less generates cacophonous wailing and frenetic gnashing of teeth as alliance advocates aver that America must always do more to protect other nations even if they do less themselves.</p> <p>However, there is no reason for Washington to do what Tokyo could do. The present alliance, with some 54,000 Americans stationed in Japan (unfairly concentrated in Okinawa, which the US ruled from 1945 to 1972), demonstrates the essential truth of President Donald Trump’s complaints against America’s defense dependents. His solution, however, was to shake down other states, essentially hiring out US military personnel to other countries. His opening annual bids were $5 billion and $8 billion from South Korea and Japan, respectively. That approach was a&nbsp;bust — the allies simply said no — and a&nbsp;bad idea since Americans should not be treated as the modern equivalent of mercenaries.</p> <p>Instead, Washington should announce that it plans to shift defense responsibilities to capable partners. Which means Tokyo should forthrightly confront its China challenge. So far the PRC’s ambitions appear bounded: reclaiming territory once seized by avaricious neighbors and colonial powers. That could change, of course. However, as noted earlier, Japan is well able to deter Chinese aggression.</p> <p>Moreover, Washington still could backstop Tokyo’s independence, which doesn’t appear to be at issue — even the most fervent China hawks do not predict a&nbsp;Sino invasion force sailing to conquer Honshu Island anytime soon — and otherwise cooperate to advance common objectives. However, the US should make clear that Japan’s defense is now Tokyo’s responsibility. And while refusing to discuss contested territorial claims with the PRC is up to Japan, so is dealing with the consequences. Settling ownership of the Senkaku/​Diaoyu Islands isn’t America’s responsibility.</p> <p>Some Japanese already are pushing for a&nbsp;larger and more vigorous Japanese military. Abe’s defense minister, Taro Kono, pointed to foreign military activity to argue: “All cards should be on the table.” There also is increased discussion of being able to preempt foreign attacks, most obviously a&nbsp;possible North Korean missile attack. A&nbsp;more restrictive American stance would necessitate a&nbsp;broader Japanese debate over such issues.</p> <p>The issue of nuclear weapons could arise as well. That’s obviously a&nbsp;hot button issue for the Japanese people. However, Washington’s policy of “extended deterrence” is a&nbsp;bad deal for America. Why should the US risk Los Angeles, Chicago, or Washington, D.C. for Tokyo? As that seems ever less believable the policy becomes less credible. Japan going nuclear would be fraught with difficulties and downsides, but still might be the best of a&nbsp;bunch of bad options.</p> <p>Of course, Article 9&nbsp;of Japan’s “peace constitution,” imposed by Washington during the post‐​World War II occupation, technically forbids possession of a&nbsp;military. However, Tokyo always has creatively interpreted the restriction. Whether Japan should amend its constitution is not America’s business. If the US does less, the Japanese people will be left to decide if they want to do more and, if so, how to do so.</p> <p>America should embrace the world. However, that doesn’t mean America should protect the world. The US is militarily overextended and financially busted. Prosperous democratic allies should take over their own defense, instead of expecting Washington’s guardianship forever. Why not start with Japan? Biden should communicate that message when Suga arrives on Friday.</p> </div> Thu, 15 Apr 2021 10:11:15 -0400 Doug Bandow Hanke’s 2020 Misery Index: Who’s Miserable and Who’s Happy? <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Steve H. Hanke</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>The human condition lies on a&nbsp;vast spectrum between “miserable” and “happy.” In the economic sphere, misery tends to flow from high inflation, steep borrowing costs, and unemployment. The surefire way to mitigate that misery is through economic growth. All else being equal, happiness tends to blossom when growth is strong, inflation and interest rates are low, and jobs are plentiful.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Many countries measure and report these economic metrics regularly. Comparing them, nation by nation, can tell us a&nbsp;lot about where in the world people are sad or happy. Is the United States, for example, more or less miserable than other countries? Hanke’s Annual Misery Index (HAMI) gives us the answers.</p> <p>The first misery index was constructed by economist Arthur Okun in the 1960s to provide President Lyndon Johnson with an easily digestible snapshot of the economy. That original misery index was a&nbsp;simple sum of a&nbsp;nation’s annual inflation rate and its unemployment rate. The index has been modified several times, first by Robert Barro of Harvard, and then by me.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>The latest update — now expanded to 156 nations — on a&nbsp;metric of well‐​being as viewed through the lens of economics</p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>My modified misery index is the sum of the unemployment, inflation, and bank‐​lending rates, minus the percentage change in real GDP per capita. Higher readings on the first three elements are “bad” and make people more miserable. These “bads” are offset by a “good” (real GDP per capita growth), which is subtracted from the sum of the bads. A&nbsp;higher HAMI score reflects a&nbsp;higher level of misery.</p> <p>The HAMI is a&nbsp;simple metric that can be understood at a&nbsp;glance. The table for 2020 is much expanded over the one that was <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">presented for 2019.</a> Indeed, last year’s HAMI included 95 countries, while this year’s includes 156.</p> </div> , <figure class="figure responsive-embed-no-margin-wrapper"> <div class="figure__media"> <img width="936" height="720" alt="Hanke Misery Index 2020" class="lozad image-style-pubs-2x component-image" loading="lazy" data-src="/sites/" typeof="Image" /> </div> </figure> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>In our review of this year’s table, let’s start with three of the least miserable countries.</p> <p><strong>Guyana </strong>takes the prize as the world’s least miserable country. Guyana <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">literally struck oil</a>, and its percentage change in real GDP per capita in 2020 soared by a&nbsp;stunning 25.8 percent. Since Guyana’s huge increase in real GDP per capita represents the “good” component of the HAMI and is subtracted from the three much smaller “bad” components, Guyana’s resulting HAMI score is negative. A&nbsp;negative HAMI equals happiness. Here’s the arithmetic for Guyana:</p> </div> , <blockquote> <div class="fs-lg"> <p>HAMI = [Unemployment (11.8%) + Inflation (1.0%) + Bank‐​Lending Rate (9.7%)] − Real GDP Growth (25.8%) = −3.3.</p> </div> </blockquote> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p><strong>Taiwan </strong>has improved and moved up in the ranks to the second‐​least miserable country in the world in 2020. Here’s the arithmetic:</p> </div> , <blockquote> <div class="fs-lg"> <p>HAMI = [Unemployment (3.8%) + Inflation (0.1%) + Bank‐​Lending Rate (2.5%)] − Real GDP Growth (2.6%) = 3.8.</p> </div> </blockquote> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p><strong>Qatar</strong> has also upped its game in 2020 and is now the third‐​least‐​miserable country in the world. Here’s the arithmetic:</p> </div> , <blockquote> <div class="fs-lg"> <p>HAMI = [Unemployment (0.5%) + Inflation (-2.6%) + Bank‐​Lending Rate (2.8%)] − Real GDP Growth (−4.6%) = 5.3.</p> </div> </blockquote> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Now, let’s dive down into the pits.</p> <p><strong>Venezuela</strong> holds the inglorious title of the most miserable country in the world in 2020, as it did in all five preceding years. The failures of president Nicolás Maduro’s corrupt, <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">socialist petroleum state</a> have been well documented. But behind the shroud of secrecy that Venezuela has drawn over itself, significant changes occurred within the components of HAMI during 2020. Inflation, while still the world’s highest, plunged from 7,374 percent per year in 2019 to 3,713 percent in 2020. But the unemployment rate surged from 24 percent in 2019 to 50.3 percent. Both the bank‐​lending rate and real GDP growth per capita remained about the same in 2020 as in 2019. Here’s Venezuela’s miserable arithmetic:</p> </div> , <blockquote> <div class="fs-lg"> <p>HAMI = [Unemployment (50.3%) + Inflation (3,713.3%) + Bank‐​Lending Rate (33.1%)] − Real GDP Growth (−30.9%) = 3827.6.</p> </div> </blockquote> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p><strong>Zimbabwe</strong> was unranked on last year’s HAMI because of a&nbsp;lack of reliable data. But this year its dubious accomplishment is nailing down a&nbsp;spot as the second‐​most‐​miserable country in the world. Zimbabwe just can’t kick its inflation addiction. Under the reign of the ruthless Robert Mugabe, the country suffered two episodes of hyperinflation. The first peaked in November 2008, when prices were doubling every 24.7&nbsp;hours. It was the <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">second‐​highest hyperinflation in history</a>. In 2009, Zimbabwe officially dollarized and shook its inflation addiction. But dollarization didn’t last long. By 2017, Zimbabwe was afflicted with <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">yet another bout of hyperinflation</a>. Today, President Emmerson “Ed” Mnangagwa rules the way Mugabe did, and inflation continues to rob Zimbabweans, rendering them miserable. Here’s the miserable arithmetic:</p> </div> , <blockquote> <div class="fs-lg"> <p>HAMI = [Unemployment (4.9%) + Inflation (495.0%) + Bank‐​Lending Rate (35.0%)] − Real GDP Growth (−12.1%) = 547.0.</p> </div> </blockquote> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p><strong>Sudan</strong> holds down the spot as the third‐​most‐​miserable country in the world on the 2020 HAMI and is in terrible shape. Indeed, at the start of 2021, the Sudanese pound was devalued by 85 percent against the greenback. This added to Sudan’s inflation fire. If that wasn’t bad enough, the country’s government and institutions remain weak, and a&nbsp;mass exodus of refugees from Ethiopia’s Tigray region has recently rushed into eastern Sudan, a&nbsp;situation that threatens to trigger violence. And speaking of violence, it erupted yet again in February of this year in Sudan’s Darfur region. Here’s Sudan’s miserable arithmetic:</p> </div> , <blockquote> <div class="fs-lg"> <p>HAMI = [Unemployment (25.0%) + Inflation (141.6%) + Bank‐​Lending Rate (16.6%)] − Real GDP Growth (−10.7%) = 193.9.</p> </div> </blockquote> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p><strong>Lebanon</strong> holds down the fourth‐​most‐​miserable spot on this year’s HAMI. After the collapse of the Lebanese pound, Lebanon entered a&nbsp;<a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">hyperinflation in July</a>, the first hyperinflation to visit the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. In addition to severe inflation, the currency crisis has resulted in banking and political crises. As the economy collapses and poverty soars, the Lebanese are predictably miserable. Here’s the arithmetic:</p> </div> , <blockquote> <div class="fs-lg"> <p>HAMI = [Unemployment (6.3%) + Inflation (138.0%) + Bank‐​Lending Rate (8.1%)] − Real GDP Growth (−24.7%) = 177.1.</p> </div> </blockquote> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>No doubt it’s better to be “happy” than “miserable.” As Arthur Okun anticipated over 50&nbsp;years ago, the misery index provides politicians with a&nbsp;useful, easy‐​to‐​understand metric of well‐​being as viewed through the lens of official economics statistics. Why useful? Because politicians know that they can remain in office only if they garner the public’s support. And what generates public support? A&nbsp;healthy economy. Hence the importance of Hanke’s Annual Misery Index.</p> </div> Wed, 14 Apr 2021 09:36:13 -0400 Steve H. Hanke In Praise of Foreign Direct Investment–(Almost) All of It <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Scott Lincicome</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Dear Capitolisters, </p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>A few weeks ago, I&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">debated</a>&nbsp;Julius Krein, editor of&nbsp;<em>American Affairs</em>, on trade, industrial policy, and the future of the American economy. It was, I&nbsp;think, a&nbsp;telling and informative discussion (uncomfortable masks notwithstanding), and I&nbsp;invite you to watch the whole thing if you’re interested in the current debate about “free market fundamentalism” and the right’s recent embrace of economic interventionism. Toward the end, Krein and I&nbsp;got hung up on a&nbsp;point that I (incorrectly) assumed was relatively anodyne—the value of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the U.S. economy, regardless of its form (foreign companies acquiring existing U.S. assets or the “greenfield” creation of new ones).&nbsp;I&nbsp;was going to let the issue go, but then saw the claim that foreign acquisitions should be disregarded as valueless “non‐​investing” repeated elsewhere in&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">another New Right critique</a>&nbsp;of the allegedly problematic state of American investment (foreign or domestic) in the United States—a problem, of course, necessitating new federal government action.</p> </div> , <figure class="figure responsive-embed-no-margin-wrapper"> <div class="figure__media"> <div class="embed embed--youtube js-embed js-embed--youtube"> <div class="responsive-embed"></div> </div> </div> </figure> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>In reality, FDI is not only an important and ever‐​growing part of the U.S. economy, but actually pretty great for American workers and their surrounding communities. And the apparent confusion surrounding this fact—and the oodles of research backing it up—thus makes FDI a&nbsp;perfect newsletter topic. So that’s what we’ll do today.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>The Basics</strong></p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>It’s actually pretty great for American workers and their surrounding communities. </p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Before we get to the impact of foreign direct investment in the United States, let’s start with the basics. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), which tracks FDI, defines it as “cross‐​border investment associated with a&nbsp;resident in one economy having control or a&nbsp;significant degree of influence on the management of an enterprise resident in another economy”; BEA sets the threshold for this “significant” control/​influence at 10 percent of the target company’s voting shares. This distinguishes it from “portfolio” investment, in which a&nbsp;foreign entity just buys some shares or debt issued by a&nbsp;U.S. company.&nbsp;Until last year (and for&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">almost every year</a>&nbsp;before that going&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">back to the 1970s</a>), the United States has been the&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">top destination</a>&nbsp;in the world for FDI—a pole position lost because of the pandemic and one that we’ll probably regain this year or next:</p> </div> , <figure class="figure responsive-embed-no-margin-wrapper"> <div class="figure__media"> <img width="700" height="734" alt="lccome1.jpg" class="lozad image-style-pubs-2x component-image" loading="lazy" data-src="/sites/" typeof="Image" /> </div> </figure> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Total FDI in the United States fluctuates because of the presence or absence of&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">anomalous corporate transactions</a>&nbsp;(hence, two major outliers in 2015/2016 when&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">“inversions” were all the rage</a>), domestic policy (e.g., tax reform in 2017), and the state of the U.S. and global economies generally, but there are a&nbsp;few general takeaways from the topline data:&nbsp;</p> <p>First,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">total FDI</a>&nbsp;in the United States—pandemic aside—has been relatively steady over the last decade and in fact a&nbsp;little higher since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was implemented (in part for that very purpose). According to a&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">2020 U.S. Federal Reserve analysis</a>, for example, FDI “climbed to a&nbsp;record high in 2018” after adjusting for the aforementioned transactions (gray bars in Figure 2(a) below)</p> </div> , <figure class="figure responsive-embed-no-margin-wrapper"> <div class="figure__media"> <img width="612" height="360" alt="lccome2.jpg" class="lozad image-style-pubs-2x component-image" loading="lazy" data-src="/sites/" typeof="Image" /> </div> </figure> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>As we discussed&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">a&nbsp;few weeks ago</a>, moreover, various studies indicate that the 2018 and&nbsp;<em>especially</em>&nbsp;2019 numbers would be even better had President Trump not started a&nbsp;massive trade war in early 2018. (For more on that issue, see this&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">2018 piece</a>&nbsp;on the harmful investment uncertainty unleashed by Trump’s trade policies.)</p> <p>Second, contrary to nationalist concerns that FDI means we’re “selling America” (or whatever) to foreign adversaries, the&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">bulk of U.S. FDI</a>&nbsp;comes from traditional allies, including Japan, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Only a&nbsp;small share originates in China—a share that’s&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">actually declining</a>, thanks to heightened U.S. scrutiny of Chinese investment and bilateral tensions more broadly.</p> <p>Third,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">BEA</a>&nbsp;data show that a&nbsp;large chunk of annual FDI into the United States—ranging from 40 to 70 percent—is in manufacturing. As I&nbsp;showed in a&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">recent paper</a>, moreover, total FDI into the U.S. manufacturing sector continues to grow in real (inflation‐​adjusted) terms, and the United States is a&nbsp;top global destination for manufacturing investment:</p> </div> , <figure class="figure responsive-embed-no-margin-wrapper"> <div class="figure__media"> <img width="647" height="400" alt="llcome3.jpg" class="lozad image-style-pubs-2x component-image" loading="lazy" data-src="/sites/" typeof="Image" /> </div> </figure> , <figure class="figure responsive-embed-no-margin-wrapper"> <div class="figure__media"> <img width="700" height="421" alt="llcome4.jpg" class="lozad image-style-pubs-2x component-image" loading="lazy" data-src="/sites/" typeof="Image" /> </div> </figure> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Fourth, all of this FDI has resulted in a&nbsp;major presence of foreign multinationals in the United States. Total FDI assets (“stocks”) in the U.S. manufacturing sector alone hit $1.77 trillion in 2018, and BEA&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">reports</a>&nbsp;that majority‐​owned affiliates of all foreign multinationals employed 7.8 million American workers and contributed $1.1 trillion to U.S. gross domestic product that same year (the last year available). Much of this investment is, again, in manufacturing—particularly in the Rust Belt and South where there are a&nbsp;lot of major foreign automakers:</p> </div> , <figure class="figure responsive-embed-no-margin-wrapper"> <div class="figure__media"> <img width="637" height="478" alt="llcome5.jpg" class="lozad image-style-pubs-2x component-image" loading="lazy" data-src="/sites/" typeof="Image" /> </div> </figure> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Finally, and important for today’s discussion, the same&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">BEA data</a>&nbsp;show that the vast majority of the&nbsp;<em>new</em> FDI into the United States each year is “acquisitions” (foreign ownership or control of at least 10 percent of a&nbsp;target company’s voting shares), while only a&nbsp;fraction is “greenfield” investment (“expenditures to either establish a&nbsp;new U.S. business or to expand an existing foreign‐​owned U.S. business”). In 2019, for example, about $4 billion of a&nbsp;total $194.7 billion were greenfield, down from $8.1 billion of $296.4 billion in 2018:</p> </div> , <figure class="figure responsive-embed-no-margin-wrapper"> <div class="figure__media"> <img width="700" height="372" alt="llcome6.jpg" class="lozad image-style-pubs-2x component-image" loading="lazy" data-src="/sites/" typeof="Image" /> </div> </figure> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>It’s this last point that some have recently targeted to downplay the conventional wisdom that FDI is generally “good” for the U.S. economy, regardless of its form. In our debate, for example, Krein implied that those foreign acquisitions were essentially meaningless paper‐​pushing instead of something to cheer or an indicator of the health of the American manufacturing sector.</p> <p><strong>FDI’s Impact</strong></p> <p>This view, I&nbsp;think, misses several critical points regarding FDI and its impact on the U.S. economy. For starters, the foreign acquisitions&nbsp;<em>themselves</em>&nbsp;have potential value in at least two important ways:&nbsp;</p> <ul> <li> <p>First, the influx of new foreign capital generates a&nbsp;clear financial benefit to the U.S. sellers of the acquired company—sellers who often&nbsp;<em>don’t</em>&nbsp;just cash out permanently and retire to the Caymans (or wherever) but instead reinvest that money in the U.S. economy. Maybe they build a&nbsp;big house; maybe they buy stocks; or maybe they even start a&nbsp;new company. As we&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">discussed</a>&nbsp;a&nbsp;few months ago, for example, the founders of Germany’s BioNTech—of Pfizer mRNA vaccine fame—started their venture using the cash they received from the 2016 sale of their first company to Japan‐​based Astellas Pharma in 2016. The rest, thank goodness, is history. Certainly, such successful subsequent investments aren’t assured when a&nbsp;foreign acquisition takes place, but it’s essential to note that this foreign money doesn’t simply disappear into the ether and, in fact, is often put to good and productive use—including in the United States.</p> </li> <li> <p>Second, an acquisition—by providing U.S. owners with a&nbsp;market return on their investment—can signal to others that the industry at issue (e.g., automaking) is healthy and thus encourages them to invest in that same industry over the longer term. This outcome makes intuitive sense: Sales of existing homes encourage new homebuilding in the same general area (unless, of course, regulations prevent that investment). It’s also backed by some research (though this is admittedly mixed overall).&nbsp;</p> </li> </ul> <p>More importantly, focusing too much the initial acquisition ignores what foreign multinationals do&nbsp;<em>after</em>&nbsp;they make that investment.&nbsp;If, as is implied, foreign companies usually acquire U.S. firms and then do nothing with them, flip them like a&nbsp;house on HGTV, or perhaps even break them apart and sell off the pieces, then the critique of U.S. FDI might have some merit.&nbsp;The literature here, however, tells a&nbsp;much different story: Far from merely acquiring an asset, foreign parent companies typically improve their U.S. acquisitions&nbsp;<strong>and</strong>&nbsp;the domestic companies and communities in which they’re located.&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of this improvement occurs&nbsp;<em>outside</em>&nbsp;of any “greenfield” investments, which BEA&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">defines</a>&nbsp;narrowly as the “establishment” of a&nbsp;new foreign affiliate in the United States or the “expansion” of that affiliate.&nbsp;“Expansion,” however, covers only the construction of a “new facility where business is conducted” and thus excludes other corporate spending once the foreign affiliate is established or expanded. So, for example, if Toyota bought an old GM plant in Michigan and the next day added a&nbsp;bunch of new equipment and hired a&nbsp;bunch of people, none of that subsequent activity would be included in “greenfield” FDI. (I actually called BEA—using an actual telephone!—about this just to be sure.)</p> <p>This type of foreign affiliate activity, it turns out, is substantial.&nbsp;Drilling into&nbsp;<a href=";step=1&amp;isuri=1" target="_blank">another dataset</a>&nbsp;at BEA shows that U.S. affiliates of foreign multinationals spend&nbsp;<strong>hundreds of billions of dollars per year</strong>&nbsp;in the United States on research and development and capital expenditures, with the biggest shares (again) going to manufacturing:</p> </div> , <figure class="figure responsive-embed-no-margin-wrapper"> <div class="figure__media"> <img width="626" height="362" alt="llcome7.jpg" class="lozad image-style-pubs-2x component-image" loading="lazy" data-src="/sites/" typeof="Image" /> </div> </figure> , <figure class="figure responsive-embed-no-margin-wrapper"> <div class="figure__media"> <img width="700" height="381" alt="llcome8.jpg" class="lozad image-style-pubs-2x component-image" loading="lazy" data-src="/sites/" typeof="Image" /> </div> </figure> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>(There’s probably some overlap between the total capital expenditures and greenfield figures, but the former clearly dwarfs the latter so it doesn’t matter.)</p> <p>The vast majority (about 90 percent) of these annual R&amp;D and capital expenditures, BEA shows, were completed by domestic companies wholly or mostly (more than 50 percent) owned by multinationals, so they aren’t just a&nbsp;bunch of standard business transactions made by public companies that have like 10.1 percent (or whatever) foreign ownership but aren’t actually controlled by a&nbsp;foreign multinational. It’s almost all done by “real” foreign companies here in the U.S.</p> <p>Second, there are plenty of things that foreign multinationals can do to improve acquired U.S. companies’ performance without spending another cent. This includes changes in management or business practices, the implementation of proprietary technologies, corporate restructuring (including, yes, layoffs), and hooking into multinational supplier, distribution, and consumer networks that the parent already had in place. (Foreign automakers here, for example, commonly import core parts and use R&amp;D produced at their headquarters abroad.) Little, if any, of these major changes would show up as “FDI,” yet they can have major, positive effects on firm performance.</p> <p>And they do.&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Summarizing</a>&nbsp;his&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">2018 report</a>&nbsp;on foreign affiliates’ activity in the United States, for example, Daniel Ikenson notes at the time that:</p> </div> , <blockquote> <div class="fs-lg"> <p>These international companies tend to be among the best in their industries, having succeeded in their home markets before taking their best practices and testing their mettle abroad. They have contributed disproportionately to U.S. economic performance over the years, as observed across a&nbsp;variety of objective measures. Even though these entities as a&nbsp;group comprise a&nbsp;mere 1.3 percent of all U.S. businesses, collectively they punch well above their weight, accounting for:</p> </div> </blockquote> , <div class="fs-sm"> <ul> <li> <p>5.5 percent of all private‐​sector employment</p> </li> <li> <p>6.5 percent of U.S. GDP (private‐​sector value added)</p> </li> <li> <p>14.8 percent of U.S. private‐​sector employee benefits</p> </li> <li> <p>16.0 percent of new private‐​sector, non‐​residential capital investment</p> </li> <li> <p>16.7 percent of private‐​sector research and development spending</p> </li> <li> <p>17.1 percent of all corporate federal taxes paid</p> </li> <li> <p>23.5 percent of U.S. exports</p> </li> <li> <p>24.3 percent higher worker compensation than the U.S. private‐​sector average</p> </li> </ul> <p>Ikenson also shows that these companies are particularly impressive when compared to the U.S. economy overall:</p> </div> , <figure class="figure responsive-embed-no-margin-wrapper"> <div class="figure__media"> <img width="700" height="516" alt="llcome9.jpg" class="lozad image-style-pubs-2x component-image" loading="lazy" data-src="/sites/" typeof="Image" /> </div> </figure> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Ikenson’s results are consistent with other analyses of foreign affiliates in the United States, which academic papers repeatedly show&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">pay</a>&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">more</a>, export more, and are more&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">productive</a>&nbsp;(<a href="" target="_blank">significantly</a>), on average, than similarly situated domestic firms.</p> <p>One of the most recent and detailed of those papers&nbsp;<a href="blank" target="_blank">found</a>&nbsp;that foreign affiliates (more than 25 percent foreign‐​owned) in the United States pay their workers about 19 percent more than domestic firms on average, and about 7&nbsp;percent more when comparing the same type of workers (e.g., engineer) across firms. The finding, which was not limited to manufacturing entities, indicates that foreign‐​owned firms in the United States not only tend to employ more skilled workers on average, but also pay workers with the exact same skills more than domestic firms do—a wage premium the study’s authors speculate is due to “belonging to a&nbsp;multinational network”; being “especially productive” companies; achieving certain economies of scale; or simply anchoring their wages to headquarter levels. (None of these factors are unique to greenfield FDI.) They calculate that U.S. workers would have been roughly&nbsp;<strong>$36 billion poorer</strong>&nbsp;in 2015 if all foreign affiliates in the United States had been magically replaced by domestic firms.&nbsp;</p> <p>Thank goodness they weren’t.</p> <p>Just as importantly, the study finds that foreign multinationals have a&nbsp;substantial impact on local communities and workers at&nbsp;<strong>non‐​foreign firms</strong>. In particular, an increase in employment at foreign‐​owned companies was found to significantly raise the value added (output minus costs), employment, wage bill, and earnings of workers at domestic‐​owned firms in the same locality. The authors estimate that every additional job at a&nbsp;foreign multinational generated approximately 0.5 jobs and $139,000&nbsp;in value added at domestic firms in the same local labor market, as well as “annual aggregate wage gains for incumbent workers in the commuting zone of approximately $13,400”—benefits that justify, in their view, “trade and investment policies that encourage foreign firms to invest in the U.S.” These findings are again&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">consistent</a>&nbsp;with&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">prior research</a>.</p> <p><strong>Summing It All Up</strong></p> <p>The United States remains a&nbsp;global FDI magnet, reflecting the overall attractiveness of the U.S. market as a&nbsp;place to invest and do business.&nbsp;This investment, moreover, produces real economic benefits above and beyond those that would have been generated in its absence—<em>regardless</em>&nbsp;of whether it entails breaking ground on a&nbsp;new facility or acquiring one that already exists,&nbsp;<em>and totally leaving aside</em>&nbsp;what U.S. sellers do with the foreign capital they’ve just received. Surely, not every bit of FDI meets this standard, but the overall trends strongly refute the assumption that foreign acquisitions should be brushed aside as economically insignificant “non‐​investment”&nbsp;<strong>or</strong>&nbsp;that new regulations are needed to distinguish between “good” and “bad” foreign investment in the future. (Never mind the longstanding&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">problems</a>&nbsp;associated with such regulations.) Instead, study after study shows how FDI in the United States is pretty special, resulting in outsized economic performance and benefiting both Americans employed by foreign affiliates and their surrounding communities—even when it doesn’t involve additional post‐​acquisition investments.</p> <p>In short, if you’re concerned about sagging business activity in the United States (regardless of&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">whether</a>&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">you</a>&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">actually</a>&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">should</a>&nbsp;be), you should be welcoming FDI with open arms, not pooh‐​poohing it.</p> <p><strong>Chart of the Week</strong></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">How regulation can chill innovation</a>:</p> </div> , <figure class="figure responsive-embed-no-margin-wrapper"> <div class="figure__media"> <img width="680" height="367" alt="llcome10.jpg" class="lozad image-style-pubs-2x component-image" loading="lazy" data-src="/sites/" typeof="Image" /> </div> </figure> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p><strong>The Links</strong></p> <p>Me on&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">steel tariffs</a>,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">antidumping abuse</a>, and&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">U.S. industrial policy in action</a>&nbsp;(<a href="" target="_blank">more on that last one</a>).</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Ryan Bourne’s new book on economics &amp;&nbsp;COVID-19</a></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">We’re finally stocked up on TP.</a></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Some</a><a href="" target="_blank">worthwhile</a><a href="" target="_blank">commentary</a>&nbsp;on the J&amp;J vaccine pause.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">71–29</a>.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">India fast‐​tracks approvals for COVID-19 vaccines approved elsewhere.</a></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Walgreens is administering a&nbsp;lot of vaccines.</a></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">How local labor markets fared in 2020.</a></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Same old China.</a></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Same old New York.</a></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Unfilled job openings—not a&nbsp;big deal yet, but…</a>&nbsp;(<a href="" target="_blank">more</a>)</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">A small victory for occupational licensing in Mississippi.</a></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Problems with Biden’s broadband plan.</a></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Furman v. Kelton</a></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">MonkeyPong!</a></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Akoin?</a></p> </div> Wed, 14 Apr 2021 08:34:02 -0400 Scott Lincicome Could the Philippines Drag the US into War with China? <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Ted Galen Carpenter</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Tensions are rising again between the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over rival claims to small islands and their surrounding waters in the South China Sea. The latest incident began in late March when more than 200 Chinese “fishing vessels” <a href="">arrived at Whitsun Reef</a>, which Manila calls Juan Felipe Reef – a&nbsp;maritime structure that it insists lies located within the country’s 200‐​mile exclusive economic zone. The Chinese ships have continued to linger, supposedly because of rough seas caused by adverse weather conditions.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Philippines’ Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana scorned that explanation, noting that the weather had been fine throughout most of the period. He also <a href="">challenged</a> the official status of the ships as fishing vessels, charging that they were manned by armed militias. “The continued presence of Chinese maritime militias in the area reveals their intent to further occupy (areas) in the West Philippine Sea,” Lorenzana said in a&nbsp;statement, using Manila’s name for the South China Sea. The Philippines government also responded to the presence of the ships by <a href="">sending fighter planes</a> to shadow the fleet.</p> <p>The United States has quickly <a href="">injected itself into the dispute</a>. Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphatically took Manila’s side <a href="">in a&nbsp;statement on Twitter</a>. “The United States stands with our ally, the Philippines, in the face of the PRC’s maritime militia amassing at Whitson Reef,” he stated, emphasizing that. “We will always stand by our allies and stand up for the rules‐​based international order.” <em>Anti​war​.com</em> analyst Dave DeCamp <a href="">notes</a> that in an earlier telephone call with Philippines’ Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Blinken emphasized Washington’s solidarity with its longtime treaty ally, including on the South China Sea territorial disputes. Indeed, he “made it clear that any incident between the Philippines and Beijing in the South China Sea could bring the US into war. <a href="">According to a&nbsp;readout of the call</a>, Blinken ‘stressed the importance of the Mutual Defense Treaty for the security of both nations, and its clear application to armed attacks against the Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, which includes the South China Sea.’” One regional observer, Mark J. Valencia, a&nbsp;scholar at the National Institute of South China Sea Studies in Haikow, China, accuses the Biden administration of outdoing even its predecessor in terms of “<a href="">bluff and bluster</a>” regarding the South China Sea.</p> <p>The Biden administration’s position certainly is unwise and potentially dangerous. Apparently confident of U.S. military backing, the Philippines government is taking a&nbsp;tough stance against its much larger, more powerful neighbor. Aides to President Rodrigo Duterte <a href="">warned Beijing</a> on April 5&nbsp;that the continued presence of PRC ships at Whitsun Reef would damage bilateral ties and even lead to “unwanted hostilities.” Presidential spokesman Harry Roque bluntly told a&nbsp;news conference: “We will not give up even a&nbsp;single inch of our national territory or our exclusive economic zone (EEZ).” It is unlikely that a&nbsp;tiny country like the Philippines would be so bold if it did not assume that it had the powerful US military in its corner. Washington is giving Manila every reason to make that assumption. The United States has now <a href="">deployed</a> an aircraft carrier strike group in the South China Sea as tangible evidence of support for its ally.</p> <p>Flirting with an armed clash with China would be imprudent even if the United States had significant interests at stake in the territorial dispute between the Philippines and the PRC. But the involvement of genuine American interests in that quarrel is minimal at most.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>Flirting with an armed clash with China would be imprudent even if the United States had significant interests at stake in the territorial dispute between the Philippines and the PRC.</p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>As a&nbsp;general matter, it is a&nbsp;very bad idea to encourage small allies or clients to take a&nbsp;jingoistic stance against a&nbsp;much larger, more powerful adversary. Indeed, it’s a&nbsp;textbook example of creating a&nbsp;situation in which a&nbsp;volatile client state can drag its patron into an unwanted and utterly unnecessary war. The most tragic historical example of that process is how Russia’s support for Serbia in 1914 encouraged Belgrade to defy Austria-Hungary’s demands following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a&nbsp;Serbian nationalist. Since Imperial Germany, the single strongest country in Europe, was backing Vienna’s demands, the stage was set for a&nbsp;war that engulfed the continent and killed millions.</p> <p>A war between the United States and China likely would be at least that bad. Taking such a&nbsp;risk over even important issues is questionable enough. Doing so to support a&nbsp;small client state, and one headed by the <a href="">notoriously volatile</a> Rodrigo Duterte, over a&nbsp;petty territorial squabble would be the operational definition of irresponsible. The Biden administration needs to back away from its ally’s claims and make it very clear to Manila that the United States is not going to risk a&nbsp;war with the PRC over such stakes.</p> </div> Tue, 13 Apr 2021 10:43:46 -0400 Ted Galen Carpenter Fauci’s Mistake on Masks Was Driven by Bad Economics, Not Uncertain Science <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Ryan Bourne</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Anthony Fauci has admitted to flip‐​flopping on mask‐​wearing guidance. Well, not exactly.</p> <p>On Sunday, MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan replayed a&nbsp;<em>60 Minutes</em> clip from March 8, 2020, in which the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director said, “Right now in the United States, people should not be walking around with masks.” Asked whether he was wrong back then, especially given the Chinese and South Koreans were already wearing masks, Fauci actually offered a&nbsp;spirited defense of his ultimate U‐​turn, alluding to the famous dictum that “when the facts change, I&nbsp;change my mind.”</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>In Fauci’s eyes, the knowledge base last spring justified his opposition to mask‐​wearing in the community. First, there was a&nbsp;lack of evidence that masks actually worked in reducing transmission of the virus back then, he said, at least outside of hospital settings. Second, public health officials also thought asymptomatic or presymptomatic transmission of the virus was rare.</p> <p>If the virus was only spread by those coughing or with fevers, most of whom would be isolating at home or in the hospital, then community‐​wide face coverings would be pretty useless. It was only when it became clearer masks did help and that presymptomatic and asymptomatic spread was common, Fauci said, that it made sense to encourage people to wear them when necessary.</p> <p>At least, that’s the official line. But there’s an obvious problem with Fauci’s reasoning here. An absence of evidence of masks’ effectiveness and hunches about how the virus spread might have justified warning the public that masks were no silver bullet or, indeed, that their voluntary use should not be seen as a&nbsp;substitute for social distancing. But given masks were an extremely low‐​cost means of potentially mitigating risk for individuals, the risk‐​to‐​benefit ratio was clearly favoring permissive guidance on their use.</p> <p>“The science,” in other words, never justified Fauci telling people specifically <em>not to</em> wear masks, rather than remaining neutral. That harder opposition ultimately came because of Fauci’s third argument — that a&nbsp;failure to dissuade people from wearing them back then would have exacerbated mask shortages, leaving healthcare workers without access to crucial personal protective equipment.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>It was only when it became clearer masks did help and that presymptomatic and asymptomatic spread was common, Fauci said, that it made sense to encourage people to wear them when necessary.</p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>The key reason for Fauci and Surgeon General Jerome Adams discouraging mask‐​wearing therefore had little to do with science. It stemmed from both playing armchair economists. Yet, their economics was faulty. Mask markets are not, and would never be, static and zero‐​sum — with rising demand from the public “using up” masks meant for healthcare workers.</p> <p>Provided politicians didn’t interfere too much with price rises, suppliers would have quickly ramped up production or entered the sector for surgical mask production, as we eventually saw. The belief that mask‐​wearing was beneficial coupled with rising prices would have led to smaller‐​scale innovation too (not least people making cloth masks at home) or finding other means of protection in the interim.</p> <p>Yes, it’s difficult to look at the recent waves here and abroad despite high self‐​reported mask‐​wearing and conclude that masks are so effective that government mask mandates deserved central billing, as in <a href=";utm_source=internal&amp;utm_medium=autolink" target="_blank">Joe Biden</a>’s presidential campaign. So, Fauci’s error can’t be held up as one of the crucial drivers of the early U.S. death toll.</p> <p>But that early guidance almost certainly led to lower voluntary mask‐​wearing than we would otherwise have seen in those early months, worsening community transmission of the virus somewhat on the margin. What’s more, the subsequent change of heart from Fauci and Adams made even voluntary mask‐​wearing a&nbsp;much more politically charged issue than it needed to be.</p> <p>At the end of the case for his defense, Fauci defined flip‐​flopping as a&nbsp;situation in which one alters his position without the underlying data changing. What happened with masks, he said, was that his stance evolved simply because new evidence materialized. This was science in action.</p> <p>But the pertinent underlying fact that defined Fauci’s position was not the scientific uncertainty, but a&nbsp;judgment on how economic markets operated. Any good economist would have told Fauci that his pessimism there was misguided. As with so many other errors during this crisis, lift the lid on a&nbsp;public health mistake, and you find, undergirding it, an error of economic reasoning.</p> </div> Tue, 13 Apr 2021 10:20:29 -0400 Ryan Bourne Biden’s Supreme Court Commission Is Large and Progressive. And Mostly Pointless. <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Ilya Shapiro</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>During the Democratic presidential primaries, Joe Biden was one of the few candidates against packing the Supreme Court, among other radical “reform” proposals. Bernie Sanders, the other finalist for the nomination, <a href="">happened to be another</a>, recognizing that adding additional seats for political reasons would just lead to Republicans doing the same thing at their next opportunity. But then in the general election campaign, Biden played coy, not wanting to alienate activists who saw his candidacy as nothing but a&nbsp;vehicle for defeating Donald Trump. Saying that the judiciary was “out of whack,” he <a href="">proposed a&nbsp;commission</a> to study possible reforms.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Well, after a&nbsp;<a href="">leak about a&nbsp;handful of putative members</a> in January, the White House finally revealed that <a href="">Supreme Court commission</a> last week. There are three striking things about it: I&nbsp;t’s big (36 members), progressive (about a&nbsp;3‐​to‐​1 ratio), and academic (all but three are professors, plus two retired judges who teach part‐​time).</p> <p>The size of the commission will make hearings unwieldy, not to mention the difficulty of trying to write a&nbsp;report by super‐​committee. The ideological skew won’t give the group much credibility with Republicans, though the media will surely use the presence of the token non‐​progressives to paint any recommendations as bipartisan and noncontroversial. And the tilt to law school faculty will make it easier to dismiss the commission’s work as ivory‐​tower pontification with little relevance to the real world.</p> <p>The commission’s membership and its order to “closely study measures to improve the federal judiciary” does nothing to dispel the perception that such presidential actions are little more than kicking cans down the road. The administration no doubt hopes that these issues will be less central when the eventual commission report comes out, and then that report can be quietly shelved, with action only on a&nbsp;technocratic suggestion like adding lower‐​court judgeships. Indeed, it’s quite possible that the Supreme Court won’t make too many waves at the end of its term in June, both because John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh (the middle of the court) don’t want to attract political attention and because the docket doesn’t have as many blockbusters as most years. The biggest flashpoint is the case of Philadelphia’s disqualification of Catholic Social Services from adoption/​foster care for not placing kids with same‐​sex couples—though if the court agrees to take up the <a href="">Harvard affirmative action case</a> (which wouldn’t be decided until June 2022), that could increase progressive calls for restructuring.</p> <p>Coincidentally, earlier in the week, Justice Stephen Breyer cautioned against tinkering with the Supreme Court’s size. The court’s “authority, like the rule of law, depends on trust, a&nbsp;trust that the court is guided by legal principle, not politics,” Breyer said at Harvard Law School. “Structural alteration motivated by the perception of political influence can only feed that perception, further eroding that trust.”</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>Many of the proposals being discussed boil down to rearranging deck chairs on the ship of state</p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Activists have already been calling on the 82‐​year‐​old jurist to retire, which shows that dissatisfaction with the court is largely an expression of elite frustration that Democratic presidents haven’t gotten to appoint more of its members. In this telling, Neil Gorsuch is an illegitimate justice because he “stole” Merrick Garland’s seat and Amy Coney Barrett should never have been confirmed so close to the 2020 election (and against Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dying wish). The opposition to Trump’s nominees was part of the continued refusal to accept the 2016 election, but progressives have made legitimacy arguments against <em>every</em> Republican appointee, going back to the sexual‐​harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas and the Supreme Court’s having “selected” George W. Bush.</p> <p>But the court is the <a href="">most respected government institution</a> other than police and the military, so questions of legitimacy principally arise when the justices rule in ways that disagree with progressive orthodoxy. To quote a&nbsp;brief from five senators led by Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in last year’s Second Amendment case, “Perhaps the Court can heal itself before the public demands it be restructured in order to reduce the influence of politics.”</p> <p>Commission co‐​chairman Bob Bauer, who was counsel to the Biden campaign and White House counsel under President Obama, has argued publicly against court‐​packing, but he’ll have a&nbsp;hard time reining in that kind of impulse. And even if he builds consensus over something like term limits—which could help restore confidence in the confirmation process and eliminate the morbid health watches we now have as justices age—that wouldn’t fix the underlying reason why we argue about the Supreme Court (and it would require a&nbsp;constitutional amendment).</p> <p>All these “reform” proposals boil down to rearranging deck chairs on the ship of state, because what we have is divergent interpretive theories mapping onto partisan preferences at a&nbsp;time when the parties are more ideologically sorted (and polarized) than any time since at least the Civil War. This, at a&nbsp;time when the court regularly decides major political controversies because the federal government has amassed too much power and Congress has abdicated its policymaking responsibility by punting to the executive branch, which then gets sued. For example, the culture war over contraceptive coverage under Obamacare—remember the <em><a href="">Hobby Lobby</a></em> and <em><a href="">Little Sisters of the Poor</a></em> cases?—was based on action by regulatory agencies, not anything Congress legislated. We see the same dynamic with everything from environmental rules to immigration policy, financial regulation to labor law.</p> <p>Because of that dynamic, there are no easy or quick solutions to the politicization of judicial confirmations and the toxic cloud that has descended over many judicial debates. So while I’ll be keenly interested in the commission’s work, I&nbsp;doubt that it’ll produce anything novel or that improves the functioning of the Supreme Court. And I&nbsp;doubt even more that any policy recommendations will be both uncontroversial and doable.</p> </div> Tue, 13 Apr 2021 09:20:16 -0400 Ilya Shapiro Push Saudi Arabia to End the Assault on Yemen <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Doug Bandow</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>More than six years ago Saudi Arabia attacked Yemen. The goal was to reinstall a&nbsp;friendly president to do Riyadh’s bidding. The royal regime assumed the campaign would be over in six weeks.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Yet again the gods punished hubris and made the vainglorious pay a&nbsp;terrible price.</p> <p>The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was merely the latest wealthy, technologically advanced nation to underestimate its adversary. Nader Hashemi, who directs the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, observed: “The Houthis have proven to be a&nbsp;formidable fighting force. Saudi Arabia does not have a&nbsp;comparable ground game that can match their adversaries.”</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>Americans no longer should be complicit in the murder and mayhem being daily visited upon the people of Yemen.</p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>The movement Ansar Allah, known as the Houthis, fought the Yemeni central government for years. In 2015 the group joined its old adversary, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to oust his presidential successor, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. This political game of musical chairs was unexceptional, reflecting the usual vagaries of Yemeni politics.</p> <p>Then the KSA came to Hadi’s defense. However, Ansar Allah failed to fulfill Riyadh’s expectations and surrender after a&nbsp;few bombing raids. Saudi personnel, who have little reason to die on behalf of a&nbsp;dissolute dictatorial monarchy, proved most adept at bombing weddings, funerals, school buses, and other civilian targets. The resulting military stalemate gave Iran, which had had only a&nbsp;distant relationship with the Houthis, an unexpected opportunity to bleed the Kingdom at modest cost.</p> <p>The KSA, joined by the United Arab Emirates and a “coalition” of Saudi client states, also blockaded Yemen, causing the humanitarian situation to deteriorate disastrously. Some 80 percent of the population currently is dependent on international assistance. The <em>New York Times</em> recently reported: “Six years into a&nbsp;war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, shattered the country and battered much of its infrastructure, Yemen faces rising rates of hunger that have created pockets of famine that aid groups warn are likely to grow, leaving even more malnourished Yemenis vulnerable to disease and starvation.”</p> <p>Riyadh cared nothing about Yemeni civilians, who were treated as unimportant collateral damage. But the Kingdom increasingly found itself the target of missiles and drones, leaving its spokesmen whining pitiably about the terrible unfairness of their victims shooting back. By last year the Saudis had tired of the costly campaign they started and wanted out.</p> <p>They could have simply quit the war. However, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, <a href="">who cemented his rule by jailing critics</a> and shaking down relatives, refused to acknowledge his blunder – and the lives and money wasted in six years of fruitless combat. So the Saudi regime sought to salvage its pride and negotiate an exit that would still give the royal family de facto control over Yemen. The KSA proposed a&nbsp;nationwide ceasefire with talks on Yemen’s future.</p> <p>However, Ansar Allah refused to yield its advantage. The Saudis, having bombed mercilessly, increasingly found themselves to be targets. Reported the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>: “Since January, there have been more than 80 such attacks, some involving multiple, simultaneous drone assaults, that have U.S., Saudi and other allies in the region on high alert.” The Houthis insisted that Riyadh lift the blockade of Yemen’s airport and port cities first. In the meantime, Yemeni insurgents pressed toward Marib, an important city tied to the country’s energy resources. Its possession would give the movement powerful negotiating leverage in eventual talks.</p> <p>Noted Hashemi, “Until now, the U.S.-Saudi peace plans have been predicated on Houthi surrender, which is a&nbsp;non‐​starter for peace in Yemen.” Ansar Allah is no friend of America and shares responsibility for the disaster that Yemen has become. Nevertheless, Hashemi emphasized the Kingdom’s role in refusing to end the war: “In this context, Saudi Arabia is the recalcitrant party in blocking a&nbsp;genuine peace plan for Yemen.”</p> <p>For six years the Obama and Trump administration made Americans accomplices to war crimes – providing planes, maintenance, munitions, intelligence, and for a&nbsp;time refueling. The incoming Biden administration was filled with officials, from the president on down, who had become uncomfortable with the consequences of the Obama administration’s decision to back the Saudi offensive. The intent had been to assuage Riyadh’s concern over the nuclear deal with Iran. After Trump played the role of Saudi hireling and switched to a&nbsp;policy of “maximum pressure” against Tehran, however, US support for MbS’s bloody aggression lost its purpose.</p> <p>Almost immediately President Joe Biden announced that that he was “ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.” However, the Biden administration – which demonstrated the limits of its commitment to human rights when it refused to sanction MbS for his slice and dice operation against journalist Jamal Khashoggi – insisted that Washington remained committed to the Kingdom’s defense.</p> <p>However, the Saudis continue to participate in the war, attacking targets throughout Yemen. The KSA also maintains the starvation blockade. Rep. Debbie Dingel (D-MI) organized a&nbsp;letter from more than 70 Democratic congressmen urging the administration to press Riyadh to lift the siege. She explained: “Ending US support for Saudi‐​led offensive operations in Yemen alone isn’t enough if we allow the blockade to carry on. It’s projected that 400,000 Yemeni children under the age of 5&nbsp;could die from starvation this year if this blockade continues – it must be lifted now.”</p> <p>Yet the administration appears oblivious to Riyadh’s continuing responsibility. An unnamed but clueless Biden official told the <em>Journal</em>: “The bottom line is that the Houthis need to know that we are standing with the Saudis and we will continue to support their right to self‐​defense.” Similarly, Washington’s special envoy Timothy Lenderking decried Yemeni retaliation as “not the actions of a&nbsp;group that claims it wants peace.” But the KSA has refused to take the one step that would instantly de‐​escalate the conflict: quit.</p> <p>Nor have the Saudis tempered their conduct anywhere else. With the Trump administration’s fulsome support, Saudi Arabia, especially after MbS took effective control, became the Middle East’s most reckless, irresponsible power. It attacked Yemen, kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister, underwrote Islamist insurgents in Syria, fueled Libya’s civil war, backed Bahrain’s brutal suppression of democracy protesters, launched economic war against Qatar, and subsidized al-Sisi’s coup and dictatorship in Egypt. No regime, even Iran, is a&nbsp;more malign influence in the region today. Yet Riyadh refuses to drop even one of its oppressive, destabilizing operations.</p> <p>The Biden administration should toughen its stance toward Riyadh. The administration already is drawing down U.S. forces, including a&nbsp;Patriot anti‐​missile battery, which were added by the ever‐​solicitous Trump. (Why he catered to Riyadh’s every whim after having sharply criticized the royal regime during the campaign remains a&nbsp;matter of speculation.) Biden should complete that process, leaving the Kingdom’s defense to the royals. The KSA should stop looking to Washington to provide the equivalent of bodyguards.</p> <p>The president also should suspend <em>all</em> US logistical and maintenance support and <em>all</em> arms sales as long as the KSA is involved in aggressive military operations against its neighbors. Currently “defense” against Yemen means protecting Riyadh from retaliation for its offensive operations. Until Saudi Arabia exits the war, the US should do nothing to shield the Kingdom from the natural consequences of its actions.</p> <p>The history of modern Yemen was complicated, as two very difference states became one, and costly, as the land was consumed by conflict. This endless war is an enormous tragedy but of no security significance to America.</p> <p>Of late Washington’s main concern with Yemen was al‐​Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. However, the Saudi‐​Emirati attack disrupted Yemeni cooperation against the terrorist organization reaching back to Saleh’s presidency and diverted Houthi military efforts away from AQAP. Abu Dhabi also worked to promote secessionist groups <em>against the Hadi government</em>, to improve the UAE’s commercial position. Ending the war would be the best antidote to Yemeni radicalism and separatism.</p> <p>Some observers advocated aiding Saudi Arabia out of fear that a&nbsp;Houthi‐​led government might obstruct traffic in the Red and Arabian Seas. However, Ansar Allah always focused inward, hostile to but little interested in America – or other Western states. It was Riyadh’s U.S.-backed attack, termed the Saudi‐​American War by Yemenis, which created the threat of retaliation. As had happened in Iraq and Libya, US intervention created far more problems than it solved.</p> <p>Of course, Trump was fixated on Iran and prepared to allow Riyadh to kill as many Yemenis as necessary to put additional pressure on Tehran. However, the Houthis never were tools of Iran, which saw the conflict as a&nbsp;means to punish MbS for his folly and distract him from his anti‐​Iran campaign. With the Biden administration now moving toward compliance with the JCPOA, Tehran and Washington should begin a&nbsp;dialogue over other issues, including Yemen.</p> <p>The last two presidents made the American people complicit with brutal aggression against one of the poorest nations on earth. Biden knows what is at stake, having recognized the “unendurable devastation” of the war before announcing the end of offensive aid and suspension of weapons sales. Iran and Ansar Allah share blame over what happened to Yemen, but the Kingdom and UAE greatly multiplied the harms for the crudest reasons of power politics.</p> <p>Peace will not be possible until Saudi Arabia ends its unnecessary war. And that requires the US to finally stop coddling the royals. Washington should end all military support as long as the regime is conducting a&nbsp;murderous war of aggression against its poor neighbor. Americans no longer should be complicit in the murder and mayhem being daily visited upon the people of Yemen.</p> </div> Mon, 12 Apr 2021 18:21:20 -0400 Doug Bandow Even with Seoul Paying More, America Can’t Afford to Defend South Korea <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Doug Bandow</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>The Biden administration has finally ended the contentious negotiations begun by its predecessor with Seoul over the Special Measures Agreement, which governs host nation support for the U.S. military presence in South Korea. The South Korean government has agreed to increase its payment to $1 billion annually, a&nbsp;13.9 percent increase.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>That seemingly sizable increase is a&nbsp;great deal for the South, which would have to spend tens of billions of dollars more on its own defense without U.S. support. No wonder the South Koreans were happy, given how much of a&nbsp;climbdown that was from the position of former U.S. President Donald Trump, who began the process by demanding $5 billion annually. <a href="" target>South Korea’s foreign ministry announced</a>: “By smoothly addressing the key pending alliance issue early on after the launch of the Biden administration, South Korea and the United States demonstrated the robustness of the firm alliance.”</p> <p>In contrast, the result is a&nbsp;bad deal for the United States. The agreement merely offsets some deployment costs. It does not address the much larger expense for Americans of adding force structure to protect the South. Every additional military commitment requires a&nbsp;bigger military—additional carriers, air wings, infantry and armored divisions, Marines, and more.</p> <p>Obviously, Washington must spend on its own behalf. However, defense is reasonably easy for a&nbsp;country blessed with oceans to the east and west and pacific neighbors to the north and south. Deterring attack is simpler for the United States than for most other countries. Most of America’s military budget goes for what is effectively <em>offense</em>, to defend scores of other states, many prosperous and populous, others irrelevant to American security. Despite the Biden administration’s mantra about “strengthening alliances,” not all allies are equal or even worthwhile. Even good relationships should not be forever amid changing circumstances—witness the breakup of the “united nations” that won World War II.</p> <p>To his credit, Trump challenged the bipartisan foreign‐​policy establishment’s treatment of alliance as a&nbsp;sacred cow. Unfortunately, he proved incapable of addressing the issues raised with even a&nbsp;modicum of civility, consistency, and intelligence, meaning his changes—even potentially good ones—were swept away.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>A rich and strong nation can pay for its own military.</p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>The election of President Joe Biden convinced some countries that the good old days had returned. However, the world has changed. Populist political passions still swirl about the United States. Moreover, America’s current financial travails demonstrate the importance of adjusting foreign policy to circumstances. The United States is functionally broke.</p> <p><a href="" target>The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its latest fiscal assessment</a> in early March. The CBO predicted a&nbsp;deficit of $2.3 trillion this year, following $3.1 trillion last year. Red ink in 2021 alone would amount to 10.3 percent of GDP. Although deficits will drop as the pandemic’s impact recedes, the fiscal relief will only be temporary. As the agency says, “Deficits increase further in subsequent decades, from 5.7 percent of GDP in 2031 to 13.3 percent by 2051—exceeding their 50‐​year average of 3.3 percent of GDP in each year during that period.”</p> <p>Unsurprisingly, the economic impact of the growing mountain of debt will be significant. <a href="" target>According to the CBO</a>: “By the end of 2021, federal debt held by the public is projected to equal 102 percent of GDP. Debt would reach 107 percent of GDP (surpassing its historical high) in 2031 and would almost double to 202 percent of GDP by 2051.”</p> <p>The best‐​case scenario is bad: sharply increased interest payments. Much worse would be financial crisis. <a href="" target>Warned the agency</a>: “Debt that is high and rising as a&nbsp;percentage of GDP boosts federal and private borrowing costs, slows the growth of economic output, and increases interest payments abroad. A&nbsp;growing debt burden could increase the risk of a&nbsp;fiscal crisis and higher inflation as well as undermine confidence in the U.S. dollar, making it more costly to finance public and private activity in international markets.” Imagine a&nbsp;repeat of the 2008 financial or 2020 coronavirus crises, but without any room for Washington to borrow to meet emergency needs.</p> <p>Yet just a&nbsp;few days after the CBO released its report, Congress passed the COVID-19 relief bill. <a href="" target>The agency reported</a> that the legislation would raise this year’s deficit by $1.2 trillion, for a&nbsp;total of $3.3 trillion. A&nbsp;half‐​trillion dollars would be added to the 2022 deficit, and lesser amounts in following years. Those numbers will rise further as the president tries to make good on the many expensive campaign promises he made to win election.</p> <p>The United States cannot continue piling costly obligation upon costly obligation. Priorities will need to be set; tough decisions will have to be made. That will require policymakers to rethink security commitments once regarded as sacrosanct. The American public is tired of needless wars of choice in the Middle East, and so, eventually, after much pain and loss, the Defense Department appears to be ditching them. When forced to choose between shoring up America’s major social programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, and underwriting the defense of allies around the globe, Americans are likely to turn further inward. Europe’s widespread indifference to defense already triggers irritation and anger in Washington.</p> <p>Then there is South Korea. After the Trump hiccup, both sides have reaffirmed their commitment the status quo, essentially asserting that whatever has been must ever be. The alliance is to go on as ever before.</p> <p>Yet everything has changed dramatically since 1953, when the Mutual Defense Treaty was signed. Most dramatically, South Korea has raced past its neighbor. With more than 50 times the GDP and twice the population of North Korea, as well as a&nbsp;dramatic technological edge and far more international partners and friends, South Korea is well able to handle its conventional defense—to deter a&nbsp;North Korean attack and defeat such an effort if attempted. Without historical ties, who in Washington would be lobbying to forge such a&nbsp;defense pact today? Inertia more than interest causes Washington to station nearly 30,000 personnel on the peninsula.</p> <p>Of course, proposals to adjust the alliance to reflect reality horrifies South Koreans, who understandably enjoy their cheap ride. However, the United States should stop treating allied defense as a&nbsp;foreign welfare program that Washington provides because it can. Rather, allied support should be a&nbsp;form of domestic defense that Washington supplies because it must.</p> <p>There are no special circumstances that require the alliance to be preserved as is. The South is not nearly as vulnerable to attack as it was in 1950. Beijing and Moscow might still offer a&nbsp;degree of economic and political support for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but neither would back another invasion or rescue the North from an attack gone bad, as they may have 70&nbsp;years ago. Nor does the peninsula have special status today. For instance, no one views U.S. defense of South Korea as being the key to preventing Russia from overrunning Europe.</p> <p>Belief that the U.S. garrison has a&nbsp;dual use, defending both the South and the rest of East Asia, is an American fantasy and a&nbsp;South Korean nightmare. There are few serious military contingencies not involving China in which the United States might intervene, and none of them, such as Myanmar’s worsening coup‐​induced imbroglio, warrants U.S. military involvement.</p> <p>More important, Seoul, which refused to even criticize China over Hong Kong, is not going to make war on Beijing unless South Korean territory is directly threatened, which isn’t likely. The South will not allow itself to be dragged into war by allowing America to turn the peninsula into a&nbsp;battleground. South Koreans know the United States will go home at some point, while China will be a&nbsp;neighbor forever.</p> <p>Of course, there has been much discussion of cooperation beyond the Korean Peninsula. <a href="" target>Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin</a> called alliances “force multipliers.” Regional collaboration could prove useful but does not depend on America’s willingness to defend South Korea. Instead, the latter’s improved capabilities have created new possibilities. Better the two countries work together as equal partners, which requires Seoul to handle its own defense, than as dominant and submissive participants, as over the last seven decades. If the only way for Washington to win extra cooperation is by paying to defend Seoul, then the price is too high.</p> <p>Concern over “credibility” has become a&nbsp;catchall argument used to paralyze U.S. policy. What has ever been must ever be, it is argued, lest anyone anywhere doubt that the United States will continue to defend them. Actually, such uncertainty is a&nbsp;useful prod for allies to do more for themselves: “Reassuring” Asians and Europeans while begging them to spend more is a&nbsp;confused, self‐​defeating approach that has left wealthy states unnecessarily dependent on America. Circumstances change over time, warranting adjustment in commitments. Other nations routinely change their policies. They should not begrudge the United States doing the same.</p> <p>Doubts about the viability of the alliance will become acute if the North develops a&nbsp;survivable nuclear deterrent capable of hitting the United States. At that point, the present alliance will become untenable, irrespective of budget issues. Involvement in even what began as a&nbsp;conventional war on the peninsula would become far too risky for America. If the North found itself at the point of being overrun, as in the Korean War, it could threaten nuclear Armageddon unless Washington backed off. Any sane U.S. president would have no choice but to do so, as there is nothing at stake in the peninsula that would warrant sacrificing American cities.</p> <p>Washington officials constantly talk of North Korea as a&nbsp;threat to the United States. It is not. North Korea is a&nbsp;threat to South Korea and the U.S.-South Korean alliance, which is very different. That can be easily remedied by the United States—by leaving the ever‐​stronger South to take over its own defense.</p> </div> Mon, 12 Apr 2021 16:35:23 -0400 Doug Bandow No, Amazon Didn’t ‘Win’ the Alabama Unionization Election. Workers Did <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Walter Olson</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>At a&nbsp;moment when our democratic system is under constant assault, the last thing America needs is yet another election where the loser refuses to concede. That’s one reason politics‐​watchers express alarm when American candidates grasp at flimsy, imagined, or absent evidence to <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">claim that a&nbsp;lost election</a> was “rigged” or “stolen.”</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>They should steal a&nbsp;sidelong glance at the doings of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. RWDSU is said to be readying a&nbsp;challenge before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after losing the much‐​hyped election at Amazon’s Bessemer, Ala. warehouse complex by a&nbsp;staggering margin of 1,798 against representation to only 738&nbsp;in favor.</p> <p>If you assumed the vote would be closer than that, you may be forgiven. Sectors of the national press had blown up the Bessemer vote as a&nbsp;fraught national moment of decision, with some reporters making themselves uncritical cheerleaders for the union side. After the vote, <em>The Washington Post</em> print edition that reached my front step carried <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">the front‐​page headline</a> “Amazon’s union win is latest for Big Tech vs. its workers.”</p> <p>Read that again — “<em>vs. its workers</em>.” In the mind of the headline writer, what “worker advocates” wanted seems to have entirely eclipsed what the actual workers on the scene did in fact want.</p> <p>The RWDSU’s theory of election tampering <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">hinges on</a> Amazon’s supposed unfair labor practice in getting the U.S. Postal Service to install a&nbsp;secure postbox outside the facility to make it easier for employees to cast ballots (which they could also do in other ways). In what passes for normal election talk these days, multiplying convenient voting options to enable high turnout is ordinarily seen as good while blocking the introduction of such methods raises the specter of suppression. At <em>National Review</em>, <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Charles Cooke</a> says the union’s claim is especially “ludicrous”:</p> </div> , <blockquote> <div class="fs-lg"> <p>“…when one notes that the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union supports “card check,” which means that its institutional position is that the use of a&nbsp;mailbox for mail‐​in votes constitutes intimidation but that the abolition of the secret ballot does not.”</p> </div> </blockquote> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Everyone involved with labor law knows that the analogy between elections over union representation and elections for public office is at best highly imperfect. Still, it’s remarkable the extent to which the ostensibly progressive position on union representation voting these days diverges from what elsewhere gets called the democracy agenda. The idea of “card check” is to allow representation to depend on the willingness of you, the employee, to sign a&nbsp;card after a&nbsp;delegation of burly organizers shows up at your front door suggesting you do so. We should be glad regular elections don’t work that way.</p> <p>And the pending PRO Act, which has already passed the House, would make things far worse. (Text <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">is here</a>; see also my post on the bill <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">last month</a>.) As Allen Smith notes in <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">a&nbsp;piece for the Society for <em>Human Resource Management</em></a>:</p> </div> , <blockquote> <div class="fs-lg"> <p>“Under the PRO Act, if a&nbsp;union loses a&nbsp;secret‐​ballot election, it could file an unfair labor practice charge challenging the results. Then, if the employer couldn’t prove that the alleged unfair labor practice did not affect the election results and there is card check (a majority of signatures on union authorization cards), the union would be automatically certified to represent the workers, even though the union lost the election.”</p> </div> </blockquote> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>That’s right — the NLRB, a&nbsp;highly political body, could simply decree that a&nbsp;union loss in the vote count be changed to a&nbsp;win. Note also the shifting of the burden to the employer to prove that the challenged conduct “did <em>not</em> affect the election results.” [emphasis added]</p> <p>No way to run an election, most of us would think. Why is it okay in the view of the House members who waved approval to the PRO Act?</p> </div> Mon, 12 Apr 2021 10:35:33 -0400 Walter Olson Burma Heads for Violent Chaos and Civil War <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Doug Bandow</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>What happens when an irresistible army meets the unmovable people? We may find out in Burma. The Southeast Asian country appears to be moving toward convulsion, collapse, and chaos. The ultimate result might be civil war.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Burma, also known as Myanmar, has suffered under military rule since 1962. The Tatmadaw, as the armed services are known, views itself as the embodiment of the state and routinely brutalizes the population to maintain control. For decades, the junta mutated into vicious variants amid popular uprisings.</p> <p>After bloody protests in 1988, the Tatmadaw, underestimating the opposition, held elections two years later. After Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of a&nbsp;general and independence leader, handily won, the military tossed the results. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and spent 15&nbsp;years under house arrest. Another round of protests was brutally suppressed in 2007.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>Continuing popular protests despite the murder of more than 600 demonstrators testifies to the bravery of the Burmese people.</p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Separately, the military battled numerous ethnic groups, which fought for the autonomy promised when the United Kingdom freed its colony in 1948. The <a href="">results were brutal combat and widespread war crimes</a>. Even where the army was unable to hold territory, <a href="">it routinely murdered and displaced residents</a>. The Tatmadaw also sowed landmines, leaving entire areas uninhabitable. Tens of thousands of Burmese fled across the border into Thailand, where <a href="">they continue to reside in refugee camps</a>.</p> <p>Concerned about China’s tight embrace, however, the military began a&nbsp;process of limited democratization a&nbsp;decade ago, allowing civilian governance while preserving control over security issues and limiting political change. Again, the Tatmadaw underestimated the opposition. Despite writing the constitution to prevent Suu Kyi from being eligible to hold the presidency, Burma found her National League for Democracy (NLD) overwhelmingly winning the 2015 parliamentary elections. A&nbsp;special office was then created: State Counsellor, which was “above the president,” she archly noted.</p> <p>For the West, she proved to be a&nbsp;great disappointment, discouraging the development of other party and political leaders, enforcing authoritarian restrictions on press freedom and other civil liberties, and defending the military’s deadly campaign against the Muslim Rohingya, which forced hundreds of thousands of refugees into Bangladesh. Freedom House warned that the reform process had “stalled” and rated Burma as unfree.</p> <p>Human Rights Watch also found little to praise:</p> </div> , <blockquote> <div class="fs-lg"> <p>The overall human rights situation in Myanmar deteriorated in 2020, including heightened restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Fighting between Myanmar’s military and several ethnic armed groups continued, with government forces committing increased abuses against ethnic Kachin, Karen, Rakhine, Rohingya, and Shan minority populations. Military and police abuses were amplified with arbitrary arrests, detention, torture, and killings in custody.</p> </div> </blockquote> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Nevertheless, Suu Kyi’s NLD won last November’s election by an even bigger margin than before. Although disappointed in the government’s performance, the Burmese people recognized that only the united NLD could confront the generals. But the Tatmadaw had again misjudged its opponents and expected a&nbsp;fractured parliament, which it could manipulate. Its captive political party received embarrassingly few votes. Although the military could continue to block constitutional changes, it would find itself under increased popular pressure to yield ground. And the army’s commander‐​in‐​chief, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, would be thwarted in his reported desire to be chosen as president — by a&nbsp;parliament that would be firmly controlled by the NLD.</p> <p>Claiming widespread election fraud, declared nonexistent by election observers, Hlaing seized power on February 1. He declared a&nbsp;state of emergency, arrested top government and party officials, including Suu Kyi, and promised new elections — no doubt to occur with a&nbsp;rewritten constitution and Suu Kyi barred from the political process. Indeed, Thailand offered a&nbsp;model of how a&nbsp;military could <a href="">create</a> a&nbsp;faux democracy and continue to rule behind the façade of elections.</p> <p>But Burma’s generals made yet another bad assumption: that the public would either believe the regime’s self‐​serving claims or passively accept a&nbsp;return to open dictatorship. The Burmese people did neither, however. The world has changed over the last decade. An older generation had experienced the relaxation of brutal autocracy for the first time in a&nbsp;half century. A&nbsp;younger generation grew up with greater freedom, increased information access, and genuine political participation.</p> <p>Indeed, opposition to the military brought together Burmese from all walks of society. Author Mimi Aye, a&nbsp;British resident whose family suffered under successive military juntas, <a href=";utm_source=sfmc&amp;utm_campaign=newsletter+brief+default+ac&amp;utm_content=+++20210410+++body&amp;et_rid=150057007">wrote</a>,</p> </div> , <blockquote> <div class="fs-lg"> <p>Every day, we’re seeing all ethnic groups (including the Rohingya), all religions, all professions and industries (spearheaded by medics in a&nbsp;White Coat Revolution), and even punks and drag queens marching, together and waving the three‐​finger salute to show support for the Civil Disobedience Movement — a&nbsp;nationwide, decentralized and incredibly creative initiative intended to shut down the country, and thus the Tatmadaw’s activities, using peaceful means.</p> </div> </blockquote> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>In response, the military rolled out its old tactic of brutal repression. But, <a href="">observed Richard Horsey</a> of the International Crisis Group:</p> </div> , <blockquote> <div class="fs-lg"> <p>The problem for the regime is that, unlike in 1988 or the 1990s or the 2007 suppression of the Saffron Revolution, the violence is not producing its desired results. Despite the bloodshed, people continue to demonstrate in the streets, a&nbsp;large proportion of public sector employees refuse to work for the regime, a&nbsp;general strike of key private sector staff continues. Army violence is not effective at convincing scared bank staff or truck drivers to return to work. Violence cannot restore business confidence. A&nbsp;military rampage on the streets and in the homes of Yangon and Mandalay and other towns appears a&nbsp;desperate attempt to terrorize the population into submission; instead, it has created chaos. Various forms of violent urban resistance to the regime are also emerging.</p> </div> </blockquote> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Continuing popular protests despite the murder of more than 600 demonstrators testifies to the bravery of the Burmese people. Equally significant is the unprecedented national shutdown of government agencies, critical public services, and important private businesses, such as banks. The public also is boycotting firms tied to the Tatmadaw that enrich the military elite.</p> <p>As a&nbsp;result, the country is shutting down. <a href="">The <em>New York Times</em> explained</a>, “an entire nation has come to a&nbsp;standstill. From hospitals, railways and dockyards to schools, shops and trading houses, much of society has stopped showing up for work in an attempt to stymie the military regime and force it to return authority to a&nbsp;civilian government.” As business slows, so do tax revenues. Moreover, the regime’s U.S. assets have been frozen, and debt has become difficult to sell abroad.</p> <p>More ominously, popular patience with peaceful resistance is fraying. Demonstrators have started tossing stones at and using slingshots against security forces. Internet searches on Molotov cocktails have burgeoned. Chinese‐​owned factories have been torched — reflecting the widespread belief that Beijing backed the coup. One protester told the <em>Washington Post</em>, “We are glad to see arson continue in other areas. We will do it again whenever we have the chance.” And ceasefires with a&nbsp;dozen ethnic forces are under strain, with combat already having broken out between the Tatmadaw and Karen National Liberation Army.</p> <p>What do the generals do next? They have killed hundreds, detained thousands, closed independent publications, shut internet access, and issued threats far and wide. Resistance continues. More than two months in, the regime has few options left. The Tatmadaw’s well‐​laid plans obviously are kaput. The regime no longer even commands most government agencies. No one in Burma takes seriously the military’s claim that only a&nbsp;few malcontents are to blame for protests. No one outside of Burma defends the military. Even Beijing has avoided endorsing the Tatmadaw.</p> <p>But it is impossible for the regime to back down. Too much has happened for a&nbsp;return to the status quo ante. The Burmese people would insist on justice as well as democracy. This means the coup‐​masters must forge ahead. But moving in that direction increasingly risks plunging into the abyss.</p> <p>The generals have been increasing their use of violence. At some point, they may see their only option as massed fire on crowds, with catastrophic consequences. The only hope to avert that disaster may be a&nbsp;break in the military. There have been some police defections, but the Tatmadaw is a&nbsp;far tougher organization. The officer corps enjoys a&nbsp;privileged life; members likely figure they will either hang together or hang separately. Moreover, officers’ families have been drawn into the capital of Naypyidaw, apparently both for safety and to act as hostages to ensure soldiers’ loyalties. Common soldiers are conscripts whose family members mostly voted for the NLD but suffer from brutal discipline and rigorous indoctrination.</p> <p>What can the U.S. and other democratic countries do? Diplomacy is irrelevant for the Tatmadaw, a&nbsp;largely self‐​contained institution that survived decades in isolation. The generals appear ready to sacrifice all the gains made over the last decade.</p> <p>Nor is there a&nbsp;military option. Most of Washington’s allies don’t want to defend themselves; they certainly won’t fight for the Burmese people. The U.S. has no security interests at stake, and there would be no public support for such a&nbsp;misadventure. Although America’s armed forces are far superior, the sizable Burmese army would fight. The humanitarian consequences of urban battles would be horrid. The countryside is insurgent‐​friendly, hosting ethnic forces that long survived against the superior Tatmadaw.</p> <p>Worth review, however, would be the possibility of drone strikes to destroy stored arms, which the army could use against civilians. The goal would be to degrade the Tatmadaw’s ability to harm the Burmese people, without engaging in a&nbsp;shooting war.</p> <p>This leaves economic pressure. But the military ruled for decades despite U.S. and European sanctions. Washington already has targeted top Tatmadaw leaders and military‐​related enterprises. Still, the U.S. and other democratic states should sanction any businesses owned by, tied to, or in business with the armed forces. Penalties might be expanded to jute, lumber, and natural gas exports, industries dominated by the military. The goal should be to dry up as much of the regime’s resources as possible.</p> <p>The U.S. should, however, avoid broad economic sanctions, which would hurt the people more than the military. Indeed, regime elites and their allies often profit from such controls, since the powerful have the means to dominate new markets created by smugglers and others. American and allied diplomats should contact civil society leaders in the country to learn what the Burmese people want friendly nations to do.</p> <p>America also should work with Europe in supporting similar United Nations penalties, including an embargo on sale of weapons, surveillance technologies, and other mechanisms of control to the regime. Both China and Russia would normally be expected to vote no. But sanctions supporters should note the angry popular reaction against China and suggest to both governments that supporting such a&nbsp;measure would help insulate Moscow and Beijing from further popular rage. Washington also should privately assure the PRC that America has no design to displace China from Burma or push U.S. trade and investment under a&nbsp;new government. The Biden administration should argue that addressing the plight of Burmese who are being shot down in the street should not be derailed by the vagaries of the U.S.–China relationship.</p> <p>Finally, Washington and like‐​minded states should urge India and Japan, two Asian democratic nations with substantial economic ties with Burma, to weigh in against the military, at least to oppose mass violence. Neither Delhi nor Tokyo is typically a&nbsp;fan of intervening in other nations’ political strife. Economic collapse and street massacres, however, would be catastrophic for India’s and Japan’s investments as well as Burma’s well‐​being.</p> <p>The Burmese people have suffered tragically for six decades. What comes next could be worse than ever before. Horsey warned, “The glue that has long held the fractured country together is coming unstuck. The world faces the prospect of chaotic state failure in a&nbsp;country with myriad armed groups, a&nbsp;large and well‐​equipped military that is unlikely to capitulate, and a&nbsp;huge illicit economy backed by transnational criminal organizations that will exploit the situation as they have done for years.” The result would be a&nbsp;genuine crisis, terrible tragedy compounded by tremendous insecurity.</p> </div> Sun, 11 Apr 2021 17:36:18 -0400 Doug Bandow Is Mike Pompeo Clueless on North Korea? <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Doug Bandow</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Mike Pompeo was the ultimate undiplomatic secretary of state. He paraded about the world talking about his swagger. <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Observers were more likely to comment</a> on his other, less laudable characteristics, such as hubris, hypocrisy, and sanctimony.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Now, however, the best description of Pompeo might be “clueless.” Who knew that that the wannabe tough guy believed in miracles when <a href="">negotiating with North Korea</a>?</p> <p>Pompeo discussed policy toward Pyongyang in a&nbsp;recent interview. He made his initial trip to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as CIA director, meeting with Supreme Leader Kim Jong‐​un to “take the tension level down and create a&nbsp;situation where we could <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">have rational discussion</a>” after President Donald Trump threatened war. Ironically, the uber‐​hawk Pompeo was tasked to play fireman and peacemaker.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>The North well demonstrates the truth of the adage that even paranoids have enemies.</p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Of his tenure as secretary of state, <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Pompeo noted</a> that he regretted not making more progress with North Korea. “We convinced [Kim] not to do more nuclear testing and more long‐​range missile testing, but we weren’t able [to] get him to give up his nuclear program. You know, we got three Americans back.”</p> <p>This perspective helps explain the administration’s overall failure. Pompeo was correct to laud the suspension of nuclear and long‐​range missile testing. Indeed, the administration inexplicably failed to make the case that this was a&nbsp;substantial achievement. Trump’s predecessors sought to halt both nuclear and missile development, without success. However, testing ended in 2018 and has not resumed, despite the collapse of U.S.-North Korean diplomacy, defeat of Trump, and arrival of the standoffish Biden. (Kim <a href="">has tested short‐​range missiles</a>, to the substantial discomfort of South Korea and Japan, but that capability matters far less to Washington.)</p> <p>The end of testing inhibited further North Korean technological developments that could have threatened America. The North’s advances can only be estimated, but testing enables Pyongyang to improve existing weapons and add new capabilities. Although Washington should not assume away North Korea’s ability to hit the American homeland with nuclear weapons, without more work Democratic People’s Republic of Korea cannot assume that it possesses the ability to do so.</p> <p>The test halt resulted in two further advantages. The first is that it would be easier—though certainly not easy—to convince the DPRK to bargain away the possibility than the reality of targeting the United States. The second is that testing creates fear and encourages retaliation, making negotiation more difficult. The suspension cleared the decks, so to speak, for further diplomacy.</p> <p>The failure to highlight the end of testing left the administration vulnerable to claims that it had gained little from Pyongyang for U.S. concessions. Or worse, that Washington had given away the store—for instance, halting military exercises with the Republic of Korea—for nothing. In fact, the administration achieved something of significant value.</p> <p>In contrast, Pompeo overestimated the credit he and the administration deserved for winning the freedom of three Americans held by North Korea. History suggested that their release did not require the suspension of military exercises or the Trump‐​Kim summits. On the contrary, Pyongyang previously sought a&nbsp;visit by someone once important—for instance, <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Bill Clinton</a>, <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Bill Richardson</a>, a&nbsp;former governor and Cabinet official, and <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Jimmy Carter</a>. Then any unfortunate prisoners got sprung. A&nbsp;repeat probably would have been possible. With a&nbsp;summit in the works, it was good to toss the prisoners’ freedom into the deal. But this wasn’t a&nbsp;policy triumph.</p> <p>Most significant, however, was Pompeo’s admission that the Trump administration wasn’t able to get Kim “to give up his nuclear program.” Apparently, the former secretary really believed he could do so with a&nbsp;policy seemingly designed to do the opposite. This suggests a&nbsp;mix of almost criminal ignorance, naivete, and arrogance.</p> <p>If the administration consulted anyone outside of the limited Trump inner circle, then it would have found most Korea specialists skeptical that there was any circumstance under which any North Korean leader would voluntarily yield <a href="">the North’s nuclear weapons</a>. The North well demonstrates the truth of the adage that even paranoids have enemies.</p> <p>Nukes provided the ultimate deterrent, offered a&nbsp;tool for extortion, and rewarded the military. Perhaps better policies in the 2000s, when the George W. Bush administration succumbed to hubris toward the North as well as Iraq, could have convinced a&nbsp;still weaponless Pyongyang to foreswear nukes. Today, when the DPRK almost certainly possesses enough nuclear materials for scores of nuclear bombs, the task is far more problematic.</p> <p>Then there was the impact of Trump’s behavior, which was not calculated to encourage a&nbsp;diplomatic solution. He first threatened war, reinforcing the importance of an effective nuclear deterrent to Pyongyang. The president showed himself to be an awful negotiator, getting routinely played. All anyone needed to do was target his vanity and self‐​absorption. He appointed John Bolton national security adviser—after <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Bolton had written an article advocating an attack on the North</a>.</p> <p>The president tore up the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action after Iran complied with its terms and demanded that Tehran give up its independent foreign policy to get another deal. That was after the Obama administration rewarded Muammar el‐​Qaddafi for yielding his nuclear and <a href="">missile programs</a> by staging <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">a&nbsp;regime change operation</a>. Finally, the Trump administration pressed hard for an all‐​or‐​nothing deal with Pyongyang, in which the latter would have had to comply with the complicated process of denuclearization, giving up its leverage, before receiving any promised benefits, thus forcing it to trust not just Trump, but his successors.</p> <p>Kim might be many things, but he is no fool.</p> <p>Under these circumstances, is it really a&nbsp;surprise that Trump, Pompeo, and others failed to denuclearize the DPRK? Success would have been a&nbsp;shock.</p> <p>In contrast, the Biden administration appears to be filled with officials well aware of the challenges of dealing with the North, perhaps too aware. Many of Biden’s staffers were members of the Obama administration, which practiced strategic patience, meaning not doing much. Then they watched Trump not achieve much. To avoid repeating the Trump experience, they might be unduly cautious, reluctant to seriously engage diplomatically absent a&nbsp;guarantee that denuclearization would result. In this way, the Trump/​Pompeo curse could live on, continuing to thwart hopes of reaching a&nbsp;more realistic but still beneficial nuclear deal.</p> <p>Give Trump credit, he created an opportunity for serious negotiation. However, he was utterly incapable of forging such a&nbsp;pact. Now Pompeo’s comments suggest that the secretary of state may have been no better prepared. And hence was lost one of the nation’s great diplomatic opportunities.</p> </div> Sun, 11 Apr 2021 16:26:34 -0400 Doug Bandow New Mexico’s Landmark Qualified Immunity Reform Gets It Mostly Right <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Jay Schweikert</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Our nation is undergoing a&nbsp;crisis of confidence in law enforcement. <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Gallup reported</a> last summer that, for the first time in the history of its polling, a&nbsp;majority of Americans do not have faith in the police. This plummeting confidence is fueled by the fact that police officers are <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">rarely held accountable</a> when they commit misconduct, and that lack of accountability is largely the product of <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">qualified immunity</a> — a&nbsp;judicial doctrine that shields public officials from civil liability, even when they break the law.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>But New Mexico took a&nbsp;huge step toward correcting this crisis this past Wednesday when Gov. Lujan Grisham <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">signed into law</a> HB 4, otherwise known as the <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">New Mexico Civil Rights Act</a>. This landmark piece of legislation permits citizens to sue any public official who violates their constitutional rights, and it specifically provides that qualified immunity is not a&nbsp;defense.</p> <p>Although some have described HB 4&nbsp;as “ending” or “eliminating” qualified immunity in New Mexico, that’s not exactly correct. Qualified immunity is a&nbsp;federal doctrine available in federal lawsuits, and states can’t change federal law.</p> <p>But states can pass state‐​level civil rights laws. Whereas <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">federal law</a> allows people whose rights are violated under the federal Constitution to sue in federal court, HB 4&nbsp;allows people whose rights are violated under the state constitution to sue in state court. And even though New Mexico can’t eliminate qualified immunity in federal litigation, it’s free to clarify that qualified immunity won’t apply to these state‐​law claims.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>Although some have described HB 4&nbsp;as “ending” or “eliminating” qualified immunity in New Mexico, that’s not exactly correct.</p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>New Mexico has therefore created a&nbsp;robust remedy for citizens whose rights are violated by government agents. The <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">New Mexico Constitution</a> has a&nbsp;bill of rights that largely mirrors the federal Constitution, which means citizens can get redress for the same sort of injuries they could pursue in federal lawsuits. The statute also allows courts to award “reasonable attorney fees and costs” to prevailing plaintiffs.</p> <p>HB 4&nbsp;is similar to <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Colorado’s Law Enforcement Integrity and Accountability Act</a>, enacted last June, which also precluded the application of qualified immunity to a&nbsp;new civil rights law. But whereas the Colorado law was limited to police officers, HB 4&nbsp;applies more broadly to all public officials.</p> <p>The other notable difference between the New Mexico and Colorado statutes concerns the question of personal liability for defendants. Colorado provided that police officers sued under the new law would be indemnified (meaning any judgment against them would ultimately be paid by their employer), but officers could be required to contribute a&nbsp;small portion of the judgment if they “did not act upon a&nbsp;good faith and reasonable belief” that their actions were lawful. New Mexico’s HB 4, however, provides for complete and automatic indemnification, which means individual defendants can never be personally liable for the injuries they cause.</p> <p>Even though most police officers are <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">fully indemnified anyway</a>, it’s better to ensure that officers have some skin in the game when it comes to the risk of personal liability. Civil rights laws are supposed to have a&nbsp;deterrent effect, but removing any possibility for personal liability — even modest contributions, like Colorado allowed for — may somewhat undermine the individualized accountability that laws like HB 4&nbsp;are intended to provide.</p> <p>Nevertheless, HB 4&nbsp;gets the most fundamental policy judgment exactly right: someone whose rights are violated will get a&nbsp;complete remedy, and qualified immunity won’t stand in the way. New Mexico has therefore made history as the first state to enact legislative qualified immunity reform for all public officials. As both <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Congress</a> and <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">other states</a> around the country continue to debate policing reform in general and qualified immunity in particular, the enactment of the New Mexico Civil Rights Act is a&nbsp;welcome beacon of hope.</p> </div> Sun, 11 Apr 2021 16:21:09 -0400 Jay Schweikert Vaccine ‘Passports’ Could Be Useful — but Only If Government Gets Out of the Way <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Julian Sanchez</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>With <a href="" target="_blank">nearly 25 percent of Americans having been fully vaccinated</a>, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been <a href="" target="_blank">issuing new guidelines</a> every <a href="" target="_blank">few weeks</a> for what fully vaccinated people can safely do. Now, for many, the question is how to prove they’ve been vaccinated — or trust that others have been.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>The most popular answer has been some sort of certification more robust than the paper cards familiar from the Instagram feeds of the newly vaccinated — what has been somewhat misleadingly dubbed a “vaccine passport.” And that has sparked a&nbsp;serious backlash.</p> <p>Texas became the second state to join that backlash Tuesday when Republican Gov. Greg Abbott <a href="" target="_blank">issued an executive order</a> barring government agencies from requiring proof of vaccination from any person and forbidding them to issue any “standardized documentation for the purpose of certifying an individual’s Covid‐​19 vaccination status to a&nbsp;third party.” Florida was first: Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis went further with an executive order April 2&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">forbidding even private businesses</a> from requiring proof of vaccination status for admittance.</p> <p>These moves may be borne of a&nbsp;well‐​intentioned desire to protect individual privacy and liberty, but both are ultimately shortsighted — and unlikely to serve either freedom or public health. Both unwisely conflate the idea of vaccination credentials in themselves with the most unpleasant way they might possibly be used.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>If it is sometimes necessary to verify a&nbsp;person’s vaccination status, then it’s hard to argue that the process shouldn’t be as secure, reliable and convenient as possible.</p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>The conversation around vaccination credentials would be enormously improved if we could separate two distinct questions.</p> <p>First: Is it desirable to have a&nbsp;secure and reliable mechanism to determine who has been vaccinated against the coronavirus for at least some purposes?</p> <p>And second: In what contexts is it desirable and appropriate to demand proof of vaccination as a&nbsp;condition for participating in some activity?</p> <p>The answer to the first question should be easy: Of course. There are numerous contexts in which showing evidence of vaccination is either already required or has clear benefits. So a&nbsp;secure, easily verifiable record is self‐​evidently preferable to a&nbsp;handwritten scribble on card stock that anyone with a&nbsp;laser printer could forge.</p> <p>International travel is an obvious example: Several <a href=";!!PIZeeW5wscynRQ!9d8SBmJlAqapGX2ym3XhNkFactEQyv9hOsCYqbJphFrvwodb5MqTU-XzHQMdZ_kBKiHe$" target="_blank">countries have already signaled</a> that they will begin admitting American visitors again but that they will require proof of vaccination. Americans returning from abroad, meanwhile, are already obliged to show recent negative Covid‐​19 tests. <a href=";!!PIZeeW5wscynRQ!9d8SBmJlAqapGX2ym3XhNkFactEQyv9hOsCYqbJphFrvwodb5MqTU-XzHQMdZ613Gav7$" target="_blank">The U.S. airline industry has asked the CDC</a> to alter its guidelines to waive that requirement for those who have been fully immunized (which seems like common sense). While providing a&nbsp;negative test result should always remain an option, insisting that people who have already been immunized be tested repeatedly is a&nbsp;costly and pointless burden on the right to travel.</p> <p>If it’s sometimes necessary to verify a&nbsp;person’s vaccination status, then it’s hard to argue that the process shouldn’t be as secure, reliable and convenient as possible. The primary way Americans establish their immunization histories — those little immunization record cards that health care providers are required to give patients along with their jabs — is none of the above. The critical information is typically handwritten — and not always legibly or accurately — and the card itself is both easy to lose and trivial to forge.</p> <p>Little wonder, then, that <a href=";utm_medium=email&amp;utm_source=newsletter&amp;wpisrc=nl_most&amp;carta-url=https*3A*2F**2Fcar-ln-tr*2F3157c79*2F6060a3a09d2fda1e56d6bd5d*2F596ac025ade4e20ee3774d57*2F15*2F70*2F6060a3a09d2fda1e56d6bd5d__;JSUlJSUlJSUlJQ!!PIZeeW5wscynRQ!9d8SBmJlAqapGX2ym3XhNkFactEQyv9hOsCYqbJphFrvwodb5MqTU-XzHQMdZ5JBgB_9$" target="_blank">at least 17 initiatives are already underway</a> to provide a&nbsp;more secure alternative.</p> <p>The details vary, but the core idea behind most is to take advantage of encryption technology to create an upgraded version of the current immunization record card. Health care providers could cryptographically “sign” an encoding of some minimal, critical details: patients’ names, the dates of immunization and which of the vaccines they received. This authenticated data could then be encoded in machine‐​readable form — such as a&nbsp;bar code or a&nbsp;QR code — and printed out or stored on the patients’ mobile devices. Anyone with the right app to read the code would be able to verify that a&nbsp;legitimate health care provider had, indeed, produced the record.</p> <p><a href=";!!PIZeeW5wscynRQ!9d8SBmJlAqapGX2ym3XhNkFactEQyv9hOsCYqbJphFrvwodb5MqTU-XzHQMdZym0QENS$" target="_blank">None of this requires any kind of master database</a> storing people’s health information or that a&nbsp;government agency issue “passports.” As long as a&nbsp;common set of protocols is widely used, health care providers can maintain their own records and issue their own certificates. These upgraded certificates need not — and should not — contain any more private information than is already printed on the record cards.</p> <p>The second question — whether it’s desirable and appropriate to require people to show proof of vaccination to participate in some activities — is, of course, more contentious. Many seem to fear that vaccination certificates would quickly give rise to an authoritarian scenario in which Americans are expected to “show [their] papers, please,” to engage in routine activities like grocery shopping.</p> <p>But that’s neither necessary nor likely, and such concerns aren’t a&nbsp;good argument against the certificates themselves. If some states are concerned that anyone might be asked for a&nbsp;vaccination card at the grocery store, state policy can reflect that specific concern and prohibit certain essential facilities from denying access to people based on their vaccination statuses. But in the absence of a&nbsp;government mandate for every business to check vaccination IDs, there is little reason to think this is a&nbsp;realistic scenario.</p> <p>Private business, after all, are typically loath to turn away paying customers — or to waste time, money and energy “carding” patrons unnecessarily. Unless they are required to do so, there is no reason to expect the vast majority of businesses that are happy to admit masked customers with appropriate precautions to create more barriers to customers’ entry.</p> <p>There are, however, many categories of business that are hard‐​pressed to operate normally with minor precautions like masks, and they have found it challenging to ensure the safety of their staff members and patrons even with extensive safeguards. <a href=";!!PIZeeW5wscynRQ!9d8SBmJlAqapGX2ym3XhNkFactEQyv9hOsCYqbJphFrvwodb5MqTU-XzHQMdZ6XF9StU$" target="_blank">Numerous Covid‐​19 outbreaks have been traced to gyms</a>, for example, where, even with masks and social distancing, all that exertion and heavy breathing make it hard to limit spread. Exercise facilities’ bottom lines have also, not coincidentally, been hit <a href="" target="_blank">particularly hard by the pandemic</a>, and, while many have <a href=";!!PIZeeW5wscynRQ!9d8SBmJlAqapGX2ym3XhNkFactEQyv9hOsCYqbJphFrvwodb5MqTU-XzHQMdZ9iVyRM3$" target="_blank">begun to reopen</a>, they are likely to find that some members would rather stick to the Peloton if they’re expected to remain masked for an indoor hot yoga class.</p> <p>Reliable immunization certificates, then, could make it possible for gyms and other businesses with similarly special risks to return a&nbsp;little closer to their normal, perhaps by reserving certain hours for fully immunized members, when distancing and masking rules could be safely relaxed.</p> <p>Cruise lines — which became notorious early in the pandemic as floating superspreader events — are <a href=";!!PIZeeW5wscynRQ!9d8SBmJlAqapGX2ym3XhNkFactEQyv9hOsCYqbJphFrvwodb5MqTU-XzHQMdZyuO5ChT$" target="_blank">already announcing</a> that they plan to set sail this summer with all crew members and passengers fully vaccinated. Restaurants now opening for outdoor dining only or seating at drastically reduced capacity might similarly be able to accommodate more diners if they were able to distinguish between immunized and unvaccinated patrons.</p> <p>Then again, they might not want to.</p> <p>Either way, businesses are the best judges of what policies toward vaccinated and unvaccinated customers are appropriate for their particular circumstances. Government shouldn’t force anyone to be vaccinated, but it should also be reluctant to override private businesses’ decisions about how to best protect and satisfy their customers and employees.</p> <p>Ideally, of course, all this will soon be moot: As more Americans are vaccinated and herd immunity hopefully eventually kicks in, it will probably no longer be worth the effort to determine who has been immunized.</p> <p>But if that doesn’t happen, some sort of infrastructure to verify vaccination status could be key to avoiding another round of total lockdowns in the face of a&nbsp;possible resurgence.</p> <p>There are excellent reasons to be wary of government‐​mandated vaccination credentials to force a&nbsp;medical decision on unwilling people. But these aren’t good arguments against allowing for any system of vaccination credentials to be developed at all — let alone against allowing businesses and people to make informed decisions about how best to return to normal.</p> </div> Sun, 11 Apr 2021 16:10:50 -0400 Julian Sanchez Why an Olympics Boycott Won’t Work <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Doug Bandow</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>The Biden administration was, or was not, depending on whom you talk to, discussing a&nbsp;2022 Olympics boycott with allies and friends. That’s all to the good. If the administration can’t make up its mind about whether it was even considering the idea, it certainly shouldn’t lead a&nbsp;campaign against the international competition.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>A few days ago, State Department Press Spokesman Ned Price <a href="">said</a> a&nbsp;boycott was an option and “something that we certainly wish to discuss” with other nations. Indeed, “discussions are underway” about policy toward Beijing, he added. But then White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki <a href="">announced</a>, “Our position on the 2022 Olympics has not changed. We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners.”</p> <p>After nearly three months in office, the Biden team apparently doesn’t know its policy toward the People’s Republic of China. Ironically, in this case administration blundering might be helpful. A&nbsp;boycott would not likely succeed. A&nbsp;botched boycott would be a&nbsp;terrible embarrassment.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>Advocates should recognize that the PRC will not change its policies even if America and some number of other nations stay home.</p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>The PRC is horrible on human rights. Just about everything is bad. The early post‐​revolution years were <a href="">horrendous</a>: tens of millions of people died during Maoist rule. The situation improved after Mao’s death, but Xi Jinping, both Chinese Communist Party general secretary and China’s president, <a href="">appears</a> to be trying to become the new Mao.</p> <p>Unsurprisingly, then, human rights have <a href="">deteriorated</a> across the board. A&nbsp;once somewhat relaxed <a href="">attitude</a> toward religious faith and practice has been replaced by vicious persecution. Hong Kong has <a href="">lost</a> its unique status and in terms of political freedom is just any other Chinese city. Civil liberties are likely to disappear next.</p> <p>And there is the <a href="">mass incarceration</a> of Muslim Uyghurs in reeducation camps. The Trump administration declared this to be genocide — not in the common understanding, of mass murder, but in the more rarified but still terrible sense of destroying a&nbsp;culture. Most boycott advocates focus on the Uyghurs. For instance, Rep. Tom Malinowski contended that “If you’re going to accuse a&nbsp;government of genocide, you can’t then have an Olympics in that country as if it’s a&nbsp;normal place.”</p> <p>Should such a&nbsp;nation be allowed to host an Olympic competition?</p> <p>In fact, the PRC already has: the summer games back in 2008. Even then China’s human rights record was bad, though not nearly down to today’s levels. Xi did not take over leadership of the CCP until four years later. Even so, journalist Nithin Coca <a href="">blamed</a> worsening repression on the world’s failure to act in 2008: “The Beijing games turned out to be a&nbsp;watershed moment for Tibetans and Uighurs, but in the wrong way. They sent a&nbsp;clear signal — China had a&nbsp;free pass to oppress its minorities.”</p> <p>Actually, that free pass was evident throughout the PRC’s history. There was never a&nbsp;moment when human rights were not being violated, the West was prepared to take extreme action in response, and the regime would have changed course even under greater pressure. Repression always was the essence of CCP rule. And especially now, after Beijing watched the Soviet Union’s Communist Party introduce humanity into its rule, ensuring that it would no longer rule.</p> <p>But what about 2022?</p> <p>As a&nbsp;practical matter, it’s too late to shift the games, requiring someone to arrange financing and construct facilities in so short a&nbsp;time. Could a&nbsp;former host be asked to step in? South Korea handled the games in 2018. But it has refused to even criticize China on Hong Kong and suffered substantial Chinese commercial retaliation after joining the THAAD missile defense system. Seoul certainly won’t steal away the PRC’s Olympics show, putting itself on Beijing’s forever enemies’ list. Four years before was Russia — another human rights abuser, so that wouldn’t do! Before that was Canada, but the facilities would be a&nbsp;dozen years old and the dislocations would be enormous. Anyway, while most Canadians might like payback given the PRC’s recent behavior, that doesn’t seem to be Justin Trudeau’s way.</p> <p>If the games can’t be moved, then how about a&nbsp;boycott? Advocates should recognize that the PRC will not change its policies even if America and some number of other nations stay home. Regime preservation is Beijing’s most important objective, and the worsening repression is intended to buttress the system. China will pay a&nbsp;very high price to maintain control.</p> <p>Moreover, the regime cannot afford to back down in full view of the world. To the contrary, the Xi government would do its best to face down any criticism. Public surrender would trigger popular antagonism and private CCP criticism that could cost Xi his job. Perceived weakness also would encourage new and fiercer foreign criticism and punishment.</p> <p>Some in the West, desperate to believe in an eventual liberal, democratic China, imagine that young Chinese would join with America. Not likely. While college students I&nbsp;have met don’t like censorship and controls, they are nationalists proud of their country and not interested in being lectured by Washington.</p> <p>The U.S. also might find itself leading a&nbsp;parade of one. Most proposals for boycotts, including against Nazi Germany in 1936, came to little. Only two instances had much effect. In 1980, Washington led 65 other nations out of the games scheduled for Moscow to protest the invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviet Union retaliated with a&nbsp;boycott against the Los Angeles games joined by <a href="">13 of its satellites and allies</a>. Neither episode achieved anything practical.</p> <p>An effort against China would not be nearly as successful. The Cold War united the West. The PRC is far different from the Soviet Union. Beijing has lost friends with its “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy and offensive conduct, but few countries are willing to become enemies of a&nbsp;still‐​rising economic power that offers so much more than force.</p> <p>Not Italy or Germany. Maybe the United Kingdom. But not France or Spain. Not Southeast Asia. No way South Korea. Not likely Japan. And on it would go. America’s word no longer is law. When the Trump administration attempted to convince the Security Council to let it pretend that it never left the Iran nuclear accord and thus could trigger sanctions snapback against Tehran, it received the vote only of the Dominican Republic, a&nbsp;small country in America’s backyard.</p> <p>It is possible that no one would join America in an Olympics boycott. The president of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China, Jörg Wuttke, told the <em>Washington Post</em>: “I’ve spoken with European ambassadors and friends here, and the appetite to take on China with a&nbsp;boycott is zero.” A&nbsp;feeble boycott would be more embarrassing than threatening.</p> <p>This suggests the importance of devising a&nbsp;more practical strategy.</p> <p>First, push for a&nbsp;debate today over requiring the International Olympic Committee to take human rights into account <em>before approving hosts</em> tomorrow. Contests are assigned through 2028. So look to the future. Then there would be no need to debate the feasibility of moving such a&nbsp;huge event on short notice. And athletes who trained for years would not be sacrificed at the last minute for no obvious benefit.</p> <p>But keep the decision out of the U.S. government’s control. The Olympic committee is private. Washington should make the case, but not coerce. The Carter administration threatened to enforce the 1980 boycott by denying passports to athletes, a&nbsp;Soviet‐​style tactic. There is superficial appeal to barring human rights offenders, but the issues raised would be serious. Should politics be part of the process? What would the standards be? (If you claim to be acting on principle, it is best to avoid inconsistent “I know it when I&nbsp;see it” claims.)</p> <p>This process would highlight the cause of human rights and might give increased hope to the oppressed, laudable objectives. Moreover, a&nbsp;credible threat of refusing to allow oppressive, however defined, governments to hold the Olympics might have some impact at the margin on bad regimes’ behavior. No government, however, and certainly not Beijing, would upend its political system for this reason. The main effect probably would be to encourage offending governments to be slightly more discreet and hire slightly more expensive PR firms.</p> <p>And there would be downsides — further politicizing sports and perhaps driving a&nbsp;substantial number of countries out of the Olympic process altogether. One could even imagine development of a&nbsp;counter‐​game, though none could compare to the Olympics and no one other than China or Russia could easily afford to host them.</p> <p>Even if initially successful, the effort to implement such a&nbsp;policy might end up being refought every time an Olympics was assigned. The Olympic Committee might approve a&nbsp;policy in theory but never apply it in practice. Such battles would be costly to America’s relations with the PRC, whether or not successful in blocking future bids. And Washington should not begin such a&nbsp;fight without a&nbsp;strong likelihood of winning, since defeat would be a&nbsp;huge propaganda loss.</p> <p>Second, as for the immediate concern about 2022, consider what to do about next year’s games. There should be no heads of state, heads of government, or other top officials in the audience. The message should be consistent: they stand by the Chinese people, while expecting Beijing to live up to its responsibilities to everyone in the PRC.</p> <p>Celebrities — an eclectic category whose members trend woke‐​ish — should be encouraged not to go either. Westerners who profess to possess a&nbsp;social conscience should not add glitter to the proceedings. Again, it would help if their message were consistent, with attention not to themselves but to the oppressed.</p> <p>This might not be as tough as some might think. Tibet long has been a&nbsp;<em>cause célèbre </em>on the left, promoted by Richard Gere, among others. Moreover, the Left, which trends strong in Hollywood, among the literati, in artists’ studios, among academic superstars, and more, tends to express greater concern over attacks on Muslims, like the Uyghurs, than persecution of Christians.</p> <p>Also targeted should be Olympics sponsors. An effort should be organized to encourage companies to drop out of the program, eschew ads with their sponsorship appended, and instead feature notes that they dropped their support because of the PRC’s mistreatment of its own people. The best message, attuned to the nationalistic young, would be one of regret and sadness: China’s escape from weakness and poverty, which characterized the nation just decades ago, should be cause for celebration. That is why the world is calling forth China’s better angels — both as a&nbsp;country and a&nbsp;civilization.</p> <p>Finally, athletes and attendees should be encouraged to find creative ways to draw attention to the plight of the oppressed. Obviously, care should be exercised since there is no guaranteed get‐​out‐​of‐​jail card for the PRC. But participants could mention the controversy in news interviews and cite human rights in blogs, on Instagram, through Twitter, and more. They all should be encouraged to use VPNs to break through the Great Firewall. And visitors should engage the Chinese as people, not a&nbsp;cause, forging relationships and expressing concerns.</p> <p>In none of this should Washington take the lead. Official U.S. involvement would scare off some other governments, which do not want to be seen as taking sides in a&nbsp;growing U.S.–Sino battle. Last year other industrialized states wouldn’t even sign on to the Trump administration’s COVID-19 attacks on Beijing. And Washington’s humanitarian claims are tainted by everything from destroying Iraq, resulting in the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, to ignoring grotesque human rights violations by friendly regimes, including <a href="">Saudi Arabia</a>, <a href="">Egypt</a>, and <a href="">Turkey</a>. Better criticism of China come from the human rights community, religious organizations, nations targeted by Beijing, advocates of business social responsibility, and more.</p> <p>Ultimately, three considerations should be paramount. The interests of those who would be hurt by a&nbsp;boycott, namely the athletes and others involved in the games, should be treated seriously. Ivory‐​tower enthusiasts too easily dismiss often heavy costs incurred by others. Doing so is particularly wrong‐​headed if the benefits are at best limited and speculative, as in this case.</p> <p>The purpose of acting is to help oppressed Chinese, not feed Westerners’ moral vanity. Good intentions are not enough. Attacks on the PRC that lead the regime to tighten internal security, which already costs more than military defense, would be counterproductive. Thus, tactics should be adjusted to reflect their impact on the people suffering under Xi’s misrule.</p> <p>It also is critical to play the long game. The best hope for change is generational, especially with those born in the 1990s who grew up in a&nbsp;radically different world with increased opportunities. Many want change, but few respond well to attacks on their country. A&nbsp;message that includes respect for China and recognition of Washington’s shortcomings is essential. The American people rather than their government should speak as friends.</p> <p>The PRC poses today’s greatest international challenge to the United States. There is no panacea, certainly nothing to do with the Olympics. Next year’s games won’t be moved. Few if any other governments would back a&nbsp;boycott. Instead, those concerned with human rights should consider how to use the 2022 competition to highlight their concerns while pushing reforms for the future.</p> </div> Sat, 10 Apr 2021 17:13:23 -0400 Doug Bandow Why the Captain of the Ever Given Should Get a Medal <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Tom G. Palmer</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>What a&nbsp;brilliant achievement! Supply chains repatriated. Trade deficits cut. Predatory trade reduced. A&nbsp;massive 1,312&nbsp;foot‐​long container ship, the&nbsp;<em>Ever Given</em>, did with its enormous bulk what mere laws had failed to do: it blocked the flow of goods, many of which were intended to be brought to the United States. It did so by running aground in the Suez Canal, through which roughly 30% of global shipping container volume passes every year. It was a&nbsp;truly heroic achievement.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>By running their ship aground in the Suez Canal, the owners of the&nbsp;<em>Ever Given</em>, Japanese firm Shoei Kisen KK, unilaterally realized the dream of Peter Navarro and other radical protectionists. For seven glorious days over $9 billion dollars worth of goods per day were stopped from flowing through the Suez Canal. Much of that was headed to the United States and would have added to the “trade deficit,” thus (allegedly) wrecking havoc on the United States. Many hundreds of ships loaded with hundreds of thousands of containers full of all kinds of exports are still backed up. The impact on supply chains will continue to be felt long after the forces of free trade got the ship back on its way. According to Lars Jensen, chief executive of Denmark‐​based SeaIntelligence Consulting, “The effect is not only going to be the simple, immediate one with cargo being delayed over the next few weeks, but will actually have repercussions several months down the line for the supply chain.”</p> <p>The protectionists should award the captain of the&nbsp;<em>Ever Given&nbsp;</em>a&nbsp;medal for – literally – blocking trade. Protectionists seek to block trade. And that’s what the&nbsp;<em>Ever Given</em>&nbsp;has done. (Free traders argue that protectionism isn’t a&nbsp;useful descriptive term, because blocking trade doesn’t protect a&nbsp;country, although it does protect special interests from competition.)</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>If protectionists were consistent, they should be lauding the captain of the Ever Given for his ability to disrupt trade. </p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Of course, no serious person would propose an award to the captain of the&nbsp;<em>Ever Given</em>, but there’s really no economic difference between the bulk of a&nbsp;gigantic ship physically blocking trade and the armed police of the Customs and Border Patrol coercively blocking trade.</p> <p>Some people see trade across borders as negative. They believe that when you buy something from foreigners, you lose. They should thus be happy when goods are blocked from entering their country. Former president Donald Trump famously stated, “China has been taking out 500 billion dollars a&nbsp;year out of our country and rebuilding China.” In his view, that wealth left the U.S. and went to China, a&nbsp;view that oddly overlooks all the things that producers in China send to Americans, including computers, furniture, integrated circuits, sports equipment, electrical machines and, yes, tea. And it leaves out all the things American producers send to China, from aircraft to soybeans, cars and trucks to optical and medical instruments. The protectionist thinks that if you send money abroad, you’re losing. By the same logic, when I&nbsp;send money to my local grocery store, wealth is leaving my house in order to build someone else’s. I “lose” every time I&nbsp;buy food from the grocery, or electricity from the power company, or medicine from the pharmacy. That view is known as the “balance of trade.”</p> <p>Adam Smith in his 1776 masterpiece, noted that “Nothing … can be more absurd than this whole doctrine of the balance of trade, upon which, not only these restraints, but almost all the other regulations of commerce are founded. When two places trade with one another, this [absurd] doctrine supposes that, if the balance be even, neither of them either loses or gains; but if it leans in any degree to one side, that one of them loses and the other gains in proportion to its declension from the exact equilibrium.”</p> <p>The doctrine of the balance of trade has been around for centuries. It has also been refuted for centuries, but, like the “gambler’s fallacy” (thinking that observing five coin tosses resulting in “heads” makes it more likely that the next one will be “tails”), it’s persistent. As with the gambler’s fallacy, the fallacy of the balance of trade has to be exploded over and over.</p> <p>The economist Henry George once pointed out that to block trade is to impose an embargo on ourselves, and that, “What protection teaches us, is to&nbsp;do to ourselves in time of peace&nbsp;what enemies seek to&nbsp;do&nbsp;to us in&nbsp;time&nbsp;of war.” We could add that it also teaches us to celebrate blocking goods‐​carrying ships from passing through canals. Of course, if we don’t celebrate physically blocking trade, we shouldn’t celebrate any other means of blocking it. The fallacies of protectionism, like the gambler’s fallacy, can be exploded with just a&nbsp;bit of logical thinking.</p> </div> Fri, 09 Apr 2021 08:54:37 -0400 Tom G. Palmer The Problem of Humanitarian Intervention: A Tough Challenge with No Good Answer <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Doug Bandow</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Today, April 7, is the official anniversary of the start of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Probably a&nbsp;half million or so people — estimates range wildly — were murdered in just 100&nbsp;days.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Most of the victims were Tutsis, though a&nbsp;number of moderate Hutus also were killed. Hundreds of thousands of women were raped.</p> <p>The brutality was up close and personal, usually via guns, machetes, and even clubs. The murderers often were neighbors. Victims were hunted down like human prey. Those who sought shelter in churches, schools, hospitals, and elsewhere found no refuge. The bloodshed went on until there seemed to be no one else to kill.</p> <p>Yet this was not the worst episode of mass murder in history, nor even in the blood‐​drenched 20th&nbsp;Century. The Holocaust stands out for the attempt to eliminate an entire people. The numbers of dead in Cambodia, China, and the Soviet Union also were prodigious, much greater in number. One seemingly endless war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo killed ten times as many people.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>War cannot be justified on humanitarian grounds, despite the powerful emotional appeal of that argument. </p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Yet the Rwanda genocide was still shocking, mocking the supposed liberal sensitivities of the age. So many killed so suddenly and swiftly. Longtime communities and neighborhoods turned not just hostile, but deadly. An entire nation seemingly gone mad.</p> <p>A world shocked, stunned, and stationary. Inert. Fixed. Immobile. Frozen. Motionless. Fixed. Still. Rigid. Unmoved as thousands of people a&nbsp;day were gunned, cut, and beaten down.</p> <p>Four years later President Bill Clinton visited Rwanda and apologized. He told Rwandans: “The international community, together with nations in Africa, must bear its share of responsibility for this tragedy, as well. We did not act quickly enough after the killing began.” He called for cooperation to “strengthen our ability to prevent and, if necessary, to stop genocide.”</p> <p>Of course, it was impossible to disagree with such sentiments. Who could not want to prevent or halt a&nbsp;similar episode in the future? And it appeared that Clinton had much to apologize for, having done nothing at the time. Or, more accurately, for not having ordered other people to do something. Clinton — who had avoided doing anything in Vietnam — would not have personally saved anyone. Rather, he would have sent someone else to do so.</p> <p>Which is the eternal challenge posed by intervention and war. They occur because some people, usually older, more powerful, better compensated, well‐​protected, and self‐​inflated, send others, almost always the opposite, off to do the difficult and deadly work. Ivory tower warriors typically exude sanctimony when launching moral crusades with other people’s lives. However, there is nothing virtuous in sending others off to fight and possibly die.</p> <p>Nevertheless, the appeal of what is called “responsibility to protect,”&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">or R2P</a>&nbsp;– which is intended to reach violence well beyond genocide — is obvious. Lives could be saved. They should be saved. Like in Rwanda in 1994.</p> <p>Yet mass killing are tragically common, not thankfully rare. So any serious R2P practitioner would be very busy. Candidates for action would have included the Ottoman Empire versus its Armenian population. Nazi Germany versus Europe’s Jews (and many others). Japanese Empire versus the Chinese people. The Soviet Union versus its Ukrainian population and many others. China versus its own citizens more than once, with special brutality (though not mass killing) today against residents of Tibet and Xinjiang. There was Kampuchea (Cambodia) versus its people. Indonesia against its population and residents of East Timor. Pakistan at war with those living in its eastern section, now Bangladesh. Sri Lanka versus its Tamil minority. Burundi suffering similar tribal violence as Rwanda, only with both groups simultaneously killers and victims.</p> <p>Also warranting action would be or have been many brutal and bitter civil wars, in which the culprits sometimes were many: Lebanon, Nigeria, Algeria, Angola, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Burma/​Myanmar, Ethiopia, Liberia, Mozambique, Balkans, Syria, Chad, Central America, Colombia, Zaire/​Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, and Libya. Also deserving to be on the list are four conflicts in which the U.S. was deeply involved — Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, and Korea. And there are numerous violent episodes which, though falling short of genocide or war, resulted in thousands or even tens of thousands of dead, leavened with other abundant casualties, including victims of sexual violence. Such as Argentina, India, Chile, Northern Ireland, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, and the Philippines, for instance.</p> <p>Would a&nbsp;serious policy of humanitarian intervention seek to halt the violence in every instance? Or only some? If only some, then which ones?</p> <p>The most obvious standard would be lots of casualties. However, what would be the definition of “lots”? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Or millions?</p> <p>Or should the focus be on the death rate? For instance, the Khmer Rouge killed from between 1.5 million to two million people out of a&nbsp;population of about 7.8 million, or something approaching an astonishing quarter of the population. China killed far more people, tens of millions — one estimate is 36 million&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">in the Great Leap Forward alone</a>. However, the population was much greater, so as a&nbsp;percentage the killing was less.</p> <p>Some advocates of R2P figure they “know it when they see it,” rather like&nbsp;<a href=";context=ylj" target="_blank">Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s standard for pornography</a>. But that’s not a&nbsp;very good rationale for the government to go to war and send military personnel into danger. And there are enormous differences among the many cases of murderous, almost uncontrolled violence. Some instances focus inward, on a&nbsp;nation’s own citizens. There is mass killing by government, as well as by nongovernmental actors, when the authorities either approve and abet the violence, or are unable to stop it. Sometimes the attacks are directed at specific ethnic or religious groups. In others it is undifferentiated, often targeting political/​ideological opponents. Many of the worst killings grow out of wars. Mass killing can emerge from aggression against other states. However, civil wars often are even bloodier.</p> <p>So, when to act?</p> <p>It is hard to develop a&nbsp;sensible standard. Consider the intriguing, but ultimately nonsensical, proposal&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">from the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon and the late Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-NY)</a>: “military intervention should be considered whenever the rate of killing in a&nbsp;country or region greatly exceeds the US murder rate, whether the killing is genocidal in nature or not. Our moral premises are twofold: first, since all human lives have equal value, the United States and other countries should use their military and political resources where they can save the greatest number of individuals. Second, the United States cannot be politically or morally expected to try to make other countries safer than its own domestic society.”</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">To quote tennis great John McEnroe</a>, “you cannot be serious!” US foreign policy would bizarrely be held hostage by domestic policing practices. Assume a&nbsp;tough law and order conservative was elected mayor of New York City (and that result was replicated elsewhere). If typical stereotypes held, murder rates would drop across America, requiring Washington to then occupy another half dozen warring countries. In contrast, if a&nbsp;wimpy progressive was elected in the Big Apple and other major cities, murder rates would rocket upward. The US then would be expected to withdraw troops from around the world. Really?</p> <p>Foreign policy should be based on something more substantial than arcane statistical analyses disconnected from the nation’s basic security interests. Americans’ lives should not be risked and wealth spent absent a&nbsp;threat to their own national community’s security, even survival. Although all lives are of equal value, as O’Hanlon and Solarz argued, the US government has greater responsibility to its own citizens — who fund and serve it, and rely on its protection.</p> <p>This point is fundamental. As attractive as a&nbsp;supposedly humanitarian interventionist strategy might seem in theory, as a&nbsp;matter of principle resources should not be spent and lives should not be risked unless doing so serves the basic interests of the American polity, including those serving in the military. The latter should not be treated as gambit pawns in a&nbsp;global chess game. Good intentions are not enough. Going to war is expensive, deadly, and risky — usually far more so than originally expected.</p> <p>For instance, much of Europe marched off to combat in July 1914 assuming the conflict would be short. Many Americans North and South figured one short battle would settle the issue of secession. Iraq was supposed to be a&nbsp;cakewalk for the US Saudi Arabia expected its war with Yemen, now in its sixth year, to run about six weeks. Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June, 1941, planning on victory before winter arrived. American military officers constantly told the nation that battles against insurgents in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam were going well, kill ratios were great, and light could be sighted at the proverbial end of the tunnel.</p> <p>Although these and other wars were supposed to have humanitarian objects, rarely did they have humanitarian results. There may be no better example than Iraq: thousands of dead Americans and allied personnel, tens of thousands of wounded Americans and allies, hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians, millions of displaced Iraqis, a&nbsp;thoroughly ravaged nation, and an utterly destabilized region. All to oust the murderous Saddam Hussein and drain the swamp, the substitute justifications for war once Baghdad’s claimed possession of WMDs was exposed as an embarrassing lie.</p> <p>But also look at Vietnam — who would hold that up as a&nbsp;humanitarian enterprise? Or Afghanistan, where Washington has prolonged a&nbsp;civil war now in its fifth decade. Or America’s anti‐​insurgent campaign when Washington seized the Philippines from Spain: some 200,000 Filipinos perished as US soldiers used tactics against independence fighters characteristic of the Spanish from whom Washington seized the archipelago. Not every intervention goes so badly, but the more expansive and intrusive the objective — compare the first and second Iraq wars — typically the worse the results. And Washington’s results of late have not been good anywhere.</p> <p>Moreover, US national interests will inevitably dominate. Given another chance, would the US have gone to war with Cambodia/​Kampuchea, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, or Communist China in order to save lives? No.</p> <p>All were/​would have been massive, destructive, terrible wars. They were just too big. Having just quit Vietnam, Washington was not going to return to Cambodia, no matter how great the internal toll. Adolf Hitler’s declaration of war, not his continent‐​wide depredations, brought America into World War II.</p> <p>Attacking the U.S.S.R. and China would have been unimaginable. Both conflicts, dedicated to overthrowing Communist Party control, would almost certainly have gone nuclear. The countries’ sheer size would have ensured endless conflicts and insurgencies. Even smaller fights would have been formidable. For example, imagine full immersion in the multi‐​sided Lebanese and Syrian civil wars, which are thought to have consumed perhaps 120,000 and&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">a&nbsp;half million or more lives</a>, respectively. There is no reason to believe America would have done better than in Iraq.</p> <p>Moreover, the US always treats friendly regimes differently. Rather than intervene against the corrupt, brutal, authoritarian Saudi monarchy as&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">it was committing murder and mayhem in Yemen</a>, Washington provided Riyadh aircraft, munitions, intelligence, refueling, and maintenance&nbsp;<em>to help with the killing</em>. During the Cold War countries such as Argentina, Chile, and Indonesia directed their murderous attentions against communists and leftists of various stripes. Such killings apparently bothered American officials little if at all. Voices were raised much more loudly for Bosnia, located in Europe, than for most of the African nations which suffered terrible genocides and wars. And while ethnic cleansing by Serbs was uniformly denounced,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">ethnic cleansing against Serbs was equally ignored</a>. Murder in the Middle East, with oil beneath and Israel close by, seemed to always attract sympathetic and disproportionate attention, no matter how many black Africans were being slaughtered at the same time.</p> <p>Nor could “the international community” simply show up, stop the killing, and return home triumphant. To start, there is no such thing as “the international community.” There are only individual nations, most of which have neither the interest nor the ability to send anything more than token military units for temporary duty. In many cases foreign military units likely would do harm — consider United Nations “peacekeepers” who&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">spread disease</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">committed sexual violence</a>. When it comes to real fighting, especially the larger the number of cases, bigger the conflicts, and lengthier the duties, everyone looks to America.</p> <p>Recognizing imminent genocide, as Clinton suggested, would be no mean feat. In the USSR and China there was extended mass murder in societies largely closed to outsiders. The governments denied anything was amiss and many Western “useful idiots”&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">backed up the lies</a>. News of slaughter in Cambodia only seeped out of another uniquely closed society. Cities were largely emptied and Western journalists were among the prisoners tortured and murdered at&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Phnom Penh’s notorious Toul Sleng prison</a>. Bosnia always was more accessible than Liberia. In Rwanda genocide was prepared ahead of time, triggered by the president’s assassination, and proceeded at breakneck speed. Every instance is different, with unique barriers to recognition, assessment, and response.</p> <p>Moreover, there is no single template for halting violence and healing society. In almost every case a&nbsp;quick exit would be a&nbsp;fantasy. Nation‐​building would be an inevitable ancillary duty of humanitarian war‐​making. Imagine tens of thousands of US (and some European) troops landed in Rwanda and pointed their guns at Hutu mobs, who retreated — along with their guns, machetes, and clubs. Then what for the allied soldiers? Fly home? Occupy the country? Set up a&nbsp;provisional government? Arm the Tutsis? Create safe havens? Partition the territory? Call on the UN? Settle in for a&nbsp;long stay?</p> <p>One small nation would be complicated enough. Toss in a&nbsp;couple larger, more complex, and better armed states. Do several conflicts at once. Then imagine what would be required to implement whatever Washington’s humanitarian standards turned out to be.</p> <p>Ultimately, the US government must first consider its responsibility to its own citizens. Promiscuous war‐​making inevitably conflicts with America as a&nbsp;constitutional republic with limited government power tasked with protecting individual liberties. To carry out a&nbsp;serious and consistent humanitarian war policy would require Washington to pursue an unabashedly imperialist policy abroad — in the name of liberal objectives, of course. At risk would be much that Americans value: human life and dignity, liberties and rights, economic prosperity, constrained government, constitutional probity, and republican politics. As social commentator Randolph Bourne pointed out, and Robert Higgs documented so well in&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank"><em>Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government</em></a>, war is the health of the state. War is the most important excuse used by politicians to&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">conscript the young</a>, restrict civil liberties, expand government secrecy, limit public disclosure, punish free speech, loot the public, raise taxes, expand government control, regulate economic activity, undercut democratic debate, and curtail the Constitution.</p> <p>Indeed, America’s foreign and supposedly humanitarian misadventures also have severely undermined US security. Over the last two decades Middle East meddling has expanded Iran’s influence, spawned al‐​Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State, proliferated ISIS from Iraq to Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and even further, drawn American forces back to Iraq and Syria, and spread U.S.-Iran tensions to both Iraq and Syria. Intervening more heavily and widely, even if supposedly on a&nbsp;humanitarian mission, magnified and lengthened ongoing conflicts, such as Afghanistan and Syria.</p> <p>The tragedy of Rwanda reminds us that there are no easy answers when crisis strikes. Clinton wanted “to act when genocide threatens.” However, that presumed prescient officials peering into the future, recognizing dangers, fixing problems, forestalling crises, and preventing violence. And the same time farsighted and measured people ready when the crisis arrived to authorize just the right amount of force. By their side would be competent and judicious commanders prepared to deal with the myriad challenges in a&nbsp;multitude of different circumstances.</p> <p>It should surprise no one that Clinton’s call has gone unheeded. The world is no better prepared to halt civil wars, genocides, aggressions, and all manner of other horrors today than then. Americans certainly are no better prepared to march off to humanitarian war.</p> <p>War always should be a&nbsp;last resort rather than a&nbsp;first choice. Military intervention sometimes becomes an ugly necessity, but not nearly as often as is claimed. However, war cannot be justified on humanitarian grounds, despite the powerful emotional appeal of that argument. For both principled and prudential reasons, Americans should oppose promiscuous war‐​making. It is the proverbial cure worse than the disease.</p> </div> Thu, 08 Apr 2021 08:54:28 -0400 Doug Bandow War Clouds over Russia and Ukraine? Ask Brussels <p><a href="" hreflang="und">Doug Bandow</a></p> <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Fighting has surged in eastern Ukraine, where Moscow backs ethnic‐​Russian separatists. Moreover, Moscow has concentrated an estimated 4,000 soldiers near the border with Ukraine.</p> </div> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Demands are rising in Washington for confrontation. Indeed, the crisis is being framed as a&nbsp;challenge to the young Biden administration. Predictably hawkish analysts, such as those filling the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, advocated that the administration take tougher action, including conditional sanctions.</p> <p>The president appears open to confrontation. In&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank"><em>Foreign Affairs</em>&nbsp;earlier this year</a>&nbsp;he treated Russia far more harshly than China. He later singled out Putin as a “killer” without a “soul,” which of course could be said about many of America’s allies—Mohammed bin Salman comes to mind—as well as adversaries.</p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside--large aside"> <div class="pullquote p-mb-last-child-0"> <p>The United States needs to accept that NATO membership for Ukraine is not worth war with Russia. </p> </div> </aside> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>In last week’s introductory phone call to Ukraine’s President&nbsp;Volodymyr&nbsp;Zelensky, the White House said that “President Biden affirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea.” Separately, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called his Ukrainian counterpart to discuss “ways of strengthening security cooperation.”</p> <p>The U.S. European Command raised its alert status to the highest level and warned of a “potential imminent crisis.” Last month the U.S. “deployed nuclear‐​capable B-1 bombers&nbsp;to Norway for the first time in NATO’s history,”&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">noted my colleague Ted Galen Carpenter</a>. This was precisely the sort of intimidation that Washington routinely accuses Moscow of engaging in. After the four B‐​1Bs arrived,&nbsp;Norwegian Lt. Gen. Yngve Odlo observed: “Being a&nbsp;neighbor to Russia, I&nbsp;think Russia understands quite clearly what we are doing.”</p> <p>The Putin government’s intentions are unknown, though troop movements within its sovereign territory are its prerogative. Russia recently conducted military exercises in the area and apparently plans to base an airborne regiment nearby, which could account for the moves.</p> <p>More likely, Moscow has a&nbsp;broader purpose. It might be testing the Biden administration, assessing how and how competently it acts. Or the build‐​up might be intended to intimidate the Zelensky government, which recently moved against Ukraine’s leading pro‐​Russian politician, freezing his assets and closing his TV stations. The Putin government also might be hoping to jolt the long‐​stalled peace talks and implementation of the 2015 Minsk Protocol by reminding its neighbor that Moscow retains local superiority and escalation dominance. Indeed, Zelensky termed Moscow’s behavior “muscle‐​flexing.”</p> <p>The most dangerous possibility would be preparation for renewed intervention in the conflict. However, CNA’s Michael Kofman concluded that Russia’s movements “appear to be intended for coercive purposes, rather than as preparations for an invasion. The force size is not indicative of large‐​scale offensive plans.”&nbsp;Which should surprise no one. Manifold predictions that Moscow would conquer Ukraine or at least create a “land bridge” to Crimea have not come to pass. Russia may find the frozen conflict most useful in deterring NATO membership.</p> <p>The battle between Ukraine and Russian‐​backed separatists in Ukraine’s east has cost some 14,000 lives. Moscow bears the bulk of the blame for the civil war/​invasion, but allied missteps contributed. Expanding NATO, dismantling Serbia, supporting color revolutions in Tbilisi and Kiev, and encouraging the ouster of the elected pro‐​Russian president of Ukraine gave Moscow plenty of reason to be suspicious, feel threatened, and respond brutally.</p> <p>What might the U.S. do in response to the potential flare‐​up between Russia and Ukraine? Although the administration has said little specifically, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with the Ukrainian minister of defense and, reported DOD,&nbsp;“condemned recent escalations of Russian aggressive and provocative actions in eastern Ukraine.”</p> <p>Moreover, announced the Pentagon: “Secretary Austin reiterated the U.S. commitment to building the capacity of Ukraine’s forces to defend more effectively against Russian aggression. Since 2014, the United States has committed more than $2 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, including a&nbsp;recently announced $125 million package that featured defensive weapons and other key capabilities to enhance the lethality, command and control, and situational awareness of Ukraine’s Armed Forces.”</p> <p>However, Kiev wants much more: membership in NATO and a&nbsp;formal U.S. security guarantee. This has been Washington’s formal position going back to 2008. When the president called Zelensky, Biden spoke about “Ukraine’s Euro‐​Atlantic aspirations,” which sounded like NATO.</p> <p>So far European opposition has blocked Kiev’s accession, but Zelensky continues to push. For instance, he told&nbsp;alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that “NATO is the only way to end the war in Donbass.” Zelensky wanted a&nbsp;Membership Action Plan,&nbsp;used by 16 of NATO’s current members, for his nation, which he argued&nbsp;“will be a&nbsp;real signal for Russia.”&nbsp;Ukraine’s Gen. Ruslan Khomchak, the military’s commander‐​in‐​chief, cited Kiev’s military contributions as a “Shield for Europe” and claimed that his country’s induction into NATO would “undoubtedly benefit not only Ukraine, but the Alliance itself.”</p> <p>Even without NATO membership attached, Washington’s many expressions and acts of support are dangerous. Although without legal effect, they risk inflating Ukrainian expectations. If Kiev believes that it can act with impunity, it could act recklessly, as did Georgia in August 2008, when the latter foolishly ignited hostilities with Moscow.</p> <p>Washington then considered, but rightly rejected, intervening militarily. And likely would make the same decision regarding Ukraine. Which would be the right choice, despite the terrible consequences. Warned Anatol Lieven:</p> </div> , <blockquote> <div class="fs-lg"> <p>if the frozen conflict in Ukraine again becomes an actual war, the West would not intervene, and the Ukrainians would lose—an outcome both humiliating and dangerous for the United States, which has portrayed Ukraine as an important partner. Simply put, the Georgia‐​Russia War of 2008 should teach us that to arm other countries for war with more powerful neighbors when you have no intention of fighting to save them is not only irresponsible, it is deeply immoral.</p> </div> </blockquote> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>Far worse, however, would be going to war with Russia.&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Observed Carpenter</a>:</p> </div> , <blockquote> <div class="fs-lg"> <p>There is a&nbsp;danger that the Biden administration concludes that it must honor the implicit commitment to Ukraine’s security and actually adopts a&nbsp;military response to an outbreak of fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces. It would be the ultimate folly, since it could culminate in nuclear war, but given the intense level of hostility toward Moscow evident in the administration and much of Washington’s political elite, it is a&nbsp;possibility that can’t be ruled out.</p> </div> </blockquote> , <div class="fs-sm"> <p>At least American rhetorical and military support are not new. More ominous is Moscow’s apparent fear of U.S. troop deployments to Ukraine.&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Reuters reported</a>&nbsp;the Kremlin’s warning “that any deployment of NATO troops to Ukraine would lead to further tensions near Russia’s borders and force Moscow to take extra measures to ensure its own security.”</p> <p>This would be a&nbsp;dramatic escalation, though the idea isn’t new. For instance, in 2014 columnist&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Charles Krauthammer advocated</a>&nbsp;providing weapons and advisers to Ukraine: “Any Russian push into western Ukraine would then engage a&nbsp;thin tripwire of NATO trainer/​advisers. That is something the most rabid Soviet expansionist never risked. Nor would Putin.”</p> <p>The “nor would Putin” assumption was more hope than experience and could have resulted in disaster. Creating a&nbsp;U.S. military presence in a&nbsp;region viewed as vital by an already suspicious nuclear‐​armed power would be tempting fate. Especially since any conflict would be all on America. Instead, NATO&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">held military exercises in the country</a>&nbsp;amid the crisis.</p> <p>Even before the current contretemps, the Europeans, who are closest to any potential action, made it clear that they won’t be defending Ukraine. (<a href="" target="_blank">It’s not even clear that most Europeans would defend each other or cooperate with America.</a>)&nbsp;And today? Noted Lieven: “As for NATO’s European members, even the most virulently anti‐​Russian of them have done absolutely nothing to prepare for war. … No NATO government (including the United States) is actually behaving as if they expected to have to do any such thing.”</p> <p>What justification would there be for the U.S., with or without the Europeans, to prepare for war?</p> <p>Stuck in a&nbsp;bad neighborhood, Ukraine has a&nbsp;long, fascinating, and tragic history. Although Kiev deserves sympathy, that is no justification for making its mistreatment a&nbsp;<em>casus belli</em>. Alliances are supposed to promote American security, not provide international charity. And treating Ukraine would make the U.S. less safe.</p> <p>An apparently feverish William Taylor, former American ambassador to Kiev, claimed: “Ukraine is on the front line” and “It affects the world that we live in, that our children will grow up in and our grandchildren.” Actually, not every spot on earth is the last redoubt against the forces of autocracy seeking to impose a&nbsp;new Dark Ages upon the planet. Certainly not Ukraine.</p> <p>The current conflict, involving the seizure of Crimea (which resulted in no combat) and support for separatists in the Donbass in eastern Ukraine (now largely frozen by a&nbsp;ceasefire, despite sporadic incidents), has had terrible humanitarian results for those directly affected. However, there has been surprisingly little impact outside of the two countries involved.</p> <p>There certainly is no threat to America or Europe. What happened in Ukraine didn’t matter to America when the former was part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. It doesn’t matter now. Kiev also isn’t important for European security. Moscow has no interest in triggering Armageddon by attacking for no reason. The continent would be impossible to digest even if consumed.</p> <p>Talk of danger to the international order is overblown. The U.S. and NATO launched an illegal, aggressive war against Yugoslavia. Washington did the same against Iraq—with devastating consequences—and backed an illegal, aggressive war by Saudi Arabia against Yemen. The international order survived.</p> <p>Some war hawks assume that Washington’s failure to go to war everywhere against everyone reduces its credibility when genuinely vital interests might be at stake. They apparently imagine that Putin sees a&nbsp;lack of American action as a&nbsp;green light for further territorial aggrandizement. However, his failure to act over the last seven years suggests not.</p> <p>Presumably he can calculate the difference between Washington going to war over Ukraine and protecting the American homeland or a&nbsp;treaty ally. Indeed, Moscow’s evident sensitivity to the potential of Kiev joining NATO underscores the issue. The U.S. and Russia seem to have worked out an unspoken&nbsp;<em>modus vivendi</em>. Neither will fight over a&nbsp;country the other is willing to fight over, which effectively leaves the continent to America and Ukraine to Russia—and peace intact. War for credibility is an idiot bargain.</p> <p>Anyway, it isn’t obvious how the U.S. would defend Ukraine. Mike Sweeney of Defense Priorities observed: “It would be negligent of the U.S. to admit Ukraine into NATO without a&nbsp;clear idea for how its 1,200&nbsp;mile‐​border with Russia would be defended, short of total reliance on the threat of nuclear war—a dangerous and outdated strategy.” What is there about Ukraine that would make its security worth a&nbsp;possible nuclear war?</p> <p>Ukraine’s NATO advocates act as if membership is a&nbsp;decision for Kiev, asserting that Moscow should not be allowed to veto any country joining the anti‐​Russia alliance. True, but&nbsp;<em>Washington&nbsp;</em>should veto new members that make the U.S. less secure, as Ukraine would. Bringing in a&nbsp;member already involved in a&nbsp;conflict with Russia, which might require nuclear weapons for its defense, is simply not in America’s interest. Yet as long NATO membership appears possible, Moscow may view the Donbas conflict as the best way to forestall an offer being made.</p> <p>Kiev has been treated unfairly, but it is stuck in a&nbsp;bad neighborhood. Washington cannot change that. Treating Russia as an enemy in response is stupid policy. Doing so risks tossing away the chief benefits of ending the Cold War. Doing so also risks starting a&nbsp;hot war with Moscow. The Biden administration should put the interest and security of Americans first.</p> </div> Thu, 08 Apr 2021 08:42:02 -0400 Doug Bandow