A recent website scan of the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees shows no hearings scheduled on the growing crisis in Venezuela and only boilerplate statements from committee leaders asking for more information from the administration or in support of President Trump’s actions.
We should hope Ambassador Khalilzad succeeds as he makes the rounds in regional capitals and engages in long negotiating sessions with the Taliban. But even if he doesn’t, America’s involvement in the Afghan war should come to an end.
At the very least, Americans should seriously debate NATO’s role in today’s world, moving beyond platitudes. NATO requires of America serious obligations—we’re talking about potentially risking nuclear war if one of NATO’s members were involved in a conflict. Above all, our policymakers need to put the American people and our troops first.
Letting the Afghan war “muddle along” has been a grievous mistake. Since 2002, roughly 2,500 American service-members and 4,000 American contractors have been killed in Afghanistan, including four just over Thanksgiving. As John Kerry asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971, after returning from that other quagmire in Vietnam, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
U.S. withdrawal would not fix Afghanistan’s problems—and the violence that has plagued that country since long before American troops deployed in 2001 will continue for the foreseeable future. But it requires a break from reality to argue that staying put offers any plausible route to U.S.-orchestrated peace. Extending this generational conflict will only add to the list of unintended and unwanted consequences of years-long occupation. It will only increase the costs of Washington’s strategic foreign policy failure, mire us deeper in a futile nation-building project, and foster anger and chaos instead of the stability Afghanistan needs.
Unexpected federal spending must be an option for emergencies, but the consequences cannot be ignored. Instead of trying and failing to pursue immediate offsets, however, a more realistic approach would recoup those costs over several years. Congress could still address immediate challenges without losing sight of the big picture. That’s the balance the American people expect their public servants to strike on their behalf.
It’s time for the foreign policy elite in Washington to finally reach the conclusion many Americans reached years ago: while the U.S. is immensely influential, it has neither the power, influence, or interest to solve other people’s political problems.
That is unfortunate because the initial push to draw down U.S. military intervention in Somalia was the right one. If Trump isn’t planning to draw down U.S. intervention in Somalia, he should be. Counter-terror in Somalia is a parochial issue which poses no existential threat to America, and there’s no reason for Washington to do Mogadishu’s job.
Syria was becoming a distraction to the great-power strategy the Trump administration should resource. By getting out of Syria, the U.S. nips further mission creep in the bud and refocuses the national security bureaucracy on the priorities that can impact America’s security and economic prosperity.
Trump is right to accept victory in Syria. By September, the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria had lost 99 percent of the territory its vaunted caliphate once held, according to a Pentagon inspector general’s report. With the last vestiges of ISIS territory in Syria falling to U.S.-backed forces in recent days, the goal that drew America into Syria is achieved.
It will be one of the many ironies of the Trump administration if the short-term seduction of a bit of free real estate undermines what might otherwise have turned out to be one of the administration’s few foreign-policy successes: the improvement of alliance burden sharing, an objective sought not only by this President, but by all of his predecessors.
When a project is so grossly mismanaged, that alone should raise strategic questions: Is this something we need to do? Is it crucial to U.S. security? Is it protecting vital U.S. interests and keeping Americans safe? Do the American people even want this done on their behalf? Don’t only ask whether the price for U.S. support of the Saudi war in Yemen was right; ask if it was right for the United States to be involved at all: Should we have refueled those bombers in the first place? Polling indicates most Americans say “no,” and with good reason.
The Pentagon doesn’t need more appropriations of taxpayer money—it needs a foreign policy leadership willing to recognize that nearly two decades of counterinsurgency, regime change campaigns, and meandering wars have degraded the U.S. military and put extreme pressure on the U.S. Treasury.
The U.S. foreign policy establishment must undergo a reassessment of Washington’s relationships with both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, viewing them less as the antidote for the region’s systemic security problems and more as the transactional arrangements they have been for decades.
The United States has remained the major military power and leader within NATO by an enormous margin. As a result, all European NATO armies, not just the Germans, have shortchanged common defense by free riding on American power. This defense welfare, funded by the American taxpayer, serves no one’s interests.
In this case, the wiser course is condemnation of Moscow’s malfeasance, diplomatic engagement if appropriate, and care to avoid exacerbating conflict with another nuclear state.
The U.S. would be able to pass on much of the cost of protecting Europe—in both blood and treasure—to Europeans themselves, who are already geopolitically situated to stand up for Western interests, in tandem with their American allies, in relation to Russia and non-state threats from Africa and the Middle East.
For those on either side of the aisle interested in passing meaningful policy into law, there are areas where President Trump and Congressional Democrats could work together—national security and foreign policy.
Improved relations between the Koreas make a military conflagration far less likely, and thus serve U.S. national security interests in East Asia. Ultimately for the United States, it is peace on the Korean Peninsula that truly matters.
American leaders must understand how cycles of escalation happen and how to break them before they get out of hand. To do otherwise would be a disservice to everyone who has and will serve. Veterans Day and the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I should be a time to remember that.
Washington must not get involved in another war and reconstruction effort that it cannot handle. Instead, America should offer direct aid, coordination an international humanitarian response, and assist Venezuela's neighbors in housing and caring for those who have fled. Washington should also continue to put financial and diplomatic pressure on Mauro. But nothing more.
It is not in U.S. security interests to maintain an unnecessarily provocative military stance against China in which miscalculation or mistake could result in a military clash. Such an outcome could be catastrophic for American security and economic prosperity.
We are long past the point in which U.S. involvement in Yemen—involvement that Congress has not expressly authorized—is making the prospects of a political resolution more difficult to envision. American military and logistical assistance to the Saudi coalition is morally strategically bankrupt. The U.S. can no longer squander it’s good name on a war in which all of the belligerents are engaging in ruthless conduct.
America does not need to try and be the referee of the Middle East and force sides to the negotiating table in the Yemen civil war. The best thing we can do for peace is to immediately withdraw our military support and encourage the sides to find a political solution.
Washington should work with Russia when we can and challenge Russia when we must. Promoting personal exchanges between lawmakers in Washington and Moscow—as Sen. Paul proposes—seems like a small, but potentially worthwhile step in the right direction.
The Khashoggi affair and Riyadh’s floundering cover up of the murder demonstrates why putting all of America’s chips in the Saudi pot is dangerous. While the U.S. should always look for opportunities to engage the Saudis on mutual problems, Washington should no longer confuse Saudi Arabia’s interests with its own.
The Middle East is an epicenter of violence. It will only be able to turn itself around when the region’s politicians have the incentive, determination, and leadership to take ownership of the crises currently inflicting their neighborhood. The U.S. military should not be put in the position of doing it for them, nor should the American people be on the hook for throwing their hard-earned taxpayer dollars towards a project that will inevitably fail.
If the Trump administration will not set about substantially changing that relationship (and recent history suggests it will not), Congress must act. Putting an end to arms sales is the first step, and it already has bipartisan support in the Senate. Washington’s habit of turning a blind eye to Saudi malfeasance has never been principled or prudent. The crisis in Yemen and the apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi make it inexcusable.
The raison d’etre for creating the UN following World War II was to have a forum for nations to bring concerns and openly communicate in an attempt to prevent future violence. This is still a viable goal in the 21st century, but for the U.S. must be within the context of our interests and what we believe is achievable. To do that, President Trump must nominate an ambassador who has as much experience and passion for our governing principles as they do with international affairs, and will use our membership in the UN to advance our nation’s economic and security goals.
The killing of a journalist is an unconscionable act, especially when the assailant is a supposed U.S. friend. U.S.-Saudi ties, however, were never founded upon friendship, shared values, a mutual sense of ethics, or a common history—they were founded upon pragmatism and realpolitik. If the pragmatism is wearing off, or the other party is acting counter to U.S. interests, Washington should reassess the assumptions underlying the partnership.
To inform citizens, thought leaders, and policy makers of the importance of a strong, dynamic military—used more judiciously to protect America's narrowly defined national interests—and promote a realistic grand strategy prioritizing restraint, diplomacy, and free trade to ensure American security.