Senate fails to reclaim its war powers, but takes significant step

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
June 28, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—On Friday, the U.S. Senate voted down an amendment by Sen. Tom Udall (NM) to reinforce the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution. Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“The president has no constitutional authority to launch military strikes against any nation, except only to repel an actual or imminent attack. Our founders knew such power should not be entrusted to one person, so the Constitution divides war powers. The American people should decide through their elected representatives in the House and Senate.

“Even after 9/11, it was Congress who authorized President Bush to go after Al-Qaeda and the Taliban who harbored them in Afghanistan. President Bush went back to Congress to seek a new authorization to invade Iraq. Nearly two decades later, there is no credible argument that the current administration has the authority to go to war with Iran.

“Abdication of Congress’ war powers is an affront to Americans who have a right to be involved, through their representatives, in decisions about war and peace, and an assault on U.S. foreign policy.

“Iran is a middling power that poses no direct threat to the United States. The American people rightly oppose another Middle East war, which is likely to escalate into a prolonged, bloody quagmire or worse, rather than the quick, antiseptic airstrikes its proponents claim.

“War with Iran will harm U.S. security interests by dragging us into years or decades of greater enmity with Iran and its supporters in the region; keeping U.S. forces stuck there; making them targets; and creating massive, enduring costs. And it will fail to achieve a positive strategic outcome. War is unlikely to change Iran’s policies or regime—it is likely to encourage its pursuit of nuclear weapons and entrench hardline policies.

“Attempts to claw back Congress’ power are admirable and should be encouraged. Checks and balances lead to more effective foreign policies, more productive engagement with the world, and safeguard our domestic liberty.”

View a brief explainer on U.S.-Iran policy from Defense Priorities or download the PDF.

Iranian escalation is a predictable outcome of maximum pressure, not justification for U.S. military strikes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
June 20, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—On Thursday, the White House briefed Members of Congress on Iran’s recent shoot-down of an unmanned U.S. drone in international airspace near its coastline. Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“We don't need to absolve Iran of any blame to admit its recent escalation is a predictable result of maximum pressure. Iran interventionists, led by National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have pushed Tehran toward desperate acts that create a pretext for conflict.

“Since pulling out of the JCPOA, despite Iran’s compliance, Washington has reimposed nuclear sanctions to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero and strangle its economy.

“It does not surprise foreign policy realists that Bolton and Pompeo’s approach has resulted in Iran acting desperately to escape maximum pressure and economic devastation, not surrender. These are predictable outcomes of unrealistic U.S. policies, not justification for military strikes or war.

“The U.S. should not take massive risks for minor deterrence gains or confuse the safety of drones with vital U.S. security interests. Nor should we fight wars to protect foreign shipments, especially when those governments oppose war.

“Despite Iran’s misdeeds, military strikes would be futile and reckless. Even so-called ‘limited’ or ‘targeted’ airstrikes could escalate to outright war with Iran, which could leave the U.S. military embroiled in an occupation far more bloody than Iraq. Strikes would also prevent any chance of negotiations with Iran, the president’s stated goal. We need not match Iran’s desperation with our own.”

View a brief explainer on U.S.-Iran policy from Defense Priorities or download the PDF.

“Maximum pressure” is resulting in more undesirable behavior from Iran, not less

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
June 17, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—On Monday, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan announced he authorized sending approximately 1,000 additional U.S. troops to the Middle East amid escalating tensions between the United States and Iran. Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“People who claim U.S.-Iran escalation is evidence ‘maximum pressure’ is working are wrong. It is leading to more undesirable activity from Iran, not less. There is no white flag coming from Tehran.

“The administration’s current course is likely to lead to war long before negotiations, let alone successful ones. As U.S. pressure mounts, Iran is likely to retaliate, including by direct or proxy attacks or by restarting its nuclear weapons program.

“The failure of ‘maximum pressure’ should not be used to justify an unauthorized, preventive war. There is no ‘limited strike’ option for Iran, and another prolonged Middle East war would further harm U.S. security and prosperity.”

Expect U.S.-Iran escalation unless “maximum pressure” is replaced with a diplomatic off ramp

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
June 13, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—Today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of being responsible for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and asked Tehran to “meet diplomacy with diplomacy.” Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“If evidence is provided that shows Iran is responsible for today’s attacks, it won’t be a surprise. Realists have long cautioned Iran would not respond to ‘maximum pressure’ by capitulating or negotiating—it would instead retaliate with direct or proxy attacks or by restarting its nuclear weapons program.

“Iran will not ‘meet diplomacy with diplomacy’ as long as U.S. policy is aimed at regime change by strangling Iran’s economy. The most likely result of the current path is a cycle of escalation that brings us closer to war, which President Trump says he does not want.

“To avoid war while actually reducing undesirable behavior from Iran, the United States should provide a diplomatic off ramp to address disputes. Demanding across-the-board concessions is a dead end.”

Sending more U.S. troops to Poland undermines European burden sharing

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
June 12, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—On Wednesday, at a press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda, President Trump announced he will deploy up to 2,000 U.S. troops to Poland, in addition to the more than 4,000 already there. Defense Priorities President Edward King issued the following statement in response:

“Deploying additional U.S. troops to Poland undermines prudent efforts to force Europe to do more for its own defense. An additional 2,000 troops won’t improve Poland’s security—and certainly not America’s—but are sufficient to alarm Russia, possibly provoking further security competition in eastern Europe.

“Increasing the U.S. military footprint in Poland discourages the burden sharing President Trump and prior presidents have demanded of our NATO-Europe allies. Placing U.S. forces between them and Russia absolves western Europe’s wealthy, powerful nations of responsibility for the security of their eastern neighbors and their own continent at large.

“Most European NATO members are still a long way from their commitment to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense—and most will never reach that benchmark, let alone field modern military power to contribute to the alliance. Their lack of action is telling: NATO-Europe either believes the United States is bluffing when it demands they do more for their own security, or they do not perceive a serious Russian threat. Either way, adding to the U.S. garrison in Poland does not advance America’s aims.

“Committing additional forces to Europe leaves fewer resources to address higher strategic priorities here at home and arguably in Asia.”

U.S. military forces in the Middle East should decrease, not increase by 10,000

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
May 23, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—In response to reports the Pentagon would present plans to the White House to send up to 10,000 additional U.S. troops to the Middle East amid escalating tensions with Iran, Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement:

“The United States already has more than 20,000 troops in the Middle East and more nearby. That’s already too many.

“Instead of sending 10,000 additional troops to the Middle East, the U.S. should be removing forces from the region, especially from Syria and Iraq. Those troops left behind have no coherent mission now that ISIS’s caliphate has been destroyed. U.S. forces are vulnerable to attack, which could lead to a crisis or war with Iran.

“U.S. interests in the Middle East are limited to avoiding a major disruption to global oil markets, primarily by preventing a regional hegemon, and combatting anti-American terrorists. Neither interest justifies a permanent troop presence, let alone a larger one, or war with Iran.

“As a middling power surrounded by rivals, Iran is not capable of dominating the region. And U.S. counterterrorism aims are best accomplished by cooperation with local partners and strikes from offshore, when necessary.

“The Middle East is of diminishing strategic importance to the U.S., and the threat from Iran is limited. Its malign activities, like funding extremists, are undesirable, but they show Iran’s weakness, not its strength. The Iranians are contained, and then some. We should be doing less in the region, not more.

“The ’maximum pressure’ campaign is not likely to lead Iran back to the negotiating table, the president’s stated objective—it’s most likely to result in Iran restarting its nuclear weapons program or launching direct or proxy attacks.”

U.S.-imposed regime change would make Venezuela’s problems America’s problems

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 30, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—On Tuesday, an uprising in Caracas unfolded after Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guiadó called on citizens and members of the military to join him in challenging president Nicolás Maduro. Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“Venezuela’s economic crisis is a humanitarian disaster for Venezuelans. Americans should offer sympathy, aid, and best wishes for the restoration of true democratic rule, but we should not try to force regime change there.

“Military intervention should be off the table. Forced regime change is never easy and quick, and it is far from certain it would improve the lives of Venezuelans. Toppling governments brings chaos and makes exiting difficult. Regime change could make Venezuela’s problems America’s problems.

“Even non-military efforts to aid Juan Guaidó’s gambit should be approached with great caution. A government of Venezuela that seems like a U.S. creation would lack legitimacy and could totter and induce more chaos. Statements of support are understandable, but it is unclear how much good they do, given the sensitivity to past U.S. interventions there.

“If Maduro prevails, as seems likely, the push to restore democracy in Venezuela will not disappear, but it will have suffered a serious setback. Washington will have to ask whether grudging acceptance of Maduro’s rule is better than prolonged hostility.

“The U.S. should strive to be an exemplar of liberal values and to advocate for those values where they are assaulted, as in Venezuela. But we should be not an exporter, especially by force, of our form of government.”

Baghdadi video proves he is alive, not that ISIS is thriving

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 29, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—On Monday, the Islamic State released a video message claiming to come from its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s new propaganda video is evidence that he is alive. It is not evidence that ISIS is thriving or that U.S. troops should stay in Syria or Iraq to fight its remnant.

“No true military mission is left for U.S. troops in Syria. Baghdadi does not operationally control the so-called affiliates around the world. And ISIS’ losses make others less likely to affiliate in name or to try to travel to Syria or Iraq to fight. The U.S.-led war on ISIS undercut the allure it needs to recruit, inspire, and terrorize. That is a real victory worth celebrating.

“The U.S. does not to be at the front of the already-long anti-ISIS line. Baghdadi and ISIS are hidden and hunted by an array of actors: the Kurds who did the hard fighting against them already, the Syrian government, Russians, Iran-backed militias, Iraq, and tribes who were abused by ISIS in its prime.

“To keep America safe, vigilance is required, but endless war is not. U.S. security is best served by a full military withdrawal from Syria. The U.S. military can monitor anti-American terrorist threats with intelligence and attack them with airstrikes and even raids, if necessary.”

Sanctions will harm Iran, but they are not cost-free for the U.S. and are likely to backfire

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 22, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—Today, the Trump administration announced it will no longer provide sanctions waivers for nations, including U.S. allies, if they buy oil from Iran after current exemptions expire on May 2. Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“The decision not to renew waivers on Iranian oil sanctions is short-sighted, won’t change the regime’s behavior, and will have a higher cost than benefit for the United States.

“The administration’s hope is that economic hardship brought on by sanctions will move the Iranian people to overthrow their government. It is far more likely that hardship will be blamed on the U.S., cause nationalist outrage against the west, and increase Iranian support for hardliners and harm moderates looking to cut more encompassing deals.

“In addition to risking a crisis or war with Iran, these actions are also likely to damage U.S. allies in Europe. And because the sanctions abuse U.S. financial hegemony, they incentivize alternatives to the U.S.-led global financial system and threaten a major source of America’s economic power.

“These risks might be worthwhile if the U.S. truly could not live with the current Iranian government—but we can live with them. The Iranian regime is a problematic actor, but it is not a major threat to Americans today. Whatever threat it does pose to the U.S. should be managed through deterrence and diplomacy.”

North Korea’s missile test is not a threat, and U.S. diplomacy should continue

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 17, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—Today, North Korea conducted a weapons test, its first since negotiations with the United States stalled. Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“North Korea’s latest missile test is unfortunate, but nothing new that should undermine efforts at diplomatic engagement. Kim Jong-un has launched more than 80 missiles and conducted four nuclear tests in the last decade. Like those before it, this latest test does not threaten the United States. America’s conventional and nuclear capabilities deter great powers, like China and Russia, and overwhelm weak ones like North Korea. North Korea’s leadership knows that attacking the United States would be suicide.

“Today’s tactical missile test is likely an attempt to jumpstart the stalled negotiations with the United States. It should not be rewarded, but the U.S. should continue to engage in diplomacy to reduce tensions, open North Korea, and secure peace on the Korean Peninsula.

“No amounts of threats or rewards will denuclearize North Korea in the foreseeable future, given that its weakness makes it vulnerable and dependent on those weapons for its security. The Trump administration’s approach should instead be to augment South Korea’s search for a series of deals that lead to better relations with the North.”

When sanctions fail to improve Iran’s behavior, U.S.-imposed regime change is not the answer

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 8, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—Today, the White House announced its intention to designate Iran’s IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“Designating a part of Iran’s government as a terrorist organization is a step toward saying, ‘we cannot live with them and have to bomb them.’

“There are valid reasons the United States has not previously designated a state-entity as a terrorist organization. Politicizing who we call a terrorist makes other nations less likely to take seriously the accuracy of U.S. designations, and it could expose U.S. armed forces to scurrilous charges.

“Designating the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) seems to follow a political agenda, not any new intelligence assessment. The Trump administration’s Iran policies are not going to change the regime and are unlikely to improve its behavior, but they may provoke Iran to violate the terms of the JCPOA and provoke a crisis or war.

“The Iranian regime’s bad actions are hardly a threat to the United States or grounds for crisis and armed conflict, which holds the potential for disaster. The United States should stop trying to manage that part of the world with our military and avoid another foolish war there.”

EXPLAINER: The Saudi-UAE-led intervention in Yemen’s civil war undermines U.S. security interests

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 4, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—Today, Congress voted to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-UAE-led coalition intervention in Yemen’s civil war. For more information on the Yemen crisis, view the Defense Priorities explainer and one-pager.

THE SAUDI-UAE-LED INTERVENTION IN YEMEN’S CIVIL WAR UNDERMINES U.S. SECURITY INTERESTS

America’s vital interests in the Middle East are narrow

  1. Prevent the emergence of a regional hegemon hostile to the United States

  2. Avoid major disruptions to the flow of oil

  3. Eliminate transnational terrorists who threaten (capability + intent) to strike the United States and the West

Washington’s support of the Saudi-UAE campaign undermines American interests

  • Prolonging Yemen’s civil war strengthens Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)

  • Increases resentment directed at the United States without a justifying security benefit

  • Undermines America’s moral authority and reputation as an exemplar of liberal values

  • Allows relatively minimal Iranian support to Houthis in Yemen to bog down Gulf countries

  • Enhances Iran's influence in Yemen far beyond any plausible post-conflict scenario

The Trump administration is right to press for an overdue settlement to the war in Yemen—ending U.S. military support for the coalition encourages them to settle

  • End military support for the Saudi-led coalition’s offensive missions in Yemen: refueling (announced end in November 2018), targeting assistance, operational intelligence, arms, and any other activities which enable the coalition

  • Support U.N.-led peace talks by pushing Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and their allies to settle with the Houthis

  • The U.S. cannot produce a political settlement between native Yemeni parties, but ending outside intervention and assistance will encourage one

U.S. strategic interests should guide arms sales

  • Arms sales decisions should be guided by our strategic interests, not merely our economic interests

  • The U.S. should not end all arms sales to Saudi Arabia

  • As with other nations that are not hostile to America, it is appropriate for the United States to allow the sale of weapons that enable Saudi Arabia to defend itself, such as missile defenses

  • Restrict arms sales that enable the Saudi-UAE-led coalition's ongoing prosecution of its war in Yemen because that war undermines U.S. interests

External intervention by regional powers—including Iran and Saudi Arabia—has inflamed Yemen’s civil war

  • Worsens humanitarian disaster initiated by the civil war

  • Exposes civilians to airstrikes and other harms

  • No political-military victory over the Houthis and associated forces is imminent

  • No achievable security or prosperity gains in Yemen justify the costs associated with U.S. involvement—U.S. military support for the Saudi-UAE coalition should end

NATO’s first 40 years were a success—its 30-year post-Cold War record is not

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 3, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—NATO, a Cold War military alliance formed to protect western Europe, and thereby the United States, from the threat posed by the Soviet Union, turns 70 today. With NATO foreign ministers meeting in Washington to mark the alliance’s anniversary, questions about the future of the alliance are front and center.

Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement about the serious, foundational challenges NATO must confront if it wants to sustain buy-in from its benefactors, the American people:

“Those who claim there is a NATO crisis brought on by President Trump’s hostility, Vladimir Putin’s machinations, and insufficient spending on the continent are wrong. NATO is ailing under the weight of over-expansion to include weak states; insufficient common interests undergirding the alliance; European over-dependence on U.S. security guarantees; and lack of a serious conventional threat to Europe.

“The Soviet Union’s collapse took away NATO’s raison d’être. But instead of shifting responsibility to our now rich and capable allies facing little threat, Washington confused NATO for a U.S. interest, rather than the means to secure our interests.

“Twenty-two of the 28 non-U.S. NATO members spend less than they pledge to on defense because of Europe’s safety and permanent U.S. security guarantees. For that to change, the United States should do less to defend Europe and shift burdens to our allies, rather than just lecture Europeans about burden-sharing. There should be a clear understanding that Europe defends with U.S. help, rather than we defend with their help. The ‘Four 30s’ initiative is a start.

“Somewhere along the way, Washington’s aim switched to keeping Europe dependent so that it could not practice geopolitics independent of U.S. tutelage. That mistake made the alliance into a permanent subsidy that Americans pay to Europeans and undercuts its collective power.

“A good first step to reduce Europe’s dependence and push allies to do more is to end the European Deterrence Initiative, an unnecessary, new commitment to something U.S taxpayers already over-provide. NATO is Europe’s deterrence initiative.

“Europeans should develop more military capability independent of U.S. power. That would strengthen NATO and produce no less security with less reliance on U.S. taxpayer dollars.”

View the Defense Priorities one-pager on Europe and NATO.

Senate vote on Yemen is good for American security and a rebuke of post-9/11 military entanglements

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
March 13, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—Today, the U.S. Senate voted to pass S.J.Res.7, a bipartisan resolution to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-UAE-led coalition’s intervention in Yemen’s civil war. The Senate passed the same resolution last Congress, following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Following the vote, Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement:

“The Senate vote today reflects the American people’s broad support for ending U.S. involvement in yet another Middle East civil war. It is long past time to rethink our post-9/11 foreign policy.

“The Obama administration erred in 2015 when it agreed to support the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen's civil war without congressional approval. Such a ‘necessary evil’ alliance is not necessary. No U.S. national security interest justifies American involvement. The war in Yemen has been both a strategic failure and a humanitarian disaster.

“Ending U.S. support for the Saudi-UAE campaign in Yemen will aid negotiations that could settle the civil war. That is not only good for Yemenis, but also for accomplishing U.S. counterterrorism objectives in Yemen.”

To read more about the Yemen crisis, view Defense Priorities' explainer and one-pager.

Op-ed in The New York Times: Trump aside, what’s the U.S. role in NATO?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
March 11, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—On Sunday, The New York Times published an opinion editorial by Barry R. Posen, Ford International Professor of Political Science and Director of Security Studies Program at MIT and author of Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy.

In this piece, Posen argues for a reappraisal of the U.S. role in NATO, a military alliance formed during the Cold War to defend Europe from the Soviet Union.

President Trump has many bad ideas. Reconsidering America’s role in NATO isn’t one of them.

NATO, a military alliance, was formed specifically to prevent the Soviet Union from dominating Europe, whose principal powers—Germany, France, Italy and Britain—had been so devastated by World War II that they were vulnerable to Soviet coercion, subversion or conquest. NATO also became a vehicle for rehabilitating the Axis powers—Germany and Italy—under the victors’ tutelage.

America had an enduring interest in ensuring that the Continent not fall under the domination of a single, capable, hostile power: That could pose a serious threat to America. The Truman administration was clear on this point: The main purpose of stationing American military forces in Europe in the early 1950s was to stay long enough to right the balance of power, not to stay forever...

...The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 removed the last vestiges of a major security threat to NATO, and with it, the rationale for the American military presence in Europe.

...NATO’s founding mission has been achieved and replaced with unsuccessful misadventures. The United States has urgent business at home, and arguably in Asia. Though President Trump has no strategy for returning the European allies to full responsibility for their own futures, the American foreign policy establishment could better spend its time devising such a strategy than defending the counterproductive trans-Atlantic status quo.

A reappraisal is long overdue.

Read the entire op-ed in The New York Times.

U.S. security remains guaranteed by deterrence, time is on our side, and diplomacy should continue

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 28, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—The second Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi ended without a deal. In response, Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman and Military Expert Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, USA, Ret. issued the following statements.

Benjamin H. Friedman:

“The United States can afford a hitch in talks. We have little to lose. With or without a deal, U.S. security vis-à-vis North Korea is already guaranteed by deterrence and North Korea's relative weakness. That gives the United States considerable leverage and the ability to patiently accept the outcome of this summit and look for future progress in other talks.

“The United States does not to take the lead in negotiating with North Korea. We should let the South Koreans do that; and really they have been the ones creating most of the progress thus far. The United States can agree to relax some sanctions if they find it useful in their talks.

“Denuclearization is an ambitious, if not impossible, goal in the near term. Negotiations with North Korea should continue as part of a process that aims to strengthen peace and allow for normalization of diplomacy and opening of North Korea. Denuclearization and other internal reforms should be seen as eventual goals.”

Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, USA, Ret.:

“Despite this less-than-ideal ending, the fundamentals have not changed: American security rests firmly on our unblinking military deterrent, and we are just as safe today as we were before. The long, difficult process of negotiations should nevertheless continue. Diplomacy—however slow and sometimes unsatisfying—is still in our interest and remains the best path to peace.”

Explainer from North Korea expert David C. Kang: How to evaluate the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 26, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—With President Trump set to meet Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, Vietnam, North Korea expert, David C. Kang, Director of USC's Korean Studies Institute and Maria Crutcher Professor of International Relations, provided the following explainer.

THE STAKES:

  • The stakes are not as high as many Washington analysts seem to think. The worst case would be both sides return to threats—but we have done that for decades. Rather, the stakes are what could happen if things go well, and here, the upside is quite high.

  • North Korea won’t attack us if we don’t attack them. Deterrence will hold. Threats have not worked for decades and won't work now. The best way forward is to engage and try to get the North to open up its economy and its country to outside influences, while slowly attempting to pause and even rollback its nuclear and missile programs.

  • No matter what, Hanoi is not the final step. It is one of the first steps toward finding a political relationship between the United States and North Korea that can slowly—hopefully—bring about movement away from nuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.

  • Full denuclearization is probably unrealistic, but even some movement back down the path is a positive step and should be encouraged.

EXPECTATIONS:

  • The idea that there has been no tangible progress is false. Given where we were in December 2017, U.S.-DPRK relations are today far better off. That the North is more willing to discuss a myriad of ways in which they might be willing to open to the outside world is significant and should be seriously pursued.

  • I suspect Kim Jong-un has something symbolic to give to Trump—probably not a lot, but something. Perhaps a pledge to close down Yongbyon, or to allow inspections “at some time.” The real question is: Will the U.S. have something symbolic to give in return?

  • That the majority of policymakers and pundits are skeptical of the Trump process for dealing with North Korea is not surprising. But this is missing the point. For the first time in a generation, there are new leaders in North Korea, South Korea, and the United States who are willing to question, and perhaps change, the status quo.

HOW TO EVALUATE THE SUMMIT:

  • Evaluating the outcomes from the summit should be measured by progress toward peace, not denuclearization.

  • This is a slow process no matter what—nothing can possibly happen quickly, but time is on our side. Creating trust, building a working relationship, and simply bringing North Korean leaders and diplomats into the world is an important step. Nobody should want to return to the decade of total non-activity that preceded these negotiations.

  • The goal in Hanoi is to build momentum for negotiations between the U.S. and DPRK to sustain détente past this year. After that, the United States will be consumed with a presidential election that promises to be intense.

  • North Korea is not a problem to be solved, but managed. There is no combination of carrots and sticks that will make North Korea denuclearize, democratize, and also stop its human rights abuses. North Korea is more than a nuclear issue—it is a country the United States has to live with.

Leaving 200 U.S. soldiers behind in Syria’s civil war is mission creep, risky, and unjustified

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 22, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—The White House recently announced the decision to leave 200 U.S. troops in Syria despite President Trump's recent calls for a complete and swift withdrawal.

In response, Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement:

“U.S. forces should be used for achievable missions that protect the American people, not as a tripwire meant to somehow referee Syria's civil war. Leaving behind 200 U.S. troops isn’t enough to do much other than get the United States entangled in a larger conflict. Zero ground forces is a much safer number for America.

“The three rationales offered by the White House do not justify this open-ended commitment of U.S. ground forces, especially when staying invites disaster.

“Keeping U.S. troops to fight ISIS' remnants is mission creep toward an Iraq-style, long-term counterinsurgency mission. Other actors in Syria, starting with the Syrian government and the Kurdish forces, are eager to attack ISIS. Defending against anti-American threats does not require ground forces.

“Keeping U.S. troops at al-Tanf to serve as a road block between the Syria-Iraq border seems designed only to annoy Iran or Russia. A small contingent will not significantly affect Iran’s shipments or coerce Russia, but they will risk getting into a conflict with one of those powers, for no obvious reason.

“Keeping U.S. troops to help Turkey create a ‘safe zone’ in northeast Syria makes no sense, given that the Kurds there want to be kept safe from the Turks. The United States’ temporary alignment was based on a shared interest with the Kurds in attacking ISIS; it does not mean we are compelled to agree with all their aims and perpetually back them in their local conflicts. There is every reason to anticipate the Kurds can cut a deal with the Syria government to restore something similar to the pre-war order where they were left in peace without autonomy, and the United States can encourage that.

“The mission to liberate ISIS-held territory is complete. The best course for America is for a full and immediate withdrawal of U.S. soldiers.”

Foreign policy experts supporting ending “endless wars,” withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria and Afghanistan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 5, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—In tonight’s State of the Union address, President Trump outlined a significant change in U.S. foreign policy, calling for an end to “endless wars,” including our 17-year war in Afghanistan and our military entanglement in Syria’s civil war.

Defense Priorities Policy Director Ben Friedman and renowned international relations experts Barry R. Posen, Ph.D. and Michael C. Desch, Ph.D. issued the following statements.

Benjamin H. Friedman, Defense Priorities Policy Director:

“In response to the attacks on 9/11, the United States was right to go to war in Afghanistan to decimate al-Qaeda and the Taliban government which harbored them. America won that war.

“Since then, we have been losing a second war fought to extend the Afghanistan central government’s rule to the whole country. After 17-plus years; more than a trillion dollars expended, much of it debt financed; 2,400 American servicemembers killed; and many more wounded, it is past time to end the U.S. war there entirely.

“The cost of building a modern Afghan state is unrelated to core U.S. security and thus unjustified by a permanent commitment. It is irresponsible for U.S. leaders to keep wasting U.S. military lives and burning taxpayer funds in an evident failure.

“U.S. counterterrorism does not require continuing the war there. What denies al-Qaeda haven in Afghanistan now is what will deny it after U.S. ground forces leave: the political will to strike terrorist bases that arise, the surveillance and strike capability to do so, and the ability to deter local actors from harboring terrorists. Washington should have abandoned the myth that U.S. safety depends on endless counterinsurgency missions long ago.”

Michael C. Desch, Ph.D., Director of the Notre Dame Security Center (NDISC):

“President Trump is certainly correct to call for an end to U.S. military commitments in Syria and Afghanistan, places where we have achieved all we can as an outside actor. Now it is time for local actors to step up. If they will not or cannot, we ought to make our peace with those groups who can.

“It is well past time to wrap up America’s longest war and bring the troops home from Afghanistan. The al-Qaeda elements responsible for 9/11 and the Taliban who provided safe haven have long been destroyed. With the successful military mission to liberate ISIS-held territory, it is time to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, as well.

“Our problem is that since the end of the Cold War, the United States has too quickly abandoned diplomacy. Diplomacy, like military force, is an indispensable tool of statecraft. It is time to start using all of the tools at our disposal rather than relying on our military, and that means negotiating exit strategies from Syria and Afghanistan.”

Barry R. Posen, Ford International Professor of Political Science at MIT, writes in USA Today:

“War is the extension of policy, aimed at national goals. Otherwise it is just waste. It is plain that we have no actual strategic policy in Afghanistan—no plausible purpose other than using taxpayer money, the lives of American soldiers and the deaths of Afghan civilians caught in the crossfire to protect U.S. leaders against the possibility of future blame. America’s longest war should stop.”

INF Treaty withdrawal is not a disaster, but improving U.S.-Russia relations is in America’s security interest

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 1, 2019
Contact: press@defensepriorities.org

WASHINGTON, DC—With the Trump administration's decision to abandon the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia, Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement:

“The U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is unfortunate but not the disaster many analysts make it out to be.

“The INF Treaty’s end will do little to alter the balance of power in Europe, and it will do even less to affect U.S. security. Europe’s GDP, military spending, and population advantages over Russia will keep it safe, not to mention U.S. backing.

“The INF Treaty emerged in the vastly different geopolitical circumstances of the late Cold War and had more to do with European security than America’s. The treaty had two virtues: reducing the missile threat to Europe, including U.S. forces deployed there, and helping the Soviet Union (now Russia) and the United States limit spending on missiles and missile defenses.

“Since the U.S. and Russia possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, it is in America’s security interest to improve U.S.-Russia relations and continue arms control efforts, especially by negotiating an extension to New START, an important arms control agreement which is set to expire in 2021.

“Exiting the INF Treaty does risk unleashing needless and expensive U.S. intermediate range missile deployments in Europe and Asia. Many U.S. defense analysts seem to believe that U.S. security requires mirroring Chinese or Russian weapons development. That ignores the vast differences in geography, circumstance, and security needs that make intermediate range missiles far less useful for the United States.

“If intermediate range missiles would help defend the U.S.’s European and Asian partners, those states should deploy them, not rely on the United States to do it for them. American companies can develop and sell missiles and associated surveillance systems to those states, as U.S. interests dictate. But letting partners take the lead in managing local threats is a cheaper and safer option for the United States.”