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

March 13, 2019

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?

March 11, 2019

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

February 28, 2019

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

February 26, 2019

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 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.


  • 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.


  • 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

February 22, 2019

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

February 5, 2019

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

February 1, 2019

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.”

U.S.-Taliban peace talks are a positive development, Trump should withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan regardless

January 28, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC—Defense Priorities policy director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response to the ongoing peace talks between the Trump administration’s special representative for Afghanistan, Former U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Taliban:

“It is good news that the Taliban has agreed to a framework where it will keep terrorists out of territory it holds. But U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan does not require the Taliban’s goodwill or effectiveness. With congressional authorization, the United States can always target terrorists who threaten Americans—and whoever tolerates them. Denying terrorists haven serves the self-interest of the Taliban’s leadership.

“The United States long ago achieved the aims that caused us to go to war in Afghanistan: largely destroying the al-Qaeda network that organized the 9/11 attacks and overthrowing the Taliban regime that hosted them. Since then, the U.S. war in Afghanistan has been a failed attempt at the far more ambitious, and unnecessary, goal of building an Afghan state that runs all of the country without insurgent resistance. That goal is neither possible at reasonable cost nor necessary to U.S. counterterrorism success.

“It is past time for U.S. military forces to stop fighting in Afghanistan.”

After liberating ISIS-held territory, President Trump should immediately withdraw U.S. troops from Syria to avoid unnecessary risks from staying

January 16, 2019

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.”

ICYMI: Foreign policy realists applaud decision to withdraw troops from Syria

December 21, 2018

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 Peña 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.

Statement: With no strategic rationale or defined goals, Trump should withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan

December 21, 2018

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.”

Statement: President Trump is right on Syria, Washington foreign policy elites are wrong (again)

December 20, 2018

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.”

Statement: President Trump’s decision to remove U.S. forces from Syria is in America’s interest

December 19, 2018

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.”

Statement: Ending U.S. military support for Saudi-UAE coalition would aid efforts to end Yemen's civil war

December 6, 2018

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.”

Statement: Military support for the Saudi-UAE-led intervention in Yemen’s civil war undermines U.S. interests and values

November 28, 2018

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.”

Statement: Washington should maintain a balanced approach to U.S.-Russia policy

November 26, 2018

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.”

Statement: Washington’s longstanding devotion to Saudi Arabia is misguided and should end

November 21, 2018

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.”

Statement: The Trump administration should end U.S. refueling and all military support for Saudi-led war in Yemen

November 9, 2018

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.”

Defense Priorities honors Sen. John McCain’s life and legacy of service

August 26, 2018

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.”

U.S. Competition with China is primarily economic, not military

July 30, 2018

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.”