“NATO allies boost defense spending in the wake of Trump criticism.”

From the WaPo

NATO allies of the United States plan to boost their defense spending by 4.3 percent this year, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday, a response in part to intense pressure from President Trump that the nations invest more in their militaries.

The rest can be found here.

The Forgotten War

All told, the conflict has displaced between two million and three and a half million people. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at least 1.6 million Ukrainians moved west toward Ukraine’s capital, Kiev as a result of the fighting. Russia says that 2.6 million Ukrainians moved east. In its report ending March 12, the refugee agency also estimated that from mid-April 2014 to mid-March 2017, at least 9,940 people have been killed and 23,455 wounded.

That is from a June 20th NYT piece titled The War No One Notices In Ukraine.

 

Why America should withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The United States has been at war in Afghanistan for over 16 years. As of this writing, America has approximately 8,500 troops there now, mostly regulated to an advisory role. The Trump administration is reportedly sending an additional 4,000 American troops to theater while authorizing the Pentagon to send more if it deems it necessary.

Why exactly are American troops still in Afghanistan? After the twin towers fell, America launched Operation Enduring Freedom with two objectives. One was to destroy al-Qaeda and their terror camps. The other was to punish any organizations that supported the terrorist network which, after they failed to turn over al-Qaeda’s leadership, included the Taliban.

That was in 2001. Since then, the mission in Afghanistan has gradually grown into a state building project. This change in objective was a consequence of the post-9/11 consensus that ungoverned spaces were a threat to American security. In order to keep America safe from terrorism, it was essential that America build a functional and democratic state in Afghanistan.

When evaluating American progress on the task of state building, the metrics are dismal. For starters, a sizeable portion of Afghanistan is either under Taliban rule or contested. As of February 2017, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction estimates that the American supported Afghan government has no control of 40 percent of Afghanistan. The remaining 60 percent of the country is under the command of the democratically elected government but it is clear that it is not being properly governed. Corruption and abuse of power is utterly rampant. Transparency International ranked Afghanistan the third most corrupt state in 2015, the World Bank’s Control of Corruption and Ease of Doing Business ranks Afghanistan 186 out of 190 for both “dealing with construction permits” and “registering property,” and when surveyed by The Asian Foundation, approximately 90 percent of Afghans responded that corruption was a problem in daily life.

Considering that this is what 783 billion dollars and 20,000 American casualties gets the American public, America should determine if it makes sense to escalate America’s longest war.

It is not clear that it does.

For one, al-Qaeda has had a safe haven in Pakistan. Up until his death, Usama Bin Laden had been managing the day-to-day operations of al-Qaeda from what some have referred to as the West Point of Pakistan. In his 2015 work The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism – From al Qa’ida to ISIS, former CIA official Mike Morell writes “Before the raid we’d thought that Bin Ladin’s deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, was running the organization on a day-to-day basis, essentially the CEO of al Qa’ida, while Bin Ladin was the group’s ideological leader, its chairman of the board. But the DOCEX showed something quite different. It showed that Bin Ladin himself had not only been managing the organization from Abbottabad, he had been micromanaging it.” Other core leadership of the terror network have either been killed in Pakistan or suspected of residing there. Al-Qaeda’s presence has become so influential in their post 9/11 home that some even suggest that we have seen the “Pakistanization” of al-Qaeda.

Even if American attempts to eliminate al-Qaeda in Pakistan were successful, it is not even clear that the more dangerous branch of al-Qaeda is in Southern Asia. Under pressure from American drone strikes and special operations, al-Qaeda has become decentralized with arguable more threatening branches emerging in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Writing for The Washington Institute, Aaron Y. Zelin noted that “In many ways, the center of gravity for al-Qaeda has shifted from the AfPak region more to Yemen, Syria, and even Libya…” All three states are essentially ungoverned and if state building in Afghanistan is vital for American security then we should also pursue a similar strategy in these areas.

The truth is that despite having safe harbor in parts of Pakistan, the Arabian Peninsula, and Northern Africa, al-Qaeda has not been able to manage another successful terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. Their failure to do so is because of an aggressive anti-terrorist strategy consisting of drone strikes, special operation raids, enhanced intelligence, and the multiple layers of homeland security established after 9/11. Fighting the Taliban and building a government in Afghanistan had little to do with this.

American priorities are mixed up. Washington is sending American men and women to defend a corrupt and self-serving government against an organization that has no larger goal beyond ridding their homeland of Americans. At this point the Taliban are not fighting for a restoration of an Islamic emirate but to expel foreign forces. Therefore, increasing the number of foreign fighters should only be expected to intensify the conflict. The main mission of al-Qaeda, however, has not changed which is to restore a “true” Islamic government in the Middle East. This goal is pursued by committing acts of terrorism against the United States. Al-Qaeda should therefore be defeated yet fighting the Taliban in order to deny al-Qaeda a safe haven when the organization already has several doesn’t seem logical. Instead of sending more Americans in harm’s way to defend a government whose democratically elected Vice President is currently on the run for torturing a political rival, the United States should seek a power sharing agreement with the Taliban and not worry so much about what style of government it leaves behind in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: It’s Too Late

That is from the New York Review of Books

 

When Donald Trump’s secretary of defense, James Mattis, was called before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week to testify about the conflict in Afghanistan, he was unusually blunt: “We are not winning in Afghanistan right now,” he said. The Taliban have been on a dramatic offensive, he acknowledged, the security situation continues to deteriorate, and the Afghan government holds considerably less territory than it did a year ago. In other words, prospects for any sort of positive outcome are as remote as they have been in this sixteen-year war—the longest war in American history.

 

Yet Trump—and Mattis’s—solution to this unwinnable war seems to be once again to send more troops. On Tuesday, Trump announced that the military itself would be given full authority to decide how many troops it needs. (By leaving all decisions in the hands of the military, he has abandoned the usual inter-agency consultations, especially with the State Department.) And Mattis is talking about a review to be completed in July that could add as many as 5,000 troops. It may be too late.

 

What follows is a convincing laundry list of obstacles to the American mission of state building in Afghanistan.

You can read the rest here.

Europe may no longer be able to rely on the US for defense against Russia. Here are its options

This is at Quartz.

Options discussed include

  1. European Army
  2. Increase spending and pool resources
  3. “Get good at what’s actually possible without the US”
  4. Convince the US it needs Europe
  5. “Don’t do anything drastic”

The issue with NATO isn’t that the allies are free riding. Don’t get me wrong, NATO is “welfare for the rich” and its utterly stupid that Americans are arguably paying more for European security than Europeans do, but to me the issue is that the alliance has been extended into areas into territories that produce the security dilemma from a Russian perspective.

Taking political stock of the past 18 months, It is becoming clear that 1) the original NATO is becoming more essential than we realized and 2) it needs the United States to lead. There is too much latent populism and nationalism on the continent to let Germany rise without some sort of outside check to manage it. And frankly, NATO can’t survive without the United States. You have clear evidence of shrieking now. If the United States were to transfer power to NATO and the alliance was actually somehow needed, why would we assume buckpassing wouldn’t emerge as the dominant response?

I second Edelman and Tahiroglu’s suggestion to call Turkey’s bluff.

 

They have a piece in Commentary discussing the increasingly frayed relationship between Turkey and the United States.

They write

“Thursday’s NATO Summit provides an opportunity for the alliance to get tough on its putative Turkish ally. Under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s destabilizing policies in Europe and the Middle East have made it appear less an ally and more a Russian Trojan horse. To keep Turkey on track, NATO has been appeasing Erdogan, to no avail. Turkey’s recent “Eurasianist turn” and Erdogan’s now-constitutionalized one-man rule have only complicated the relationship. It is time for NATO to remind Erdogan that he needs the alliance just as much as NATO needs Turkey.”

The origins of the Turkish-American alliance are found in the same logic as most of the semi-permeant alliances formed after WWII. We wanted to contain the red menace. This was particular important for Turkey as Russia was, and probably still is, Ankara’s main antagonist.

Akin Unver has two excellent pieces on Turkish-Russian animosity. Regarding Crimean, he writes

“Some have argued that marching on Crimea was a last-gasp effort by Putin to save his fragile rule. But from the Turkish perspective, Russia’s invasion of Crimea fits a 340-year pattern. First, some military historians believe, Russia tends to expand when all of its neighbors are weak and unable to respond. Second, domination of the Black Sea is usually a shot across the bow; it presages further interventions. Third, Black Sea domination has inevitably required a revisionist stance on the status of the Bosporus strait, because patrolling Russian ships can only move down into the Mediterranean through that single bottleneck…:”

In a different piece, he writes

“In the last centuries, Turkey has suffered greatly whenever Russia is on the rise. During the Crimean War, World War I, and the Cold War, it has tried to protect itself through Western alliances. Today, Russian resurgence threatens again.”

Highly recommend you read both pieces if you want good historical perspective of Russian-turkish relations.

But what do we get in return for protecting Turkish sovereignty?

For starters, the president has helped inflame populist sentiment across Europe.

He also orders his cronies to physically assault American citizens exercising their civil liberties in America.

He calls emergency NATO meetings when Turkey shots down Russian aircraft.

And he even frustrates our attempts to defeat ISIS.

Just like any other alliance, this one has become semi-permanent and needs to be reevaluated. We get access to an airbase that probably leads to adventurism in the Middle East. Thats about it.

With the exception of Ukraine itself, no other country should be more alarmed by Crimea than Turkey, yet Turkish leadership behavior has only gotten more brazen.

 

The Trump u-turn on China and Russia is welcomed policy: Why the United States should be wary of Russia, and not China.

During the presidential race, political commentators were equally dismayed and puzzled by the developing relationship between then candidate Trump and President Putin. All sorts of explanations were offered to explain the apparent goodwill, from naked business interests to an alleged sex tape. But whatever the reason, Trump complimented Putin on a regular basis, referring to Russia’s president as a “strong leader” and “smart,” and stated that he intended to have a good working relationship with Russia’s president.

China, however, would be the center of a Trump administration’s ire. Trump accused China of “raping” the United States and promised that on day one he would label China as a currency manipulator and erect steep trade barriers. During his confirmation hearing, his nomination for Secretary of State suggested denying Beijing access to their artificial islands in the South China Sea.

That was then but this is now. After 100 days of Trump, the expected rapprochement with Russia has cooled and Chinese-American relations have apparently warmed. President Trump has directed 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Russia’s ally Syria, accused Russia of complicity in Syrian war crimes, has made no attempt of removing the sanctions imposed after Crimea, and has publicly stated he expects the peninsula to be returned to Ukraine.

Trump, however, has failed to label China as a currency manipulator, reneged on trade barriers, and restricted Navy patrols in the South China Sea. Xi Jinping, apparently, is even President Trump’s friend.

This u-turn is highly welcomed news for the simple fact that Russia is the troublemaker, and China, not so much.

Russia is the bigger problem for American foreign policy primarily because Russia is seeking to undermine 50 plus years of European economic integration and political liberalism. As articulated in a 2013 Center for Strategic Communications policy paper titled “Putin: The New World Leader of Conservatism,” Putin’s strategy of gaining influence in Europe is by assuming the leadership role of a transnational movement that defends and renews traditional social values, both in side Russia in Europe. This means supporting positions that are anti-immigrant, homophobic, and Eurosceptic, among other anti-liberal policies. This essentially makes Russia a proselytizing power as Putin seeks to export these policies to Europe by hacking elections, funding far right parties, and spreading fake news. The French presidential election offers ample evidence of this strategy in motion.

Compare this to China which has no designs on the political makeup of foreign states, doesn’t seek to export any particular culture to its neighbors and, despite lifting 800 million people out of poverty, doesn’t pressure others to adopt its version of state sponsored capitalism. They do hack, but not to influence election outcomes, and the fake news it produces is mainly for Chinese consumption and not to influence foreign elections.

The Chinese and Russian objectives for their respected neighborhoods are in contrast to one another. Russia’s objective is to sow political and economic uncertainty throughout their neighborhood, as a Europe divided by nationalism and economic populism is a plus for Moscow. But where Russia is deliberately stirring up tensions throughout Europe, China’s number one regional goal is stability. From their policy towards North Korea to their relationship with the United States, China’s number one goal is to avoid destabilizing the region. This is because unlike Russia, China has experienced legitimate economic gains and political consolidation over the past 30 years and would prefer not to upset this trend.

When one also considers that Putin’s Russia has also invaded two countries, committed war crimes in Syria, has sold arms to the Taliban, and violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, it is rather clear that Russia, and not China, should be considered the bigger problem for American. American priorities and rhetoric should reflect that.

 

 

Trump and Russia: The Right Way to Manage Relations

That is the name of an essay from the March/April edition of the Foreign Affairs.

Here is it’s opening

 

Relations between the United States and Russia are broken,and each side has a vastly different assessment of what went wrong. U.S. officials point to the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and the bloody covert war Russian forces are waging in eastern Ukraine. They note the Kremlin’s suppression of civil society at home, its reckless brandishing of nuclear weapons, and its military provocations toward U.S. allies and partners in Europe. They highlight Russia’s military intervention in Syria aimed at propping up Bashar al-Assad’s brutal dictatorship. And they call attention to an unprecedented attempt through a Kremlin-backed hacking and disinformation campaign to interfere with the U.S. presidential election last November.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his circle view things differently. In Ukraine, Moscow sees itself as merely pushing back against the relentless geopolitical expansion of the United States, NATO, and the EU. They point out that Washington and its allies have deployed troops right up to the Russian border. They claim that the United States has repeatedly intervened in Russian domestic politics and contend, falsely, that former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even incited antigovernment protests in Moscow in December 2011. And they maintain that the United States is meddling in Syria to overthrow a legitimate government, in just the latest example of its unilateral attempts to topple regimes it doesn’t like.

Informative and objective throughout. Highly recommended.

Putin and Erdogan’s Marriage of Convenience

Excellent read at the Wilson Center on the evolving and odd relationships between the United States, Turkey, and Russia. In late 2015 Turkey was shooting down Russian fighter jets. In August of 2016, Erdogan was praising his dear friend Putin. This turnabout was largely a result of America’s intervention into Syria.

Here is one bit from the article.

Overnight, America had transformed the Syrian Kurds into a legitimate actor, enabling them to consolidate territorial gains adjoining Turkey. For Ankara, however, this was nothing short of a victory for the hated Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which had been instrumental in the creation of the YPG and waged a decades-long guerrilla war against the Turkish state

Yet, like most American allies, Erdogan is more than happy to free ride on American security treaties.

Still, it would be foolhardy to suggest that Erdogan would contemplate abandoning NATO. Turkey lives under the shadow of the Russian giant — its anger at the United States and its Western allies notwithstanding, it needs the protection the alliance offers. Without it, the Russians would be able to intimidate Ankara at will. Erdogan correctly calculates that he can be a free rider in the alliance, cozying up to Moscow and antagonizing Washington, all the while knowing that the U.S.-Turkish relationship is deeply embedded in NATO.

Do read the entire thing.

The author is Henri Barkey.

Trump, China, and Russia

Should we be as concerned as most have been regarding the ongoing love affair between Trump and Putin? Jennifer Rubin at the WaPo has been especially active on how dire we should be over the expected thaw in US-Russian relations. See here, here and here.

I’m not as alarmed.

Russian aggression offends my western sensibilities, but not my perception of American strategic interests. The atrocities committed by Russia in Syria are truly tragic, and the there should be serious consequences for their recent cyber crimes, but you ally not based on values, but interests…otherwise, how would WW2 have ended if we refused to work with Stalin?

It seems clear to me that Trump has identified China as the biggest threat to the United States and from the phone call to Taiwan to nominating Peter Navarro as the director of the National Trade Council, you can read Trump’s early maneuvering as building leverage for when he has to deal with China.

How does Russia fit into this? From his outlook on Syria, nominating Tillerson to Secretary of State, and to his dismissal of Russia’s interference in the election, Trump seems to be courting Russia to help balance against the future country which will be the most important player in what is expected to be the most important region. I disagree with this approach., but it isn’t crazy. If your international outlook emphasizes a focus on power, which I presume Trump’s does, on nearly every metric China should be the more concerning country. Just look at a very crude metric of power, GDP. Assuming both states are illiberal and that one is the recognized potential hegemon of their region, who should the United States ally with?

Perhaps I’m giving too much credit to Trump to assume this is the framework that guides his thinking (as opposed to his suspected need to be adored by powerful men), but either way, an improvement in relations with Russia will be a welcomed change of pace.