The US Doesn’t Need Another Cold War To Improve Itself

From The American Conservative:

Hal Brands urges us to look on the bright side of decades of destructive international rivalry:

But on balance, the Cold War was a force for equality because the reality of race relations in the US was incompatible with America’s efforts to win hearts and minds in the Third World.

It is true that there was significant progress on civil rights during the Cold War, but it is quite the illogical leap to conclude that this progress happened because of the rivalry with the Soviets. There is even less reason to think that a U.S.-Chinese rivalry would lead to something similar happening in the future. It would be much more accurate to say that the US made that progress in spite of the regimentation and militarism of that period. If we want to protect the civil rights and liberties of all Americans, we would do well to steer clear of anything resembling a new Cold War.

In just the last few months, we have seen how quickly hostility towards the Chinese government has encouraged a spike in attacks and derogatory language against Asian-Americans. It does not take clairvoyance to know that a sustained U.S.-Chinese rivalry will produce more of this ugliness, and it is likely to lead to many violations of civil liberties committed in the name of national security. We know very well from the last twenty years that the toxic mix of threat inflation and fear-mongering over terrorism have fueled anti-Muslim prejudice and led to discriminatory policies based solely on nationality and/or religion. Ginning up hostility towards another nation inevitably harms the minority and immigrant communities that have ties to that nation, and the hysterical nationalism that has accompanied our major international rivalries exposes diaspora communities to discrimination, surveillance, physical attacks, and arrest. In the most extreme case in WWII, it led to the mass internment of more than a hundred thousand American citizens because of their ethnicity.

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No Evidence of ‘Self-Defense’ in Soleimani’s Killing

From The American Conservative:

The U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions has said in a new report that the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani earlier this year was in violation of international law, and noted that the US had provided no evidence that it had acted in self-defense:

The attack violated the UN Charter, Callamard wrote in a report calling for accountability for targeted killings by armed drones and for greater regulation of the weapons.

Callamard’s judgment is correct, but then we didn’t need a UN official to tell us what was right in front of us six months ago. The UN Charter prohibits the use of force except for the purpose of self-defense. The US was clearly not engaged in self-defense when it launched an attack to kill a senior member of a foreign government’s military on the territory of a third country. The US not only committed an act of aggression against Iran, but it trampled on Iraq’s sovereignty as well. Everything that the Trump administration told the public about this attack back in January was untrue or misleading, and its claim that the president had authority to launch this attack because of the 2002 Iraq war AUMF was spurious nonsense.

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Afghanistan and the Endless War Caucus

From The American Conservative:

Barbara Boland reported on the House Armed Services Committee’s vote to impede withdrawal of US from Afghanistan:

The House Armed Services Committee voted Wednesday night to put roadblocks on President Donald Trump’s vow to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, apparently in response to bombshell report published by The New York Times Friday that alleges Russia paid dollar bounties to the Taliban in Afghanistan to kill US troops.

It speaks volumes about Congress’ abdication of its responsibilities that one of the few times that most members want to challenge the president over a war is when they think he might bring it to an end. Many of the members that want to block withdrawals from other countries have no problem when the president wants to use US forces illegally and to keep them in other countries without authorization for years at a time. The role of hard-liner Liz Cheney in pushing the measure passed yesterday is a good example of what I mean. The hawkish outrage in Congress is only triggered when the president entertains the possibility of taking troops out of harm’s way. When he takes reckless and illegal action that puts them at risk, as he did when he ordered the illegal assassination of Soleimani, the same members that are crying foul today applauded the action. As Boland explains, the amendment passed by the committee yesterday sets so many conditions on withdrawal that it makes it all but impossible to satisfy them:

Crow’s amendment adds several layers of policy goals to the US mission in Afghanistan, which has already stretched on for 19 years and cost over a trillion dollars. As made clear in the Afghanistan Papers, most of these policy goals were never the original intention of the mission in Afghanistan, and were haphazardly added after the defeat of al Qaeda. With no clear vision for what achieving these fuzzy goals would look like, the mission stretches on indefinitely, an unarticulated victory unachievable.

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The Iran Obsession Has Isolated the US

From The American Conservative:

Mike Pompeo delivered an embarrassing, clownish performance at the UN on Tuesday, and his attempt to gain support for an open-ended conventional arms embargo on Iran was rejected the rest of the old P5+1:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Tuesday for an arms embargo on Iran to be extended indefinitely, but his appeal fell flat at the United Nations Security Council, where Russia and China rejected it outright and close allies of the United States were ambivalent.

The Trump administration is more isolated than ever in its Iran obsession. The ridiculous effort to invoke the so-called “snapback” provision of the JCPOA more than two years after reneging on the agreement met with failure, just as most observers predicted months ago when it was first floated as a possibility. As I said at the time, “The administration’s latest destructive ploy won’t find any support on the Security Council. There is nothing “intricate” about this idea. It is a crude, heavy-handed attempt to employ the JCPOA’s own provisions to destroy it.” It was never going to work because all of the other parties to the agreement want nothing to do with the administration’s punitive approach, and U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA meant that it forfeited any rights it had when it was still part of the deal.

Opposition from Russia and China was a given, but the striking thing about the scene at the UN this week was that major US allies joined them in rebuking the administration’s obvious bad faith maneuver:

The pointedly critical tone of the debate saw Germany accusing Washington of violating international law by withdrawing from the nuclear pact, while Berlin aligned itself with China’s claim that the United States has no right to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran.

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Attacking Congressional Oversight To Sell Weapons to War Criminals

From The American Conservative:

The Trump administration is considering ending the process of giving Congress informal notification about pending arms sales:

While congressional aides were not surprised by the proposed move, which they said the Trump administration has been considering as far back as two years, a decision to end the informal consultation would be seen as a major slight to Capitol Hill’s oversight authority.

“That would be viewed as going nuclear,” said Juan Pachón, the communications director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Bob Menendez.

Arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE have become a point of contention between Congress and the administration because the president is determined to evade Congressional oversight in order to keep the weapons flowing to the war criminals in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Last year, the administration abused a provision in the Arms Exports Control Act to declare an “emergency” that didn’t exist in order to expedite arms sales that most members of Congress wanted to block. The bogus emergency declaration led to the passage of several Congressional resolutionsdisapproving of the arms sales, and then the president vetoed those resolutions. That bogus emergency declaration has since become the subject of investigation by Steve Linick, the State Department’s Inspector General, who was then fired at Secretary Pompeo’s urging earlier this year.

Now the administration is considering another way of restricting Congress’ role in overseeing arms sales. Note that this isn’t happening because Congress is blocking arms sales for frivolous or purely partisan reasons, but because the weapons being solid to these governments are used to commit war crimes against civilians in Yemen. Congress is rightly challenging a monstrous policy of arming war criminals, and the president is looking for every loophole he can find to make sure that the war criminals get the weapons. Both houses of Congress have voted more than once to end U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen, and Trump has stubbornly refused to halt our government’s shameful support for the Saudi coalition. Taking away informal Congressional notification of pending sales is an attempt to destroy Congress’ influence over arms sales in general and the US government’s support for the war on Yemen in particular.

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Recognizing the Limits of US Power

From The American Conservative:

Jeremy Shapiro wrote an interesting review of Shields of the Republic, a new book by Mira Rapp-Hooper about U.S. alliances. Dan Drezner responds to Shapiro by changing the subject to talk about the recent clash between Indian and Chinese forces in Ladakh:

This is not a clash that involves US allies. But I can remember a time in which the United States possessed enough diplomatic capital and network centrality to function as a mediator between the two nuclear-armed countries. As this border skirmish was heating up, Donald Trump offered to act as a mediator only to be rebuffed by India almost immediately.

When exactly was this time that the US could have served as a mediator in a situation like this? The only comparable case that I can think of was during the Kargil war between India and Pakistan more than twenty years ago, and even in that case the US didn’t really mediate between the two. The US did encourage Pakistan to de-escalate, but even at the height of the so-called “unipolar moment” the US had virtually nothing to do with bringing that conflict to an end. The crisis between India and Pakistan in late 2001 and early 2002 following the attack on the Indian parliament was likewise resolved with minimal US involvement. No doubt Trump is too lazy to do the kind of diplomatic work that would be required to sustain an effective mediation effort, but India rebuffed US mediation because India has a long history of not wanting others to get involved in its bilateral disputes with its neighbors. Modi previously blew off Trump’s offers to mediate the Kashmir dispute for the same reason, just as an earlier Indian government dismissed Obama’s suggestion of mediation. India has no wish for the US to insert itself into the showdown with China, and the US is in no position to appeal to Beijing about anything right now. The US could have the most “robust” diplomatic presence in both countries, and it still would not make our involvement any more welcome or constructive.

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