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—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.”
WASHINGTON, DC—Defense Priorities President Edward King issued the following statement following the passing of Sen. John McCain:
“Throughout his life, Sen. John McCain personified patriotism and service to country. He defined himself by his character, unflinching conviction, and willingness to stand strongly for the things in which he believed, including a lifelong opposition to torture. We had our disagreements with the senator, too, but now is not the time to rehearse those. I honor Sen. McCain’s life and legacy of service and pray for his family during this difficult time.”
WASHINGTON, DC—In response to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Indo-Pacific policy address today at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Indo-Pacific Business Forum, Defense Priorities senior fellow Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement:
“Secretary Pompeo’s remarks today are a welcome respite from the misguided approach U.S. leaders often take in discussing the region, which is to treat it as an arena for military competition against China with trade as an afterthought.
“The Secretary rightly focused on how U.S. investment can open business opportunities and enhance prosperity on both sides of the Pacific. That is worth emphasizing at time when North Korea’s missiles and China’s ambitions dominate most discussions of U.S. policy in Asia. Even China's growth, for all the concern it generates, is more an opportunity for the United States to profit than a threat. We can get far greater return on our investment in Asia if we can heighten trade with China and lessen the cost of our military posture there, by shifting some the cost of our alliances from U.S. taxpayers and service-members to our rich allies.
“Pompeo’s emphasis on promoting a ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific is also useful. Hopefully, that language indicates a shift for the administration away from counterproductive trade policies and toward free-market economic engagement and exchange. That’s the best way to enhance America’s security and prosperity, as well as promote our shared values in the region.”
WASHINGTON, DC—Following today’s summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Defense Priorities president Edward King issued the following statement:
“While everyone should remain skeptical that Kim Jong-un will denuclearize anytime soon, I am hopeful that today’s historic summit marks the beginning of the long diplomatic process necessary for sustained peace on the Korean Peninsula.
“In the meantime, there is no doubt about America’s enduring security, which is guaranteed by our overwhelming conventional and nuclear capabilities. Our unmatched deterrent will keep us safe indefinitely from North Korea, as it does far greater powers.
“I commend President Trump for seizing this opportunity for increased diplomatic engagement and remind him that the U.S. wins as long as we avoid an unnecessary war on the Korean Peninsula.”
WASHINGTON, DC—Today is the deadline for millions of Americans to file their federal income tax returns. At Defense Priorities, we believe that economic prosperity and national security go hand-in-hand. With that in mind, Edward King, president of Defense Priorities, has issued the following statement:
“America’s economic prosperity is the foundation of our national power. With an ever-growing debt burden and continued reckless increases in federal spending, our national security is at risk. Today, we must acknowledge the fiscal consequences of our undisciplined foreign and domestic policies.
“The federal government cannot spend beyond its means forever. A tax system should place as little burden on productive activities while raising revenue for the necessary programs of government.Congress is obligated to make the critical decisions to protect our long-term prosperity and preserve our status as the world’s strongest economic, diplomatic, and military power.
“Serious leadership and thoughtful initiative are required to put our nation’s defense on a sustainable and fiscally responsible foundation. Pursuing a realistic grand strategy and operational efficiencies—increasing allied burden sharing, reducing excess basing capacity, auditing the Pentagon, and updating authorizations based on a sober assessment of U.S. interests—would improve our military’s capabilities, strength, and effectiveness.”
Read more about opportunities for federal government savings in The Washington Times editorial by Defense Priorities policy advisor Robert Moore.
WASHINGTON, DC—Following the most recent chemical attack in Syria, President Trump vowed that those responsible will have a “big price to pay.” Tonight, without congressional authorization, Trump announced military strikes targeting the Bashar al-Assad regime in response.
In response, Edward King, president of Defense Priorities, issued the following statement:
“The undeniably heinous chemical weapons attack in Syria is one of many atrocities from that country’s ongoing civil war. But outrage does not necessarily mean unauthorized military strikes are the appropriate response.
“We must think through our policy more carefully, otherwise the U.S. response to Assad killing people in Syria will simply be killing more people in Syria, the opposite of our intended result. Does a U.S. military strike actually do anything to lessen the suffering of those people? No, of course not.
“The most important policy question now is: ‘What comes next?’ Sometimes, as in this case, no good military option exists. The best possible option for America is to not get further involved in Syria's civil war, an intractable and complex conflict disconnected from our safety.
“President Trump was right when he announced his intention to withdraw U.S. soldiers from Syria’s long-running civil war. U.S. foreign policy should be guided by a realistic grand strategy, not dictated by the ebb and flow of local events in this brutal conflict.
“These strikes threaten to get the United States more deeply involved. We risk inadvertently prolonging the conflict and potentially clashing with nuclear-armed Russia or with Iran, rather than minimizing Syrian death and destruction. Another is getting dragged into a counterproductive, costly regime-change and nation-building operation.
“When it comes to foreign policy, outcomes matter, not intentions. As we have painfully learned over the last decade and a half, we should ignore the advice of those who are today clamoring for increased intervention. With no direct interests at stake and no good military options available, using other tools of statecraft is the wisest course of action.”
Kurt Couchman, Vice President of Public Policy at Defense Priorities, issued the following statement:
“Only Congress may authorize the use of military force in our constitutional republic, except to defend against actual or imminent attacks on the United States. The president acted without proper legal authority and without serious debate or decision from the people’s representatives. If Congress does not stand up for the rule of law, its continued erosion will undermine not only our security, but ultimately also our freedom and prosperity.”