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

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

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

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.”

Defense Priorities encourages sustained diplomacy, deterrence following the Trump-Kim summit

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.”

Economic prosperity is the foundation of our national power

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.

President Trump’s intention to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria’s civil war remains in America’s security interests

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.”

President Trump is right to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria

WASHINGTON, DC—President Trump surprised many today by instructing military leaders to prepare to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Defense Priorities commends President Trump for making this decision and affirms that by withdrawing our troops, we are improving our national security.

Edward King, President of Defense Priorities issued the following statement: 

“Syria remains embroiled in a civil war with scores of groups and militaries trying to attain various and competing objectives. The remaining fight there belongs to them, not the United States. Our national security is neither enhanced, nor placed at increased risk, regardless of how the Syrian war is eventually resolved.

“By withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria and foregoing an unnecessary, ineffective, and costly nation-building campaign, President Trump is prioritizing America’s interests.”

On the 15-year anniversary of the regime-change and nation-building mission in Iraq, time for a new strategy

WASHINGTON, DC—In March 2003, the U.S. began its mission in Iraq, titling the invasion Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. The U.S. military remains to this day. To acknowledge our 15 years of entanglement, Defense Priorities fellow and military expert Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, USA, Ret.—who served two tours in Iraq—has issued the following statement:

“It was my duty—and my honor—to serve in the U.S. Army and protect the American homeland and our vital interests.

“As an Iraq War combat veteran, on the 15-year anniversary, it is important to acknowledge that the regime-change and nation-building effort in Iraq was a strategic mistake for which we have paid with the blood of our dearest—and are still paying today. Operation IRAQI FREEDOM is perhaps the most egregious case of Washington's misguided employment of military power to solve complex political problems, but it is not an isolated failure of our post-Cold War foreign policy.

“Fifteen years later, a majority of American civilians and veterans agree that our efforts have failed to make us safer or more prosperous. Through my time on the ground, especially as a trainer for an Iraqi border battalion in 2009, I can confirm our efforts to reform the Iraqi military also largely failed. Americans deserve a realistic, balanced, sustainable, and effective foreign policy guided by a sober analysis of U.S. interests. Only by abandoning the status quo thinking in Washington can the U.S. develop a more enlightened and constructive foreign policy and avoid another Iraq.”

Defense Priorities encourages direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea

WASHINGTON, DC—With the recent announcement of potential talks between President Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, Defense Priorities president Edward King issued the following statement:

“The top priority for the United States is to ensure that North Korea never uses their nuclear weapons, which is why we must maintain our overwhelming conventional and nuclear superiority. While everyone should be extremely skeptical Kim Jong-un will give up his nuclear deterrent, talking is critical to avoid miscalculation and accidents and ensure North Korea never crosses any red lines.

“President Trump is smart to take advantage of this opening. Everyone recognizes a war on the Korean Peninsula would gravely harm American security and prosperity, which is why deterrence and diplomacy are the best available options.”

Defense Priorities applauds Congress’ bipartisan effort to reclaim its war powers

WASHINGTON, DC—Yesterday, Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Chris Murphy (D-CT) introduced S.J.Res.54, a joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.

In response, Defense Priorities Vice President of Public Policy Kurt Couchman issued the following statement:

“Senators Mike Lee and Bernie Sanders should be commended for leading an effort to reclaim Congress’ proper powers. The Constitution vests the authority for declaring war with the people's representatives in Congress, not with president, but the separation of powers hasn't been respected.

“President Obama ordered U.S. forces to assist the Saudi-backed side of the civil war in Yemen without any ‘specific statutory authorization’ and without justifying to the American people that such military actions had a clear connection to core U.S. interests. Despite other actions to restore the rule of law, President Trump has not ended that unauthorized support. Under the fast-track authority in the War Powers Resolution of 1973, S.J.Res.54 would order President Trump to cease these operations unless and until Congress authorizes them.

“The decision to involve U.S. military forces and expend taxpayer funds in armed conflict belongs to Congress alone. This resolution takes an important step toward restoring the wisdom of the framers of the Constitution.”

Media advisory: Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis to testify at congressional hearing on AUMF

WASHINGTON, DC—TODAY, Defense Priorities senior fellow and military expert Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, USA, Ret. will testify before the Congressional Progressive Caucus Peace and Security Task Force and the House Liberty Caucus for an ad-hoc hearing on the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).

In 2016, the Congressional Research Service issued a report showing that, since its enactment, this authorization has been cited as the statutory authority for military or related actions at least 37 times in 14 countries. Lt. Col. Davis will testify and answer questions about the current AUMFs and the implications from a new congressional authorization.



TIME: 2:30 PM — 3:30 PM EST

LOCATION: Room 2358-C, Rayburn House Office Building


  • Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, USA, Ret.
    Senior Fellow & Military Expert, Defense Priorities
  • Rita Siemion
    International Legal Counsel, Human Rights First
  • Michael McPhearson
    Executive Director, Veterans For Peace


ICYMI: "White House budget does little to address ineffective grand strategy"

WASHINGTON, DC—In response to the recently released White House FY2019 budget, Defense Priorities President Edward King offers the following statement:

“Our $20-trillion debt is a threat to our national security, yet proposed government spending continues the reckless addiction of deficit spending. To the Trump administration's credit, the overall budget seeks to keep the debt from exploding relative to the status quo.

“The defense budget states that it reflects the recent National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, yet neither of those summaries provides details on relative priorities.

“If major powers are a renewed focus, what current, lower-priority missions will the administration forego? Might we stop dumping the $45 billion per year into nation building in Afghanistan or avoid sliding into a similar no-win situation in Syria? What is our strategy to ensure our rich allies share the burden of common defense? What efficiencies can be implemented within the Pentagon?

“The budget and related strategies should do more to review U.S. military activities around the world—reasonable alternatives must be explored for those that do not provide benefits to American taxpayers commensurate to their costs, especially in a time of $1-trillion annual deficits.”

Statement on Schumer-McConnell budget agreement: “Math still applies to superpowers”

WASHINGTON, DC—In response to the Senate's budget agreement, Defense Priorities President Edward King offers the following statement:

“Fiscal stability and national security go hand-in-hand, and the Schumer-McConnell budget agreement threatens both. It is irresponsible to increase federal spending in the midst of growing deficits and $20 trillion of debt. Math still applies to superpowers.

“Rather than implementing long-needed strategic and operational reforms, Congress is papering over our real national security challenges with an additional $80 billion in Pentagon spending.

“Americans deserve a strong, effective military to secure our country, our prosperity, and our way of life. That's why a realistic defense strategy should inform every taxpayer dollar spent, which means setting priorities within the Department of Defense, focusing on core missions directly related to U.S. vital interests, and using available funds to improve military lethality.”

After shutdown, Congress must prioritize effective, sustainable policies over politics

WASHINGTON, DC—In response to the government shutdown Defense Priorities founder and president Edward King issued the following statement:

“Political brinksmanship does not serve U.S. taxpayers, our service members, or others charged with keeping America safe and prosperous. It is inexcusable to shut down the federal government for special interests unrelated to the budget and appropriations process. Once this stunt officially ends, Congress should turn its attention to the many important reforms necessary to ensure sustainable, reliable funding for improved strategic decision-making for all aspects of keeping America strong and secure. Americans deserve better than Washington’s dysfunction.”

Op-ed in The New York Times: The price of war with North Korea

WASHINGTON, DC—The New York Times today 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 outlines the sacrifices the United States would have to make in order to deprive North Korea of its nuclear capabilities and missile systems. He concludes that the complexity, risks, and costs of preventive war against North Korea are too great—thus deterrence paired with diplomacy is the best available policy option.

The key problem for the United States is the likely possibility that North Korea has the missiles to deliver nuclear bombs to South Korea and Japan. If one of these weapons were to reach its target, an entire city would be annihilated.

And even if an American first strike knocked out North Korea’s nuclear capacity, millions of South Korean civilians, and American and South Korean soldiers, would be vulnerable to retaliation with conventional or chemical weapons. Pyongyang could devastate Seoul and kill tens of thousands of people.

North Korea may have as many as 250 mobile missile launchers, some of which could fire nuclear-tipped missiles. If some of these mobile units were dispersed at the time of an American attack, it’s unlikely that the United States could destroy all of them before one fires a missile.

An American attack that truly caught North Korea by surprise could minimize the effectiveness of a North Korean counterattack—but not eliminate the possibility. And surprise would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

The complexity, risks and costs of a military strike against North Korea are too high. A combination of diplomacy and deterrence, based on the already impressive strength of South Korean and United States conventional and nuclear forces, is a wise alternative.

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

Defense authorization should advance efficiency and sound strategy

WASHINGTON, DC—This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Conference Report with a vote of 356-70. The bill proposes to close the gap between resources and missions by increasing Pentagon spending well above current, historically high levels—beyond President Trump’s request—and far in excess of the defense spending cap for fiscal year 2018. Unless a budget agreement is reached to increase the caps, appropriations consistent with the authorization would trigger across-the-board cuts. While the bill includes modest reforms to improve efficiency, it fails to set strategic priorities or to re-evaluate ongoing missions.

Defense Priorities President Edward King responded to the House passage with the following statement:

"Defense authorization legislation is a chance to modernize America’s defense policies. The modest procurement reforms are welcome, but scarce taxpayer resources continue to be wasted on programs and activities that don’t contribute to the common defense. In addition to having a well-trained and equipped military, the American people deserve a well-run system with missions that are clearly connected to core national security interests: defending America, our prosperity, and our way of life. The U.S. must pursue an effective, realistic foreign policy, focusing on core concerns while abandoning peripheral activities. Failure to make difficult choices betrays both servicemembers who are sent into harm’s way and their fellow citizens at home.

“The NDAA conference report does too little to improve efficiencies at the DoD and fails to meaningfully review and set better priorities among missions and military assignments abroad. We must responsibly fund our military while ensuring that all activities provide value to taxpayers."

Conservative coalition demands fiscal responsibility from Congress

WASHINGTON, DC—This morning, a coalition of public interest advocates sent a letter to Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) calling on them to use every opportunity to advance fiscal responsibility this Congress.

With a national debt exceeding $20 trillion and climbing, fiscal responsibility should be the top priority for Congress. The U.S. government currently borrows nearly $1 million per minute. This is unsustainable, and our leaders in Congress must actively address this problem. The American people want the federal government to live within its means, to lift burdens on voluntary exchange, and to provide appropriately for the common defense.

Securing these goals requires setting priorities in all federal spending, including both discretionary—defense and non-defense—and autopilot spending. Total discretionary spending accounts for approximately 30 percent of annual outlays, while net interest, pensions including Social Security, and health care account for most of the rest of federal spending.

Our strong military is made possible by our economic prosperity. Taxpayer advocates and defense experts recognize that the biggest threat to our national security is our nation's debt. Defense Priorities has joined Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, Tea Party Nation, Center for Freedom & Prosperity, Coalition to Reduce Spending, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, Concerned Veterans for America, Coalition for a Strong America, Generation Opportunity, Free the People, and Americans for Constitutional Liberty to encourage Congress to address the looming debt crisis now.

Click HERE to read the coalition letter in its entirety.

Coalition urges senators to support effective oversight of war funding

WASHINGTON, DC—Yesterday, a coalition of public interest advocates sent a letter to members of the U.S. Senate urging opposition to Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) expected amendment to strike Section 4104 of the Senate budget resolution. Section 4104 would let senators challenge line items in the war budget, that is, funds designated for overseas contingency operations (OCO). An OCO designation exempts appropriations from being counted against spending caps under the Budget Control Act.

Congress has classified increasing amounts of base—that is, regular, non-emergency—military spending as OCO funds. This lets them skirt the caps instead of making strategic choices about America's role in the world or at least making budget deals.

The underlying provision would empower senators to challenge questionable items in spending bills. Improving accountability and promoting strategic choices when using taxpayer funds is needed more than ever, and we applaud Chairman Enzi for improving stewardship of the people's resources.

The letter states:

The OCO budget should not be used by Congress as “free” money. This has led to the original purpose of the fund, to cover the unexpected and unbudgeted costs of overseas contingencies, being overridden by a desire to add more money to the Pentagon while avoiding the BCA caps.

Section 4104 establishes a Point of Order against designating funds as OCO spending. It would treat OCO the same way as emergency funding designations. The Point of Order may be suspended by an affirmative vote of three-fifths of the members of the Senate.

Amendment #498 on Base Review would start the long-overdue process of realigning bases to fit our strategy and to redirect funds from unneeded base capacity to higher priorities, like readiness and modernization.

Click HERE to read the coalition letter in its entirety and see the full list of signers.

In Afghanistan, less is more for the U.S.

WASHINGTON, DC—In case you missed it, The Atlantic has featured an editorial by Ford International Professor of Political Science and Director of Security Studies Program at MIT Barry R. Posen in which the current states of affairs in Afghanistan is examined. According to Posen, from a strategic perspective, a dramatic reduction of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan—or even a complete drawdown—would likely realign regional behavior in ways that would drive current U.S. adversaries apart, force them to deal with difficult local problems, and encourage other regional powers to seek better ties with Washington. From an American perspective, it is a win-win.

As Posen explains in The Atlantic:

Afghanistan is a good place to create problems for America’s adversaries. And the best way to do that is to get out.

Those who instead advocate a dramatic increase in the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan would say that the best way to fight terrorists is to remain on the offensive. The problem with that argument is, of course, that America has been on the offense for 16 years in Afghanistan and elsewhere and victory remains elusive. Terrorist groups motivated by a particularly toxic interpretation of Islam remain strong, and in fact have emerged in new places. Nothing about this strategy, by the way, need prohibit U.S. raids on known terrorist hideouts in Afghanistan.

Some may also argue that Washington cannot afford to undermine its prestige by leaving Afghanistan in the lurch. Given the lives, money, and time that it has poured into building a stable Afghanistan, it is Afghans who have let the U.S. down, not the reverse—pouring more resources into a losing effort won’t enhance confidence in U.S. judgment or its staying power.

Read the entire editorial HERE via The Atlantic.

Same strategy, tweaked tactics will yield same failing results in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, D.C.—This evening, President Trump announced his "new strategy" for America's longest war, the war in Afghanistan. Both President Trump and Secretary of Defense Mattis admit we are not winning the war in Afghanistan, yet they believe doubling down on failed, status quo strategies will lead to different results. Defense Priorities could not disagree more.

Defense Priorities Founder and President Edward King issued the following statement:

"President Trump successfully campaigned on a more realistic foreign policy—one that abandons failed nation-building efforts, decreases U.S. involvement in Middle Eastern civil wars, and instead prioritizes American security.

"What the president announced tonight is not a 'new strategy,' but rather a continuation, or expansion, of the failed status quo—a seemingly endless commitment to stay in Afghanistan and the region.

"This is now President Trump's war.

"After more than 15 years and 3 presidents, nearly 10,000 American troops are still in Afghanistan, and even the Administration admits that the U.S. is not winning the war. It's long past time for new thinking to enhance American security."