Trump and Netanyahu: “Mutual Defense” or Just Mutual Political Back-Scratching?

On September 14, US president Donald Trump tweeted (of course) the suggestion of a US-Israel “Mutual Defense Treaty,” citing a call with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hopefully there’s less going on here than meets the eye: The tweet may just be another mutual publicity back-scratch of the type Trump and Netanyahu frequently exchange when they find themselves in political pickles. And Netanyahu is likely in the biggest such pickle of his career.

After failing to put together a ruling coalition in the wake of April’s general election, Netanyahu called another election for September 17.

Netanyahu also faces imminent indictment on three corruption charges, with a court hearing on the charges scheduled for early October. In June, his wife Sara took a plea deal and paid a fine for misusing state funds.

Netanyahu’s personal future may well depend on him having a political future. He’s pulling out all stops to change the April results, from approving new Israeli squats (“settlements”) in, and even promising to annex parts of, the occupied West Bank, to conducting military attacks in Syria and Iraq and along the Lebanese border.

Talk of a “Mutual Defense Treaty” with the US may well drive some badly needed votes his way, especially to the extent that such a treaty might be thought available only to Netanyahu and his Likud Party but not to Benny Gantz’s Blue and White alliance (the platform of which, by the way, bars indicted politicians from serving in the Knesset, Israel’s legislature).

So maybe Trump’s tweet is just politics. But if it’s for real, it’s a bad idea for the US, a bad idea for Israel, and a bad idea for world peace.

The US doesn’t need Israel’s assistance to defend itself. It already spends far more than any other state in the world on its military,  that amount is many multiples of any amount reasonably related to actual defense, and it faces no existential military threats other than attack with nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles, which Israel couldn’t plausibly reduce.

Israel hasn’t faced a military threat to its existence since 1973, and given the web of US-influenced and US-financed relations it’s created with Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, isn’t likely to face any such threat not of its own making for the foreseeable future .

As for peace in general, Trump proposes a “Mutual Defense” pact with a rogue nuclear garrison ethno-state in a tinderbox region. What could possibly go wrong?

A “Mutual Defense Treaty” with the US would only encourage further bad behavior and saber-rattling on the part of the Israelis toward e.g. Iran and Syria. That’s the kind of behavior bound to eventually CREATE a real military threat, resulting in the Israelis demanding US support pursuant to the treaty, on a claim of “Mom, he hit me back FIRST.”

It’s time for the US to start furling its post-World War Two “security umbrella” instead of inviting suspect new partners to join it beneath that umbrella. America’s future, if it is to have one, requires a non-interventionist foreign policy.

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Trump Didn’t Start the War in Afghanistan, But He Owns It

National Security Advisor John Bolton became the latest American casualty of Washington’s 18-year war in Afghanistan on September 10, fired by US president Donald Trump shortly after Trump announced that he had planned, but was canceling, a meeting with Taliban leaders at Camp David to ink a “peace deal.”

Firing Bolton is a good start. Nobody sane wants a guy who looks like Captain Kangaroo but talks like Dr. Strangelove whispering foreign policy advice in a president’s ear. The main effect of his departure from the White House is to shift perceived responsibility for America’s ongoing fiasco in Afghanistan back where it belongs: Squarely on the shoulders of Donald J. Trump.

Before Trump became a presidential candidate, his views on the war made sense. “We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives,” he tweeted on March 1, 2013. In November of that same year, he urged Americans to “not allow our very stupid leaders to sign a deal that keeps us in Afghanistan through 2024.”

Unfortunately his position on the war became “nuanced” (read: pandering and weaselly) as he became first a presidential candidate and then president.

As president, he increased US troop levels in Afghanistan and dragged out the war he once said he wanted to end. In fact, the notional Camp David “peace deal” would merely have reduced those troop levels back to about where they were as of his inauguration. Some “peace deal!”

Throughout Trump’s presidency, his non-interventionist supporters have continuously made excuses for his failure to end US military adventures in Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere.

It’s always John Bolton’s fault, or Mike Pompeo’s. It’s always this general, or that bureaucrat, or the “fake news media,” or the “deep state” undermining poor, powerless little Donny Trump, thwarting his sincere desire to do the right thing and bring the troops home.

Oddly, those same supporters would have us believe that Trump is a bold and commanding genius, scattering his opponents before him as he  maneuvers 5D chess pieces around their tiddlywinks with his abnormally small hands, Making America Great Again.

It can’t be both. Nor is it necessarily either of those things. Whatever it is, this is necessarily part of it:

“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States …” — Article II, Section 2, US Constitution

Trump can pick up his phone any time, call the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and order the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. If his order is disobeyed, he can relieve the generals who fail to follow it and replace them with others who’ll do their jobs.

John Bolton didn’t stop him from doing that. Mike Pompeo can’t stop him from doing that. The “fake news media” and the “deep state” don’t get to countermand presidential orders to the armed forces.

Donald Trump owns this war. If he doesn’t end it, that’s on him and no one else.

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Will the DNC Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory Yet Again?

President Donald Trump faces an exceedingly narrow path to re-election in 2020. In order to beat him, the Democratic nominee only needs to pick up 38 electoral votes. With more than 100 electoral votes in play in states that Trump won narrowly in 2016 — especially Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida — all the Democrats have to do is pick a nominee ever so slightly more popular than Hillary Clinton.

That’s a low bar that the Democratic National Committee seems determined, once again, to not get over.  As in 2016, the DNC is putting its finger on the scale in favor of “establishment” candidates, the sentiments of the rank and file be damned.

Last time, the main victim was Bernie Sanders. This time, it’s Tulsi Gabbard.

Michael Tracey delivers the gory details in a column at RealClearPolitics. Here’s the short version:

By selectively disqualifying polls in which Gabbard (a US Representative from Hawaii) performs above the 2% threshold for inclusion in the next round of primary debates, the DNC is trying to exclude her while including candidates with much lower polling and fundraising numbers.

Why doesn’t the DNC want Gabbard in the debates? Two reasons come to mind.

Firstly, her marquee issue is foreign policy. She thinks the US should be less militarily adventurous abroad, and as an army veteran of the post-9/11 round of American military interventions in the Middle East and Central Asia, she’s got the credentials to make her points stick.

Foreign policy is a weak spot for the increasingly hawkish Democratic establishment in general and the front-runner and current establishment pick, former vice-president Joe Biden, in particular. As a Senator, Biden voted to approve the ill-fated US invasion of Iraq. As vice-president, he supported President Barack Obama’s extension of the war in Afghanistan and Obama’s ham-handed interventions in Libya, Syria, and other countries where the US had no business meddling. The party’s leaders would rather not talk about foreign policy at all and if they have to talk about it they don’t want candidates coloring outside simplistic “Russia and China bad” lines.

Secondly, Gabbard damaged — probably fatally — the establishment’s pre-Biden pick, US Senator Kamala Harris, by pointing out Harris’s disgusting authoritarian record as California’s attorney general. Gabbard knows how to land a punch, and the DNC doesn’t want any more surprises. They’re looking for a coronation, not a contest.

If the DNC has its way,  next year’s primaries will simply ratify the establishment pick, probably a Joe Biden / Elizabeth Warren ticket, without a bunch of fuss and argument.

And if that happens, the Democratic Party will face the same problem it faced in 2016: The rank and file may not be very motivated to turn off their televisions and go vote.

Whatever their failings, rank and file Democrats seem to like … well, democracy. They want to pick their party’s nominees, not have those nominees picked for them in advance. Can’t say I blame them.

Nor will I blame them for not voting — or voting Libertarian — if the DNC ignores them and limits their choices yet again.

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Afghanistan: In Search of Monsters to Not Destroy

America, John Quincy Adams said in 1821, “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” That’s as good a summary ever spoken of the non-interventionist position.

US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) disagrees. He opposes President Trump’s quest for a peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan as “reckless and dangerous,” entailing “severe risk to the homeland.”

Nearly 18 years  into the US occupation of Afghanistan, at a cost of  trillions of dollars, more than 4,000 Americans dead and more than 20,000 wounded, Graham and his fellow hawks clearly aren’t really looking for monsters to destroy.  They want those monsters alive and at large, to justify both their own general misrule and the perpetual flow of American blood and treasure into foreign soil (read: into the bank accounts of US “defense” contractors).

The US invasion of Afghanistan was never militarily necessary. The Taliban offered to hand over Osama bin Laden upon presentation of evidence that he was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, an offer President George W. Bush arrogantly declined in favor of war.

The extended US occupation of, and “nation-building” project in, Afghanistan, was even less justifiable. Instead of relentlessly pursuing the supposed mission of apprehending bin Laden and liquidating al Qaeda, US forces focused on toppling the Taliban, installing a puppet regime, and setting themselves to the impossible task of turning Kabul into Kokomo.

It hasn’t worked. It’s not working now. It’s not going to start working.  Ever. It should never have been attempted. Afghans don’t want Lindsey Graham running their affairs any more than you want him running yours. Can you blame them after as many as 360,000 Afghan civilian deaths?

Afghanistan is not and never has been a military threat to the United States, let alone the kind of existential threat that would justify 18 years of war. Yesterday isn’t soon enough to bring this fiasco to an end. But Graham and company would, given their way, drag it out forever.

They’re  the kind of grifters H.L. Mencken had in mind when he noted that “[t]he whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” But they’d rather keep old hobgoblins alive than have to manufacture new ones.

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Yes, Parents Are Capable of Choosing How Their Children Should Be Educated

At the heart of debates around education freedom and school choice is the subtle but sinister sentiment that parents can’t be trusted. They are too busy, too poor, or too ignorant to make the right decisions for their kids, and others know better how to raise and educate children. Never mind that parents have successfully cared for and educated their children for millennia, ensuring the ongoing survival and continued success of our species.

Distrust of Parents

As economist Richard Ebeling writes in the introduction to Sheldon Richman’s book Separating School & State:

The parent has been viewed—and still is viewed—as a backward and harmful influence in the formative years of the child’s upbringing, an influence that must be corrected for and replaced by the “enlightened” professional teacher who has been trained, appointed, and funded by the state.

We see this distrust of parents play out in a number of policy areas, including most recently with the implementation of universal government preschool for four-year-olds (and increasingly three-year-olds) in cities like New York and Washington, DC, and in academic reports arguing for “Cradle to Kindergarten” government interventions. These efforts are nearly always framed as helping parents, taking the burden off of low- and middle-income families, and addressing inequality and achievement gaps. But the message is clear: parents, and especially disadvantaged parents, can’t be expected to effectively raise their children and see to their education without the government’s help.

Some researchers say this outright. In an article published in this week’s Washington Post about alleged summer learning loss among schoolchildren, Kelly Chandler-Olcott suggests that to fix the problem, we need to stop expecting parents to nurture their children during the summer months and instead rely on experts to do it for them. She writes:

Also troubling is the assumption that families, not educators, should promote learning in specialized areas such as mathematics, reading and science. Although families from all walks of life promote varied kinds of learning in everyday life, most parents lack preparation to address academic subjects, and their year-round obligations don’t end just because school is out for their offspring.

This is during the summertime, mind you, when parents have long been responsible for the care of their children. Apparently now the academic crisis is so dire, particularly for low-income children, and parents’ “year-round obligations” are so huge, that we should entrust others to do throughout the summer months what seemingly didn’t work well during the academic year. As I wrote at NPR, we need to ask ourselves if kids can so quickly forget during summertime what they purportedly learned during the school year, did they ever really learn it at all? And if “most parents lack preparation to address academic subjects,” then what does that say about the education they received through public schooling?

“Perennial Force” of Parenthood

The idea that parents get in the way of children’s education and can halt their flourishing is nothing new. As he was designing the architecture for compulsory mass schooling in the 19th century, Horace Mann argued that education was too important to be left to parents’ discretion. He explained that strong parental bonds are obstacles to children’s and society’s development, writing in his fourth lecture on education in 1840:

Nature supplies a perennial force, unexhausted, inexhaustible, re-appearing whenever and wherever the parental relation exists. We, then, who are engaged in the sacred cause of education, are entitled to look upon all parents as having given hostages to our cause.

Mann goes on to say that “just as soon as we can make them see the true relation in which they and their children stand to this cause, they will become advocates for its advancement,” supporting the complete shift in control of education from the family to the state. It’s for the good of all, Mann said—except for parents like him who homeschooled his own children while mandating forced schooling for others.

The solution is for parents to push back against creeping government control of education and child-rearing. Don’t be wooed by the siren song of feigned empathy for your burdens of work and family. Don’t be convinced of the false belief that you are incapable of caring for your children and determining how, where, and with whom they should be educated. Don’t let your “inexhaustible” parental instincts be weakened by government guardians who think they know what is best for your child. Demand freedom and choice.

Parents are powerful. They are not perfect, and they do fail, but they are more perfect and fail much less than state agents and government bureaucracies intoxicated by authority and ego. They should take back control of their children’s education by advocating for parental choice and resisting efforts to undermine their innate capacity to care for their children’s well-being.

Place trust in the “perennial force” of parenthood, even when—or perhaps especially when—others distrust it.

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Westminster: Bulldog, Not Poodle, for Best in Show

As of July 23,  members of the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party will have chosen a new leader. On July 24, Queen Elizabeth II will appoint a new prime minister,  almost certainly that new party leader. The two remaining contenders for those jobs are former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The elephant in the UK’s political room at the moment is, of course, Brexit. But another issue looms large as well, especially from across the Atlantic. That issue is foreign policy, particularly the UK’s tendency to throw in with US military interventions in the Middle East.

On July 16, when asked about the prospect of the UK joining the US in a war on Iran, Johnson responded bluntly while Hunt prevaricated.

Johnson: “If you ask me if I think, were I prime minister now, would I be supporting military action against Iran, the answer is ‘No.”‘

Hunt: “The risk we have is something different, which is an accidental war, because something happens in a very tense and volatile situation.”

On the one hand, it’s naive to take any politician at his word, especially when that politician is lobbying for election to public office or a party leadership position. On the other, a seemingly straight answer is probably a more reliable indicator than a transparent dodge.

Johnson gave that seemingly straight answer — the answer of a bulldog relentlessly focused on his country’s interests rather than on maintaining  its “special relationship” with the United States.

Hunt’s answer, unfortunately, immediately brought to mind former PM Tony Blair’s unconvincing denial of accusations that he was US president George W. Bush’s “poodle” in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“I choose my own way …” Blair insisted. “[T]hat region of the world — most of all the people of Iraq — would be in a far better position without Saddam Hussein.  Does that mean that military action is imminent or about to happen? No. We’ve never said that. We have said ‘Here is an issue. It has to be dealt with. We will deal with it, but how we’ll deal with it is an open question.’”

Blair ended up committing the UK to what turned out to be a ruinous project for pretty much everyone involved. An official inquiry into the fiasco, conducted by Sir John Chilcot, resulted in a 2016 report accurately characterized by The Guardian‘s Richard Norton-Taylor as “an unprecedented, devastating indictment of how a prime minister was allowed to make decisions by discarding all pretence at cabinet government, subverting the intelligence agencies, and making exaggerated claims about threats to Britain’s national security.”

Johnson’s seemingly firm position is no guarantee that as prime minister he would wisely refrain from joining in future US military adventures.

Hunt’s decision to muddy the waters is virtually a guarantee that, like Blair, he would prioritize maintaining the “special relationship,” no matter the cost in blood and treasure to the United Kingdom, and no matter the damage to the cause of world peace.

Choose wisely, Tories. It matters.

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