EXPERTS AVAILABLE FOR COMMENT & APPEARANCES
Defense Priorities—a conservative think tank focused on promoting a realistic national defense strategy—is making several foreign policy analysts, military experts, and defense fellows available for comment and broadcast media interviews. View our available specialists below. Read Politico’s profile on Defense Priorities.
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Andrew J. Bacevich
Daniel L. Davis
BENJAMIN H. FRIEDMAN
WASHINGTON, DC—Defense Priorities senior fellow Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, USA, Ret. issued the following statement in response to reports of the deaths of U.S. soldiers and civilians in Syria:
“This tragic loss of life should remind everyone of the grave risks involved when keeping U.S. military in Syria. This is exactly why the president was right to order the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops last month.
“With the military mission to liberate territory previously held by ISIS nearly complete and Russia firmly entrenched in the western region, the United States has achieved all it reasonably can in Syria. Staying comes with great cost to America with little to no reward.
“The reality is that even after our withdrawal, ISIS will still be locked in lethal struggles with Syria, Russia, and Iran—our leaving does not do them any favors.
“The longer the Trump administration delays the previously announced withdrawal, the more we needlessly risk U.S. servicemembers' lives.
“The security of our homeland is preserved through aggressive global intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, along with robust homeland security. It is time to expedite the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria before any more troops are killed.”
WASHINGTON, DC—In case you missed it, Defense Priorities fellows and military experts have published several editorials applauding President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.
As Benjamin H. Friedman and Justin Logan explained in USA Today:
"Trump is right to accept victory in Syria. By September, ISIS 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 Islamic State territory in Syria falling to U.S.-backed forces in recent days, the goal that got the U.S. into Syria is achieved.
"ISIS’s demise means there is nothing left worth fighting to win there. The risks of blundering into a war with a rival power are profound, and no possible benefit justifies them. We should not pay the costs of managing the end game of Syria’s civil war so that Russia and Iran do not. The Assad regime is winning its civil war, and supporting rebels merely prolongs the fighting and its tragic consequences. The United States is not obligated to fight for the Kurds or anyone else there. The decision to pull troops is the right one, however one feels about messenger and process that produced it."
Akhi Pillalamarri echoed these sentiments in The Los Angeles Times:
"The administration’s move to get out of Syria, and consider a similar path in Afghanistan makes mission creep more difficult. Given the volatility of the Middle East, there will always be some reason or another to justify a U.S. troop presence in as many countries as possible, whether it is to protect Israel, Saudi Arabia, or the Kurds, push back against Iran or Russia, or fight some militant or terrorist group. Some of these goals are definitely worthy, but can be achieved through diplomacy, surgical strikes, or by working with America’s partners in the region. An expensive, open-ended U.S. troop presence in multiple Middle Eastern countries certainly isn’t necessary to protect our national security objectives."
Charles Pena goes on to debunk the recycled talking points of the foreign policy elite in The Hill:
"What neoconservatives should be concerned about is the potential consequences of Russian intervention on behalf of Assad. Why should we run the risk of direct confrontation with Russia—the only country in the world with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the United States—over a regime in Damascus that does not pose a threat to our national security?
"And while Sen. Graham is concerned that "[a]n American withdrawal will put the Kurds ... at tremendous risk," he should be more concerned about the American people he serves and the Constitution he is sworn to uphold—which is "to provide for the common defense," not defending other people or countries.
"Ultimately, the primary and overriding criteria for putting the U.S. military in harm’s way should be when U.S. national security is directly at stake. That has never been the case in Syria."
In The National Interest, Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis concludes:
“The president needs to override the Washington interventionists on this matter, because the overwhelming weight of evidence is on his side: there is no threat to America’s security that justifies the deployment of lethal military power, there is great strategic risk for our country because of the still-burning civil war there, and as important, it has never been authorized by Congress.
"It’s important to note that the troops in Syria were originally sent there by the Obama Administration for the purpose of helping the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces drive ISIS from their so-called ‘capital’ of Raqqa. That mission was successfully completed in October 2017."
WASHINGTON, DC—A recent survey found that 57 percent of Americans, including 69 percent of military veterans, would support a decision by the president to remove all troops from Afghanistan. Following President Trump's decision on withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, Defense Priorities Senior Fellow Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, USA, Ret. issued the following statement calling for an end to the Afghanistan war:
“As important as it is for the U.S. military to withdraw from Syria, it is even more critical President Trump end the 17-year war in Afghanistan to focus on higher priorities, like deterring great power conflict.
“The United States achieved all it could in Afghanistan when it displaced al-Qaeda and replaced the Taliban government that hosted them by 2002. Since then, Washington has been fighting, and losing, a second war that has neither clear aims or a specified, achievable end state. The result is a permanent state of war.
“Relying on an estimated $45 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds annually, Afghanistan has failed to stand up effective security forces and remains one of the most corrupt governments in the world. Taliban insurgent groups have grown in numbers from 20,000 to 60,000, and today control as much territory as they have since 2002. That's after a surge of 140,000 U.S. and NATO troops. Based on my two combat deployments to Afghanistan, I can confidently state this conflict will never be resolved with U.S. military forces, regardless of how many we deploy or how many decades we leave them there.
“The U.S. military has vastly improved its capability to monitor territory with surveillance technology and launch strikes against enemies with drones, raids, bombs, and cruise missiles. We can eliminate direct threats without a permanent troop presence or nation building, freeing up resources for vital U.S. security interests. Afghanistan's future must be won by Afghans, not Americans.”
WASHINGTON, DC—Following President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, the Washington foreign policy establishment recycled arguments for a permanent military presence in that country without justifying U.S. security or prosperity interest.
In response to the fear mongering from Beltway elites, Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement:
“If the country embraced the arguments of interventionists like Sens. Lindsay Graham (SC), Jack Reed (RI), and Robert Menendez (NJ), the United States would never leave Syria, we’d still have a hundred of thousands of troops in Iraq, and U.S. forces would endlessly toil in that region’s civil wars, draining U.S. taxpayers to nation-build.
“The United States did not go into Syria to tilt the balance of its civil war, depose Assad, build a new Syria, or establish a Kurdish statelet. The U.S. military was to liberate territory held by the Islamic State. Syria is a poor country in the midst of civil war, not a strategic prize that heightens rivals' power.
“The war in Syria these senators support so energetically has never been authorized by the body in which they serve.”
WASHINGTON, DC—President Trump today announced his decision to pull more than 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria following the end of the mission to destroy the “caliphate” of the Islamic State. In response, Defense Priorities Senior Fellow and Defense Scholar Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement:
“President Trump’s announced decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria is good news. The last town held by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria fell to U.S.-backed Kurdish forces last week, so the ’caliphate’ it once held is almost entirely eliminated. The goal that got U.S. forces into Syria is essentially achieved.
“The fact that none of his top security advisors seem to agree with his decision suggests the president needs better security advice. President Trump could use security advisors who are less eager to start new wars and more willing to implement his decisions to end them.
“No national security interest justifies U.S. forces to remain in Syria, just a series of bad arguments offered by proponents of indefinite involvement in its civil war: ensuring ISIS’s ’enduring’ defeat, battling Russia or Iran for influence, and U.S. allegiance to the SDF and other rebels we backed there. But with the main goal achieved, the risks of keeping forces there—starting with the possibility of war Russia, Iran, or even NATO ally Turkey—badly outweigh any potential benefits. Nothing in Syria is worth these risks.
“The difference between the stated mission to defeat ISIS and the ’enduring’ sort is that the latter invites further mission creep into the failed nation-building missions we’ve tried elsewhere.
“Keeping forces in Syria to balance Russia or compete with Iran risks war with one of those states, which would be disastrous. Both were invited there by the Assad regime and both have longstanding and enduring interests in Syria, unlike the United States.
“Syria offers occupiers lots of potential trouble and nothing that can vault them to greater power. Leaving our enemies with the draining task of trying to stabilize Syria is hardly a favor to them.
“It’s true that a U.S. withdrawal will make things harder for the SDF, the primarily Kurdish force that led the fight against ISIS and is strongly opposed by Turkey. U.S. officials can try to broker their safety from Turkish attack and encourage efforts to negotiate an accommodation with the Assad regime. But U.S. forces were sent into Syria to defeat ISIS, not to guarantee Kurdish autonomy. We do not owe them indefinite protection.
“Keep in mind that Congress never authorized President Obama's decision to deploy troops to Syria in the first place. And Congress has not used oversight power to interrogate the shifting rationales for continuing it.”
WASHINGTON, DC—Following this week’s Yemen peace talks, Defense Priorities Senior Fellow and Defense Scholar Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement:
“The U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Sweden could create progress toward a resolution of Yemen's civil war, which has produced the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
“The United States can be principled in Yemen because U.S. security is not at stake there. Iran is not poised to take over Yemen and would not benefit if it did. The Saudis will not stop selling oil if the United States stops aiding their military attacks there. If anything, backing the Saudi-UAE-led war harms U.S. security by making enemies and exacerbating the chaotic conditions that have allowed al-Qaeda and ISIS to take root. U.S. interests and values align in Yemen. We can support peace without ambivalence.
“The United States should end the military support that enables our Gulf client states, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and their allies, to bomb Yemen. The Trump administration’s step last month to end mid-air refueling of Saudi-coalition aircraft was overdue but insufficient; intelligence sharing and munitions sales for that war should also stop. That step would pressure the Saudi coalition to end its military campaign and make it easier for the warring Yemeni parties to cut a peace deal.”
WASHINGTON, DC—Following today’s U.S. Senate vote to debate S.J.Res.54, a resolution to end U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen, Defense Priorities Senior Fellow and Defense Scholar Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement:
“Aiding the Saudi-UAE-led military campaign in Yemen's civil war undermines U.S. security and damages its reputation as an exemplar of liberal values.
“Because U.S. interests in Yemen are limited, Washington has the luxury to be principled. It is true that international politics is often tragic—security can sometimes demand allying with human rights abusers. But working with the Saudis in Yemen is not a “necessary evil.” It offends our interests and values without a justifying security payoff.
“America’s unauthorized involvement in Yemen, which began under the Obama administration, demonstrates a growing problem in U.S. foreign policy: Congress has abdicated its war powers, letting the White House make war unilaterally. The loss of checks and balances upsets the Constitution's design and harms policy by freeing it from the debate and compromise that democratic approval requires. The Senate vote today is a small but significant step toward Congress reclaiming its constitutional powers and pursuing a foreign policy more in with the American people’s interests rather than Washington’s.”
WASHINGTON, DC—Defense Priorities Senior Fellow and Defense Scholar Benjamin H. Friedman has issued the following statement on the Ukraine-Russia standoff in the Kerch Strait:
“By attacking and seizing three Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea, Russia has increased tensions with Ukraine. The United States should join its European allies in calling for the return of ships and the reopening of the Kerch Strait, allowing ships to enter the Sea of Azov, which Russia blocked in the wake of the incident. But we should also guard against being propelled into a new Cold War, an approach that promises little but heightened risk and cost.
“As an advocate for open seas and abiding by agreements, the United States should take Ukraine’s side diplomatically. Under a 2003 treaty with Russia, Ukrainian ships have the right to freely transit the strait. Russia’s action is doubly wrong in that it serves Russia’s policy of attacking Ukrainian sovereignty by backing rebels. U.S. policy on the conflict should be to advocate a settlement that restores Ukraine’s pre-war borders.
“Yesterday’s incident is an example of the challenge in maintaining a balanced policy toward Russia. When Russia acts badly—by murdering people abroad, suppressing dissent, meddling abroad, or military aggression—U.S. leaders should vocally disapprove and use policy to demonstrate that such actions have a cost. At the same time, U.S. leaders should keep the following in mind:
“The United States is not responsible for protecting Ukraine. No treaty or important U.S. interest obligates the United States to fight for Ukraine.
“Punitive actions toward Russia might please Kiev while damaging U.S. security. Hiking military aid to Ukraine, for example, might just delay its ability to reach the modus vivendi with its more powerful neighbor. That might appeal to Ukrainians who see their own relative weakness as a rationale for entering NATO and getting the protection of the U.S. military. But that course would add defense costs for the United States and greatly increase the odds of a major or nuclear war, without any clear security benefit to America.
“Cooperative relations with Russia advance several U.S interests: arms control deals, exiting Syria, and, in the longer term, even balancing Chinese power. Actions meant to punish Russia could provide leverage in these other areas or provoke a backlash disruptive to progress.
“U.S. conflict with Russia can be reduced by recognizing that our European allies should take the lead in balancing its power and sanctioning its misconduct.
“Cooperative relations with Russia do not require praise or ideological harmony. The United States should join its allies condemning Russia for its misdeeds while acknowledging its status as a major power with a vast nuclear weapons arsenal. Russia is not a burgeoning hegemon poised to restore the Soviet empire. Nor is it a weakling likely to collapse and reform as a nice liberal place any time soon. The United States should treat Russia with firmness, respect, and recognition that it poses little direct threat to us.”
WASHINGTON, DC—In response to President Trump's statement on the Khashoggi murder, Defense Priorities Senior Fellow and Defense Scholar Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement:
“While much has been made about President’s Trump’s refusal to accept the CIA’s assessment that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the operation to murder Jamal Khashoggi, it is not the most troubling part of this saga.
“President Trump’s denial of the obvious is merely the latest display of Washington’s long tradition of misguided devotion to the Saudis.
“Shifting focus to Iran, a nation led by a regime undeniably guilty of malign behavior in the Middle East, gives the false impression that there is a good side and a bad side in the fight between Tehran and Riyadh. Neither side has clean hands, neither side shares America’s interests or values, and neither side is deserving of America's unconditional support.
“Iran’s many sins are well known. But Saudi Arabia has done the most to exacerbate the humanitarian disaster in Yemen by bombing. Saudi Arabia has been the world’s greatest state supporter of terrorism, especially against the west. Saudi Arabia has lately been the biggest source of trouble in the Middle East.
“If Iran were uniquely dangerous or nearly as threatening as the Trump administration claims, devotion to the Saudis might make sense. But Iran is relatively weak and nowhere close to becoming a regional hegemon.
“Being prosperous, powerful, and safely removed from the brutal politics of the Middle East allows the United States to be principled and balanced in our approach there. We do not have to choose between our interests and our values when it comes to Saudi Arabia. We should acknowledge Mohammed bin Salman is the murderous despot everyone knows him to be. And we should treat Saudi Arabia as neither a friend nor an enemy, but a normal autocracy that we do business with but do not praise, sponsor, or serve.”
WASHINGTON, DC—In response to a breaking report from The Washington Post, Defense Priorities Senior Fellow and Defense Scholar Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement:
“The reported decision by the Trump administration to stop aerial refueling of Saudi bombing flights in Yemen is welcome but insufficient.
“U.S. military support for this conflict is something President Obama should have never started. The military campaign launched by the Saudis and UAE in 2015 against Yemen’s Houthi rebels is a humanitarian disaster that does nothing to advance U.S. security—if anything it undermines it.
“The United States should end the other forms of intelligence and logistical support provided to the Saudis, including the arms sales aiding their bombing campaign. America should recalibrate its relationship with the Gulf monarchies, treating them as neither adversaries nor allies, but as normal autocracies that we can work and trade with without endorsing their illiberal actions.
“Houthi rule of part or all of Yemen may be undesirable, but it is no threat to the United States. Nor do the other stated reasons given for aiding our Gulf allies withstand scrutiny. Saudi oil, a diminishing asset, will flow because the kingdom depends on its profits—and the Saudis do nothing useful to balance Iran that they do not have a self-interest in doing, with or without U.S. support.
“By backing the Saudi and UAE war in Yemen, Washington has exacerbated a civil war that has given refuge to anti-American terrorists, enabled a humanitarian crisis, and tarnished our standing as an exemplar of liberal values. These costs are not justified by any potential gains from our involvement in this civil war.
“The Trump administration is right to press for an overdue settlement to the war. Limiting support for the Saudis advances encourages them to settle.”