Failing to withdraw from Syria after the defeat of ISIS’s caliphate left the U.S. with no clean exit options

October 9, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC—On Wednesday, Turkey launched its promised military offensive in northern Syria following the reshuffling of a small contingent of U.S. forces from the region. Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“When U.S. forces stayed behind following the defeat of ISIS’s caliphate, the U.S. was left with no clean way to extricate itself from Syria’s civil war. The U.S. could hold onto a portion of Syria indefinitely, turn the territory over to Turkey, or return it to Assad. That’s the reality on the ground.

“By refusing to leave and let the Kurds settle with Assad—restoring the pre-war status quo—the U.S. trapped itself in a no-win situation. With Turkey threatening to clear parts of northern Syria of SDF forces, our anti-ISIS partners, the U.S. could have risked war with its NATO ally or moved its forces out of harms way. As regrettable as this situation is, a U.S. war with Turkey would be worse.

“Withdrawal from Syria remains the strongest policy for the United States. The U.S. can use non-military leverage to pressure our NATO ally, providing at least some protection to the Kurds, and warn the Kurds that all U.S. troops will leave soon. That will allow them to prepare and negotiate with Damascus.”

USA Today opinion from Benjamin H. Friedman: Get out of Syria, but give the Kurds fair warning

Defense Priorities explainer: Disentangling from Syria's civil war

Staying entangled in Syria’s civil war was a mistake—full U.S. military withdrawal remains the right policy

October 7, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC—On Monday morning, the White House announced it is pulling back U.S. troops from northern Syria in anticipation of a Turkish military campaign against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“The U.S. military should be quickly withdrawn from Syria—in fact, it should have entirely left already. But that does not mean U.S. forces should move south immediately, clearing a path for Turkey to attack the Kurds. Rather than false hope, Washington should have sent clear messages to the Kurds warning them of a U.S. withdrawal to arrange their circumstances.

“The problem is not the goal of swift U.S. withdrawal, contrary to conventional wisdom in Washington. The problem is the muddled national security process that failed to remove U.S. forces after the complete defeat of the ISIS caliphate.

“Following the liberation of ISIS-held territory, the U.S. had no remaining national interests in Syria. Since the president announced U.S. withdrawal from Syria in December 2018, U.S. policies have suggested we are staying. U.S. troops, now apparently down to 1,000 were somehow supposed to expel Iran, hold back Syrian government forces, protect the Kurds from Turkey, and start reconstructing Syria.

“Those ambitious and unnecessary goals would have been impossible for even a far larger force. The mismatch of ends and means has left the U.S. with no good options. Instead of shifting forces south, the U.S. should announce the onset of a disciplined withdrawal of all forces. That means the full withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country, not just a reshuffling.

“The notion of a joint U.S.-Turkish safe zone in northern Syria was always unrealistic. It discouraged the Kurds from reconciling with the Syrian government, which is the only local fighting force capable of protecting the Kurds from Turkey in the long term. A potential compromise would be a return to the pre-civil war status quo ante: hand responsibility for border security to the Syrian government while also bringing Syria’s Kurds under its authority, thus disarming Turkish fears of an independent Kurdish state on its border. The Kurds would have to give up autonomy, but would be allowed to keep their militias for self-defense.

“Advocates of an indefinite U.S. military presence in Syria are outraged by the announced pullback, but the U.S. cannot guarantee the safety of the Kurds short of war with Turkey. The interests of the Kurds should not take precedence over U.S. interests—which call for a speedy disentanglement from the Syrian conflict—nor be used as a pretext to keep troops in Syria forever.”

Defense Priorities explainer: Disentangling from Syria's civil war

Washington should focus on U.S. security and prosperity, not clean up Saudi Arabia’s mess

September 14, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC—Earlier Saturday, two Saudi Arabian oil installations came under attack. Houthi rebels from Yemen, who receive limited support from Iran, claimed responsibility. Secretary Pompeo blamed Iran, but provided no evidence to support that claim. Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“Core U.S. interests in the Middle East are limited to eliminating anti-U.S. terror threats and avoiding significant, long-term disruptions to global oil supply.

“While unfortunate, the attacks early Saturday on Saudi Arabian oil processing installations appear to be primarily extensions of the war in Yemen, where the Saudis are attacking the Houthis, who get Iranian support. The attacks are not a threat to the United States or a major issue for the global economy. According to Saudi Arabia, production will return to normal levels by Monday.

“If the attacks were indeed carried out by Houthis, it is more reason for the Saudis to find a negotiated settlement to their intervention in Yemen—it is not a reason for the United States to fight Saudi Arabia’s wars for them.

“Washington should not pick sides in the Sunni versus Shiite fights in the region, nor should it risk U.S. lives and dollars to clean up Saudi Arabia’s mess.

“Iran is a middling power that can cause Saudi Arabia headaches, but it is not a threat to dominate the region. It can easily be checked by its neighbors. Regional actors should take the lead in confronting this type of malign activity.”

Defense Priorities explainer: Ending U.S. military support for the Saudi-UAE-led coalition’s war in Yemen

Military aid to Ukraine will escalate the crisis and worsen relations with nuclear superpower Russia

September 13, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC—On Wednesday night, the White House released its hold, pending national security review, on $250 million in military aid to Ukraine following intense pressure from some congressional members. Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“Despite the politics involved, the United States and Russia jointly possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons—it is therefore critical our two nations find a way to co-exist. Taking steps that improve, rather than degrade, the U.S.-Russia relationship enhances U.S. and global security.

“Increased military aid to Ukraine—a nation that is not a U.S. or NATO ally—worsens U.S.-Russia relations without any justifying security payoff for Americans.

“Russia and Ukraine have a long, complicated history—and Russia’s 1,200-mile border with Ukraine means it has a strong security interest there. The United States has no such security or prosperity interests at stake.

“Ukraine cannot match Russia’s capabilities, and sending U.S. military aid may create a dangerous perception in Kiev and Moscow that the United States would support Ukraine in a direct confrontation with Russia. It encourages the continuation of the conflict there, rather than its political resolution.

“Unlike his predecessor, recently elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is attempting to negotiate a peace with Russia and the separatists in the east. Washington should support that process.”

President Trump’s next national security advisor should implement his foreign policies, rather than thwart them

September 10, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC—On Tuesday, President Trump announced the removal of National Security Advisor John Bolton. Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“With all due respect to Ambassador Bolton, his removal is good news for U.S. security. President Trump has said he wants to end long-running U.S. conflicts abroad, negotiate an end to nuclear crises in Iran and North Korea, improve relations with other great powers, and ensure our allies contribute far more to their own defense.

“The incoming National Security Advisor should be someone who supports these positions and is committed to implementing—rather than thwarting—them.”

Anything short of a full, speedy U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a mistake

September 4, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC—On Monday, media reports offered details of a tentative U.S.-Taliban agreement to draw down some U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“The reported U.S. agreement with the Taliban to remove 5,400 U.S. troops within 135 days is progress, but it is insufficient to end the 18-year U.S. war in Afghanistan.

“The United States should not continue to expend lives and dollars fighting for the success of the Afghan government. If this agreement leads to the withdrawal of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, it will be worth celebrating. The danger is that it will provide political cover for leaving a smaller but perpetual U.S. military presence, making an already long war permanent.

“This agreement, if implemented, would leave behind roughly 8,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan—that would be 8,600 too many.

“Plans for full withdrawal have not been revealed and appear to be contingent on further talks with the Taliban or peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. That would be a mistake.

“The Taliban may refuse to strike a power-sharing deal with the Afghan government, and they might renege even if they do. U.S. troops should not be made hostage to the settlement of Afghanistan’s civil war, which has been ongoing, one way or another, for 40 years.

“The United States can best serve its interests by withdrawing all U.S. military forces—with or without Taliban cooperation.

“Combating anti-U.S. terrorism can be done remotely via long-range attack assets and local forces, without a permanent U.S. ground presence. Retaining a force of any size would only serve the failed nation-building mission that has trapped U.S. forces in Afghanistan for nearly two decades.”

Defense Priorities explainer: Exiting Afghanistan

Defense Priorities explainer: U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan—with or without an agreement

A draw down to Obama-era troop levels in Afghanistan is not enough

August 29, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC—On Thursday, President Trump announced his intention to draw down U.S. force levels in Afghanistan from 14,000 to 8,600 and stated that “you have to keep a presence.” Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“President Trump’s decision to leave 8,600 soldiers in Afghanistan is a return to the troop levels of the Obama administration and a reversal of his intention to end Washington’s nearly 18-year war there. Anything short of full withdrawal is a mistake.

“The counterterrorism mission that took U.S. forces to Afghanistan in the first place—to decimate Al-Qaeda and punish the Taliban for harboring those terrorists—was long ago accomplished. Successful counterterrorism there does not require a permanent ground presence, let alone 8,600 troops. That force level only perpetuates the failed nation-building mission.

“U.S. security is protected by its global military capabilities to monitor and eliminate anti-U.S. terror threats, intelligence cooperation, and homeland security. Policing Afghanistan is a separate mission entirely.

“The president was right when he said great nations don’t fight endless wars—President Trump should finally end this one.”

Defense Priorities explainer: Exiting Afghanistan

Defense Priorities explainer: U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan—with or without an agreement

U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan—with or without an agreement

August 16, 2019

In a new explainer, “U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan—with or without an agreement,” Defense Priorities Senior Fellow Gil Barndollar addresses the four pillars of the recent Afghanistan agreement and explains why complete withdrawal is in America’s security interest.

Following 9/11, the United States was right to go to war in Afghanistan. Targeting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban government which harbored them in the aftermath of the attacks was a sensible and achievable mission.

After a swift victory and the establishment of a new, popular Afghan government, policymakers should have removed U.S. troops. Instead, Washington pursued a nation-building effort to establish a central authority to govern all of Afghanistan—a goal impossible to achieve at reasonable cost and unrelated to the core security interests that justified the initial campaign.

After nearly 18 years of war and our key goals accomplished long ago, it is past time to withdraw all U.S. forces to focus on vital national security interests.

Four pillars of the Afghan withdrawal agreement

The latest withdrawal, coming on the heels of apparent progress in negotiations, was announced on August 1, 2019, and would leave between 8,000 and 9,000 troops in country.

The agreement currently being negotiated, which both sides have agreed to in principle, rests on four pillars:

  1. The Taliban agrees to renounce Al-Qaeda and all terrorists

  2. A cease-fire covering all parties

  3. The Taliban agrees to negotiate with the Afghan government

  4. U.S. military withdrawal

While the ongoing negotiations have often been referred to as “peace talks”—and the agreement alludes to a draw down—complete U.S. military withdrawal should be the objective.

If the final agreement makes withdrawal contingent on the other three conditions being met, it is a recipe for a permanent U.S. presence in Afghanistan. The Taliban are untrustworthy, and any agreement is non-enforceable after a U.S. exit anyway. What safeguards U.S. interests is deterrence by punishment: the ability to strike the Taliban should they facilitate harm to the United States, regardless of the state of the Afghan government and security forces post-withdrawal.

Defense Priorities explainer: U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan—with or without an agreement

Afghan draw down announcement is encouraging, but more is needed

August 1, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC—On Thursday, a U.S.-Taliban deal was announced that included a draw down of the 14,000 U.S. forces currently in Afghanistan. Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“A deal to reduce U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by 5,000 to 6,000 in exchange for the Taliban’s renunciation of Al-Qaeda, a cease-fire, and an agreement to begin direct talks with the Afghan government is good news, provided it leads to a full U.S. military withdrawal in the next year.

“This deal would only take U.S. troop levels back to about where they were when President Trump took office. That’s not enough. After nearly 18 years of failed efforts to build the Afghan state by defeating its enemies, more than $1 trillion in spending, and more than 2,400 U.S. servicemembers killed, it is time to fully end the war. Negotiations with the Taliban can be useful, but the United States shouldn’t wait on them to leave Afghanistan.

“The deal, as reported, would entail meaningful Taliban concessions, especially on the ceasefire. Their willingness to officially disown Al-Qaeda is also useful as symbolism, even though their fear of being attacked again by the United States is stronger than any declarations.

“The danger of the deal is it could preserve, rather than end, the U.S. war. The Taliban leadership may lack the power to enforce a ceasefire on all their commanders. They may renege on some promises. Peace talks with the Afghan government will be difficult in the best circumstance. Some in Washington may then seek to stall progress toward a complete U.S. military withdrawal. That would be a mistake.

“The United States protects itself from terrorism through its ability to track and attack threats directly via missiles and raids, through willingness to use that capability, and its ability to deter groups like the Taliban from harboring anti-American terrorists. Those factors will operate to protect Americans with or without a deal with the Taliban and in the absence of U.S. combat forces.”

DPRK is weak and wants to appear strong, is poor and wants sanctions relief

July 30, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC—North Korea reportedly fired multiple unidentified projectiles off of its eastern cost. Defense Priorities Senior Fellow and Military Expert Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, USA, Ret. issued the following statement in response:

“North Korea’s latest launch seems to mimic other recent weapons tests. This type of saber rattling is not threatening, but rather is intended to get the attention of North Korea’s more powerful neighbors. Kim Jong-un wants to negotiate and signal his ability to take actions the U.S. and others don’t like in an effort to speed up diplomacy.

“There’s an opening to negotiate for freezes and potentially rollbacks in exchange for limited sanctions relief. But unless Washington is willing to make such trade-offs and normalize relations, expect Kim to continue developing weapons and testing them.”

North Korea weapons test is a plea to restart negotiations, not a provocation or security threat

July 24, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC—On Wednesday, North Korea fired two unidentified projectiles into the East Sea. Defense Priorities Senior Fellow and Military Expert Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, USA, Ret. issued the following statement in response:

“Reports of another North Korean weapons test shouldn’t come as a surprise. This latest move seems like an attempt to restart negotiations with the United States, not a provocation or security threat.

“Kim Jong-un is a brutal leader of a weak state, but he faces pressure to provide economic relief for his people who have long suffered under his family’s rule. The U.S. faces no such pressure—we don’t need any deal. Deterrence already guarantees our security.

“Engaging in diplomacy toward peace and the normalization of relations between the Koreas could result in progress on other issues, such as freezes or rollbacks in North Korea’s missile program, and denuclearization as an eventual goal. North Korean missile tests are an irritant that should not sway the United States from that path.”

U.S. shoot-down of Iranian drone is the latest escalatory incident that risks all-out war

July 18, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC—Earlier today, the U.S. military reportedly shot down an Iranian drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“The U.S. shoot-down of an Iranian drone is the latest escalation in the crisis between the U.S. and Iran—an outgrowth of more than a year of U.S. pressure on Iran in the wake of U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal. Conditions are set for a miscalculation that could quickly spiral into a broader war. While the U.S. has an unquestionable military advantage, a war would be catastrophic for U.S. and allied interests—likely leading to high casualties, prolonged chaos in the region, and renewed Iranian determination to acquire a bomb.

“Maximum pressure has harmed Iran's economy, but it has failed in its aims—it has encouraged Iran to restart its nuclear weapons program and increase its hardline polices.

“To de-escalate and avoid war, the U.S. should explore the Iranian offer to relax sanctions in exchange for its commitment to verifiably comply with the additional protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Barring that, the U.S. should end secondary sanctions on our European allies and other buyers of Iranian oil and other goods. That step would likely cause Iran to again comply with the JCPOA's limits on uranium enrichment.”

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

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

June 28, 2019

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

June 20, 2019

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

June 17, 2019

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

June 13, 2019

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

June 12, 2019

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

May 23, 2019

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

April 30, 2019

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

April 29, 2019

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.”