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Too Bad the Portman-Strickland Senate Race Has Turned into a China-Bashing Free-For-All

K. William Watson

If there’s one thing all the remaining 2016 presidential candidates can agree on, it’s that China is to blame for America’s economic woes. Donald Trump says that “China is killing us” and has proposed a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have also accused China, in different ways, of harming our economy through mutually beneficial exchange.

But the most emphatic China-bashing of 2016 isn’t happening in the presidential race. It’s happening in the Senate election in Ohio, where both candidates are directly accusing each other of the horrible crime of being “good for China.”

It’s no surprise that trade policy has become a central part of this particular race.  Anti-trade sentiment is being stoked nationwide but especially in Rust Belt states like Ohio, where shifting employment patterns and stagnant labor markets have given politicians an opportunity to blame foreigners for the mythical demise of America’s still-thriving manufacturing sector.

Portman’s capitulation could pave the way to higher taxes in the United States, harming consumers and businesses around the world.

Ohio’s incumbent Republican senator, Rob Portman, has a pro-trade record that is ripe for criticism in today’s political environment. Portman has a strong record in support of free trade during his time as the U.S. trade representative, and in both the U.S. House and Senate.

Portman’s challenger, Democratic former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, has a nearly opposite record on trade. During his more than 10 years in the House, he voted against all the trade agreements Portman supported, and has been a close friend of the labor movement throughout his time in public office.

An election campaign is hardly the time to confront voters with sophisticated economic policy debates, so candidates need catch phrases and clichés to gain electoral points. Protectionists usually use phrases like “fair trade” or “level the playing field” or “bring back American jobs” as shorthand for raising tariffs on imports. And sometimes, as Strickland has done in Ohio, they pick a foreign country and blame that country for all of their constituents’ perceived economic ills.

Strickland has pulled off this strategy with flair. He ran an ad in which Portman’s face is superimposed on the body of a Chinese gymnast performing a “triple-aerial flip-flop.” The fake sports announcer notes, “Rob’s been practicing it his whole career — supporting one bad trade deal after another, sending hundreds of thousands of jobs to China. Now, in an election year, he says he is against a trade deal he voted for last year.”

It’s not clear how free trade agreements with countries like Australia and Morocco could possibly send hundreds of thousands of jobs to China, but it’s important to have a bad guy. Strickland has even done a web prank where makingchinagreatagain.com sends you to Portman’s official website.

The gymnast ad ends with a catch phrase Strickland is now regularly using to describe Portman: “the best senator China’s ever had.”

In a better world, this would be a great opportunity for Portman to take credit for helping lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. China has a population of 1.3 billion people who still subsist on a per-capita income roughly one-fourth as high as Americans’. China’s amazing economic growth over the past few decades owes a lot to China’s increased openness to foreign trade, which the United States helped foster. Portman could show pride in having played some small part in those efforts.

Portman could also point out how trade is a cooperative activity that promotes peace while benefiting Americans and foreigners through better jobs and lower prices. What’s good for China can also be good for America — Portman could say — and we should find more and more ways to strive toward mutual benefit and cooperation.

But electoral politics aren’t so ideal. Instead of thanking Strickland, Portman’s response has been to point back at Strickland and say, “No. You!”

Portman has repeatedly accused Strickland of being “weak on China,” as if China is something that needs to be fought against by restricting Americans’ right to trade.  He’s even set up a website of his own — weakonchina.com — to highlight Strickland’s “hypocrisy.” His campaign is running a series of ads that point to the two times in his entire career that Strickland could have voted for higher tariffs, but didn’t. One ad points to when Ohio, under Strickland’s governorship, “gave a $4 million dollar loan to a company with a Chinese factory.” Sen. Portman, the ad says, is the one who will be “protecting Ohio jobs when China cheats.”

Portman has run so far away from his record that he even told reporters that he likes what Donald Trump is saying about trade. Remember that one of Trump’s main complaints about U.S. trade agreements is that they were negotiated by “political hacks.” Presumably, that includes former U.S. trade representative Rob Portman.

Perhaps Ohio’s China-bashing is an indictment of Portman’s inability to stand up for good economic policy. Perhaps it reflects more on the popular power of Donald Trump’s belligerent economic nationalism. Either way, Portman’s capitulation could pave the way to higher taxes in the United States, harming consumers and businesses around the world.

K. William Watson is a Texas-based trade policy analyst for the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute think tank in Washington, D.C.

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If US Won’t Take More Syrian Refugees, Extend Trade Agreements to Those Who Do

Alex Nowrasteh

Almost 6 million Syrians have left their home country due to the civil war. Most of them are in the Middle East: 2.7 million in Turkey, 1.1 million in Lebanon and 640,000 in Jordan. The United States has resettled a mere 3,619 here while Europe has accepted over 1 million. Western nations aren’t politically eager to accept more fleeing Syrians due to fears of terrorism and the cost to taxpayers.

Allowing Americans to privately sponsor refugees, increasing the numbers or giving them priority for work visas would all ease the humanitarian crisis. If those options are not politically possible, the United States and other Western nations have other options to help Syrian refugees in the Middle East that will help keep them there.

The United States and Europe should extend even more generous free-trade agreements (FTAs) to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. In exchange, those governments will hand out legal work permits to the Syrian refugees and remove all restrictions on their employment, entrepreneurial activity and living arrangements. They shouldn’t face extra fees, or wage or labor market regulations. Likewise, firms that hire the Syrians shouldn’t face any extra burdens, fees or taxes.

Free-trade agreements with Middle Eastern nations hosting Syrian refugees will accomplish important humanitarian and economic goals in that beleaguered region while satisfying other political goals in the West.

Expanded FTAs will lessen the humanitarian burden and improve the livelihood of Syrians at zero fiscal cost to the West. All we’d give up are a few tariffs and customs procedures that make us worse off anyway. Enhanced FTAs will spur domestic industry in nations housing Syrians, sucking up refugees and natives alike in an expanding economy.

More income, employment and options for the Syrians will help them start their lives anew and decrease the pressure to leave. A handful will use their newfound income to smuggle themselves to the West, but the desperate humanitarian urgency will diminish. Instead of a mad scramble to resettle asylum seekers showing up on Europe’s coasts, an orderly process of refugee resettlement can continue at lower numbers while the Syrians start their lives again.

Free-trade agreements can make a big difference in Middle Eastern countries hosting Syrians. The 2001 U.S. FTA with Jordan helped expand their exports from $229.2 million to almost $1.5 billion in 2015 — much of it concentrated in the labor-intensive apparel industry. Europe also has an FTA with Jordan.

Trade with Jordan is already so liberalized that little can be done to improve it besides freeing agricultural commodities — a big potential employer of lower-skilled Syrians. Europe and the United States should also listen to Jordanian complaints about our trade deals and unilaterally amend them to their liking. Jordan is already issuing and expanding work permits to Syrians without negative economic consequences; Western trade actions can help make sure both continue.

Expanding the Jordanian FTA to Turkey and Lebanon can also help. Lebanon is a small country with a major port but a lot of political instability made worse by European-style labor market regulations that encourage black-market hiring. According to an International Labour Organization report, “Most Syrian refugees work as informal labourers, whereby 92 percent of workers do not have a contract. Around 72 percent are hired on an hourly, daily, weekly, or seasonal basis; only 23 per cent are paid a regular monthly salary.”

Lebanon’s government is currently issuing permits to some Syrians, but they aren’t allowed to start businesses in many parts of the country. Removing strict labor market regulations that cause black-market employment would relieve that situation. The promise of a generous FTA and access to a rich market could provide the impetus to spur labor market and refugee reforms.

Turkey, on the other hand, is a larger and more modern economy with greater political stability. They’ve begun to grant permits to Syrian workers, but with minimum wages and a prohibition on more than 10 percent of employees in any single firm being Syrian. An FTA with Turkey should insist on removing those regulations while simultaneously opening up the American market to Turkish firms, giving a huge incentive to hire the Syrians and many Turks.

Free-trade agreements with Middle Eastern nations hosting Syrian refugees will accomplish important humanitarian and economic goals in that beleaguered region while satisfying other political goals in the West, like keeping the Syrians out. Ultimately, the United States should welcome in more Syrian refugees. But targeted FTAs can at least make a big difference in the mean time.

Alex Nowrasteh is immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute.

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MSNBC’s Morning Joe Whitewashes Bob Gates’ Legacy

Nat Hentoff and Nick Hentoff

Last week, Robert Gates, the former secretary of defense and director of the CIA, criticized Donald Trump’s lack of discipline and judgment during an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Trump appeared on Morning Joe the next day to address Gates’ criticism and rejected co-host Mika Brzezinski’s claim that “Bob Gates is one of the greatest foreign policy minds in history.”

“All of these guys have a great reputation,” Trump responded. “They’ve been doing this stuff for 15 years (and) look where our country is, OK? We need a new group with better thinking.”

On Wednesday, the crew circled the wagons around Gates’ reputation and devoted an entire segment to the defense of his legacy.

“I don’t think that there has been a more highly regarded public servant in the last 15, 20 years than Bob Gates,” said panel member Tom Brokaw.

“Undisputable,” Brzezinski chimed in.

“He (Gates) tells it as he sees it,” Brokaw added.

Co-host Joe Scarborough was even more effusive in his praise of Gates. He became almost apoplectic at the idea that someone as low-information as Trump would malign Gates’ long record of public service.

“We always complain that there are no longer any giants roaming the earth in Washington, D.C. — any wise men or wise women — Bob Gates is one of those,” Scarborough gushed.

Scarborough urged his viewers to “dig into what Bob Gates has done.” He then launched into a tirade about Trump’s willful ignorance: “Donald Trump knows nothing about his (Gates’) history. He just shoots off at his mouth about Bob Gates. If he read books, he wouldn’t have said what he said about Robert Gates.”

Trump isn’t the only one who should read a few books to better understand Robert Gates’ role in some of the biggest foreign policy scandals and failures in American history.

Anyone interested in the facts should read the Robert Gates File on George Washington University’s National Security Archive website. The archive contains original source documents from the Iran-Contra scandal, transcripts of Gates’ 1991 CIA confirmation hearings and excerpts from John Prados’ book Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA.

The Iran-Contra scandal resulted in the indictment of 14 Reagan administration officials for their involvement in or cover-up of a plan to fund an insurgency against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua with proceeds from illegal arms sales to Iran. Although Gates narrowly avoided indictment for his role in the incident, he was forced to withdraw from his 1987 nomination as the director of the CIA.

At least Scarborough has the excuse of being preoccupied with law school as the Iran-Contra scandal unfolded in the press and on the evening news in the late 1980s. Brokaw, the onetime anchor of the NBC Nightly News, reported on Iran-Contra, Gates’ 1991 confirmation hearings and the release of the independent counsel’s 1994 Iran-Contra report. In a 2013 appearance on MSNBC’s The Cycle, Brokaw boasted of covering Iran-Contra, which he described as “a pretty big damn scandal.”

Brokaw was anchoring the Nightly News in September 1991 when Andrea Mitchell reported daily on Gates’ contentious confirmation hearings, including the testimony of CIA officers who alleged that Gates knew about and helped conceal the sale of missiles to Iran and the diversion of funds to support the Nicaraguan contras. And Brokaw was the anchor when Mitchell reported the testimony of CIA analysts, who said Gates ordered them to alter intelligence threat assessments to justify the Reagan administration’s massive arms buildup at a time when the Soviet Union was crumbling.

Brokaw also anchored the NBC Nightly News on Jan. 18, 1994, when correspondent Pete Williams covered the release of independent counsel Lawrence Walsh’s Iran-Contra report, which devoted an entire chapter to Gates’ involvement in the scandal. It concluded that “the statements of Gates often seemed scripted and less than candid.”

Later, in his book Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-Up, Walsh said that he “disbelieved Gates’ testimony.”

Far from being considered one of the greatest foreign policy minds in history, the National Security Archive’s website argues: “As Director of Central Intelligence in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, Gates faced criticism for moving slowly with reforming the agency for the new era, and thus missing a moment of extraordinary opportunity that occurred at that time.”

In “The Wars Robert Gates Got Wrong,” a 2014 New Yorker review of Gates’ memoir, Jonathan Alter observed that Gates’ assessment of Vice President Joe Biden — that he was “?‘wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades’ … applies rather precisely to Gates himself.”

Gates can also be “credited” with being the architect of the pilotless drone assassination program adopted by George W. Bush and expanded by Barack Obama. It marked the end of a long career of public service distinguished by a fundamental lack of respect for the rule of law.

Hindsight is usually 20-20. That is, unless you insist on being willfully blind to historical facts; like the whitewash crew at “Morning Joe.”

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow. Nick Hentoff is a criminal defense and civil liberties attorney in New York.

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America’s Doomed China Strategy

Ted Galen Carpenter

Two developments in the past month indicate that Washington’s mixed policy of engagement and containment (or “congagement”) toward China has begun to tilt more toward containment. The first development was the visit of Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to India in mid-April and the signing of a bilateral cooperation agreement on military logistics. The other episode is President Obama’s just-completed trip to Vietnam and the announced lifting of the long-standing arms embargo on that country. As usual, American officials insist that the marked change in U.S. policy toward Hanoi is not in any way directed against China. But such statements strain credulity, especially when viewed in the larger context of U.S. warships conducting “freedom of navigation” patrols in the South China Sea and bluntly reminding Beijing of America’s security obligations to the Philippines under a bilateral defense treaty.

The containment side of U.S. policy has gone from merely assembling some of the necessary components, to be activated at a later date if necessary (first gear), to the initial phase of activation (second gear). More emphasis is likely to be placed on China as a serious strategic competitor, if not an outright adversary. But developing any kind of a containment policy against China is almost certain to prove hopelessly difficult. Despite the sometimes inflammatory rhetoric coming from Donald Trump and some other China bashers, the bilateral economic relationship remains quite extensive and crucial. China is America’s second largest trading partner. In 2015, the United States exported $116 million in goods to China while importing $482 million. Disrupting that relationship would be extremely costly and painful for both countries.

The United States needs to lower, not increase, its level of confrontation toward China.

That point underscores one key reason why reviving anything even faintly resembling the Cold War–era containment policy that worked against the Soviet Union is a hopeless quest. America’s economic relations with the USSR were minuscule, so there was little sacrifice on that front in taking a hardline stance against Moscow. That is clearly not the case today regarding America’s economic connections to China.

There is also the matter of assembling a reliable alliance against Beijing. Conducting a containment policy against the Soviet Union during the Cold War was feasible because (at least during the crucial formative stages) neither the United States nor its key allies had much of a political or economic relationship to lose with Moscow. The costs, therefore, of shunning Moscow were minimal. That is clearly not the case with China. Most of the East Asian countries, including close U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, already have extensive economic links with Beijing. Indeed, China is Japan’s largest trading partner, accounting for one-fifth of that country’s total trade. It would not be easy for those countries to jeopardize such stakes to support a confrontational, U.S.-led containment policy aimed at Beijing. Tokyo undoubtedly has concerns about China’s behavior in the East China Sea (and about overall Chinese ambitions), but it would still be a reluctant recruit in a hostile containment strategy.

Indeed, as time passed during the Cold War, even the containment strategy directed against the Soviet Union proved increasingly difficult for U.S. leaders. That was especially true after the early 1970s, when West Germany’s policy of Ostpolitik sought better relations with communist East Germany, and indirectly with Moscow and the rest of the Soviet bloc. As connections deepened between democratic Europe and the USSR, support for hard-line U.S. policies began to fade. That point became evident in the 1980s, when U.S. leaders attempted to persuade their European allies to reject the proposal for a natural gas pipeline from the Soviet Union to Western Europe, fearing that it would give Moscow an unhealthy degree of policy leverage. Much to Washington’s frustration, key European allies rejected the advice.

If the United States attempts to mobilize regional support for a containment policy against China, it will start out operating in an environment even less conducive than the policy environment regarding the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Washington’s courtship might be welcomed by very small countries, such as the Philippines, that are already on extremely bad terms with Beijing. Larger powers, though, are more likely to see what benefits they can entice and extract from Washington, without making firm commitments that would antagonize China and jeopardize their own important ties to that county.

There is a final reason why an overt containment policy against China would be a poor option for the United States. Several troublesome global or regional issues will be difficult to address without substantial input and cooperation from China. It is nearly impossible, for example, to imagine progress being made on the difficult and complex issue of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs without China’s extensive involvement.

The United States needs to lower, not increase, its level of confrontation toward China. That also means restoring respect for the concept of spheres of influence. In attempting to preserve U.S. primacy in East Asia and the western Pacific, U.S. leaders are intruding into the South China Sea and other areas that logically matter far more to China than to America. Such a strategy is likely to result either in a humiliating U.S. retreat under pressure or a disastrous military collision. A containment strategy is a feeble attempt to evade that reality.

Ted Galen Carpenter, is a senior fellow in defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at the National Interest.

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NATO Assesses Ukraine and Invites Montenegro: Who’s Afraid of Vladimir Putin?

Doug Bandow

NATO’s foreign ministers met last week to assess current security threats. They discussed Afghanistan and North Africa, considered the Russian challenge, and invited Montenegro to join. Alas, the meeting illustrated how NATO has become an expensive burden for America, reducing U.S. security.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was birthed during the Cold War. The Soviet Union was an “evil empire,” in Ronald Reagan’s words. The war-ravaged states of Western Europe were vulnerable to Soviet pressure if not conquest. America’s defense shield allowed them to recover economically and politically.

However, the threat of Soviet invasion ebbed. The Red Army mostly ensured the loyalty of Moscow’s nominal allies. Europe recovered economically. Yet the military capabilities of NATO’s European members did not keep pace. As President Dwight Eisenhower had predicted, permanent U.S. military deployments created European dependency. NATO remained North America and The Others.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact NATO’s raison d’etre simply disappeared. There was no more threat to defend against. As Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, “there’s no there there.”

For a time alliance supporters worried about the organization’s future. Some proposed that NATO organize student exchanges and undertake drug interdiction. The alliance reinvented itself as a sort of Welcome Wagon for Moscow’s former republics and satellites, ignoring the security implications of issuing new defense guarantees.

Hence the inclusion of the largely indefensible Baltic States, which are attractive as friends but irrelevant to the safety of anyone else in NATO. As well as proposals to induct Georgia and Ukraine, which would bring their conflicts with Moscow into the alliance. The generally neutral Nordic countries, which managed the entire Cold War without U.S. protection, are being suggested as members. Macedonia’s bid has been blocked only by an esoteric national name dispute with Greece.

Newly invited Montenegro is noteworthy mostly for its reputation for high-level corruption and influential criminal networks. Why induct Podgorica? Robert Hunter of SAIS opined that “The simple answer is ‘Why not?” Prime Minister Milo Dukanovic said “You can count on us at any time.” Count on Montenegro for what he did not explain. NATO likely will spend more on extra paper to cc: Montenegro’s diplomats than Podgorica will spend on its 2,080 men under arms. The world’s greatest military alliance, created to hold back the Soviet hordes under Joseph Stalin, has become the social club of choice for tiny nations of no consequence.

A U.S.-dominated NATO made sense early in the Cold War. But no longer.

The alliance also took on responsibility for “out-of-area” activities, including policing conflicts with no obvious security relevance to Europe. While NATO avoided military involvement during the Cold War, it has repeatedly gone to war since then for foolish and sometimes frivolous reasons. The Yugoslavian civil war was tragic, but with all parties guilty of atrocities the Balkans was a humanitarian, not security concern for the West.

While the initial action against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was justified (though of minimal interest to Europe), nearly 15 years of attempted nation-building squandered thousands of lives and vast quantities of cash. European countries also participated in America’s debacle in Iraq. The intervention in Libya, pushed most vigorously by NATO’s European members, created chaos, loosed weapons, and empowered the Islamic State.

On his recent visit to Washington NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg talked about the work of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Afghanistan, Africa, Georgia, Iraq, Kosovo, Libya, Middle East, and North Africa. NATO is helping interdict migrant ships in the Mediterranean. The German Marshall Fund recently argued that “placing the Open Door back at the heart of allied policy will project NATO’s credibility and resolve beyond its borders.” The group advocated maintaining partnerships with non-members, without which the organization “would see its action radius beyond its borders drastically reduced.”

Worse, though, the alliance has turned back to its more traditional anti-Soviet role as it courts war with nuclear-armed Russia. During the 2008 Georgia-Russia conflict the Bush administration apparently considered military strikes against Moscow’s forces. Multiple proposals have been advanced for U.S. and allied military support for Ukraine in its battle against Russian-back separatists.

Last week, said Stoltenberg, NATO discussed how “to adapt to a more assertive Russia.” Poland and the Baltic States are demanding allied, effectively meaning American, garrisons. NATO’s military committee approved deployment of an extra four combat battalions to Poland and the Baltics. At the next formal NATO summit in July NATO members are expected to finalize their plans for a permanent though rotating presence in countries bordering on Russia as part of a “deter and dialogue” strategy.

The U.S. already intends to add an armored brigade combat team, of more than 4000 troops, plus 2000 tanks and other vehicles, to America’s current European deployment of some 62,000 personnel. The administration requested $3.4 billion extra from Congress for the “European Reassurance Initiative.”

But this isn’t nearly enough in the view of some. The Rand Corporation suggested sending seven brigades, three armored, to the Baltics alone. Argued Elbridge Colby and Jonathan Solomon of the Center for a New American Security and International Institute for Strategic Studies, respectively, deterring Moscow necessitates “fielding a conventional military posture that includes substantial, potent forces permanently deployed forward in Central and Eastern Europe that can assuredly arrest any Russian military thrust into NATO member-state territory.” Retired British Gen. Sir Alexander Richard Shirreff, former deputy NATO commander, has written a novel on war with Russia and urged the alliance to enhance its military presence in the east.

Why this move back toward the Cold War? Before chairing the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps’ Gen. Joseph Dunford warned that Russia “could pose an existential threat to the United States.” Gen. Petr Pavel, chairman of the alliance’s military committee, contended: “NATO, and especially NATO’s Eastern allies, feel threatened by Russian assertiveness, Russian aggression in several areas. And especially nations who are directly bordering Russia wanted to be more assured about NATO’s presence and NATO’s willingness and preparedness to act.”

Vladimir Putin is a nasty fellow. But that doesn’t make him unique, let alone likely to attack America or Europe. Moscow could destroy America with the former’s nuclear arsenal, but only with guaranteed annihilation to follow. Putin is little more likely to start a conventional war that he would lose.

How about a Russian assault on Europe? Putin could have overrun Georgia in 2008. He could have annexed eastern Ukraine, or attempted to conquer the entire country. If Moscow didn’t grab these territories, why would it attack a NATO member? In fact, Putin has made no move against the Baltic States, the most vulnerable alliance members, despite their frantic fears.

As Leonid Bershidsky pointed out in Bloomberg, “none of the alarmist proponents of an increased U.S. military presence in Eastern Europe can explain why Putin would want to invade the Baltics. Countries don’t attack other countries simply because they don’t like them, or because they can. There has to be some strategic benefit to the attack.”

Putin has shown no interest in conquering lands without ethnic Russians. Trying to rule, say, a hostile Ukraine would be a catastrophe. Seizing the Baltics would result in little better result. Rand suggested that Moscow might want to “divide the alliance” by demonstrating its inability “to protect its most vulnerable members,” but that would be a foolish reason to start a war.

There’s a far better explanation for Russian misbehavior: Moscow’s perception that the West has consistently ignored, even disdained, Russia’s interests. The Soviet Union is gone, but Imperial Russia has been reborn. The latter has no ideological agenda, but insists on being respected, wants to be consulted on issues of great moment, and emphasizes border security. Few Russians take seriously the ludicrous claim that expanding NATO is not directed at their country.

Moscow’s fears might seem irrational in Washington, but Putin responded to the West’s expansion of NATO, dismantlement of Serbia, and support for a street revolution against a friendly president in Ukraine. At modest cost Moscow prevented its neighbors from joining an opposing bloc and acting as a base for NATO. Bloody and brutal? Yes. But eminently practical and rational. Which suggests that Putin, far from desiring war with the West, is seeking to prevent a much larger confrontation.

If aggression is not likely, intimidation still is a reality for NATO’s members at the periphery and countries beyond. That policy reflects Putin’s ruthlessness, but is no casus belli, especially for America. If freeing Russia’s neighbors to pursue hostile policies toward Moscow is worth a fight, it should be organized by the Europeans. Why is Washington doing their job?

When NATO was created Western Europe was a wreck. Today the GDP and population of united Europe is greater than those of America and a multiple of those of Russia. It appears that most Europeans don’t believe they face a meaningful threat, or at least one with which they, as opposed to America, must deal.

Putin’s confrontational behavior has spread alarm, but not resulted in much practical response, other than an upsurge in requests for U.S. action. NATO has set a goal of devoting two percent of GDP to the military, a modest sum for any country claiming to face a dire security threat. Yet only Greece (to counter Turkey), Poland (recently arrived), United Kingdom (manipulated its figures), and Estonia (spends relatively little) joined America in spending two percent or more of GDP on the military. Germany (Europe’s dominant power), Turkey (which risked war by shooting down a Russian plane), and Italy (possessing one of the continent’s largest economies) barely made the one percent level. Eight alliance members, including Spain and Hungary, fall short even of that meager standard.

Stoltenberg nevertheless argued that the situation is “better than it was a year ago.” Maybe, but not by much. Since the 2014 NATO summit 14 European members have upped real outlays while 12 have reduced them. Collective expenditures last year dropped, though by a smaller percentage than in previous years. In real terms NATO Europe’s military expenditures fell from $254 billion to $253 billion; as a percentage of GDP outlays went from 1.47 percent to 1.43 percent. The comparable U.S. figures were $618 billion and 3.37 percent. Only seven European members devote at least $10 billion annually to the military.

Per capita spending more dramatically illustrates the disparity. America devotes $1865 per person to the military. Norway comes in a distant second at $1343. The UK is third at $851. A dozen European NATO members spend less than $300 per person.

European military strength has been shrinking for years. My Cato Institute colleague Marian Tupy pointed out that his native country of Slovakia had more than 40,000 soldiers at the end of the Cold War. Today that number is 13,000. West Germany deployed 215 combat battalions in 1990; united Germany has 34 today. Italy dropped from 135 to 44, France went from 106 to 43, and the United Kingdom fell from 94 to 50.

A recent report from the Euro-friendly Atlantic Council observed that Britain’s military was “hollowed out to such an extent that the deployment of a brigade, let alone a division, at credible readiness would be a major challenge.” France’s expenditures “may not be good enough to maintain an adequate force structure and posture, particularly in a much more challenging threat environment.” Italy’s force “structure is clearly unsustainable and burdened with legacy processes and approaches.”

Moreover, observed the Council, Germany’s military has “been chronically underfunded since 1990” and spending “does not even begin to match the requirements.” If this wasn’t bad enough, as a result of overtime restrictions, reported the Daily Telegraph, the Bundeswehr “is being forced to lay down its weapons.” German soldiers recently returned home just 12 days into a four-week NATO exercise in Norway.

Unfortunately, few of NATO’s critics go far enough. For instance, Donald Trump, who sharply criticized European free-riding, is pursuing what my Cato Institute colleague Ted Galen Carpenter calls the “unicorn” of burden-sharing. A succession of presidents and defense secretaries has pressed Europeans to spend more, to no effect. The only way to get the Europeans to make a more meaningful military contribution is to turn responsibility for their defense over to them. They have no incentive to do more so long as Washington takes care of them.

Alliance advocates claim the U.S. receives other benefits from underwriting NATO. One is base access for military operations elsewhere. In fact, Washington should fight fewer wars, especially in the Middle East. The Iraqi and Libyan interventions were mistakes and the Afghan operation should have been limited to destroying al-Qaeda and ousting the Taliban. The “need” for the European bases is not as great as assumed. Moreover, defense cooperation can and should occur without a formal military alliance. Washington works with other nations, such as Singapore, without providing a security guarantee and deploying military forces.

Robbie Gramer of the Atlantic Council contended: “Security begets economic prosperity, and the United States underpins Europe’s security through NATO. Ensuring the security and stability of our most important trade partner is, if nothing else a significant return on investment.” This is a common but misguided argument. Russia’s machinations in Georgia and Ukraine have had no measurable impact on European commerce. All-out war would do so, but no one believes that is in the offing. Moreover, the question recurs: why can’t Europe defend Europe? The Europeans have an even greater interest in their prosperity than does America.

Indeed, if this argument justifies defending other nations, why don’t the Europeans contribute to America’s defense? To paraphrase World Politics Review columnist Michael Cohen, “Combined, the U.S and European Union economies represent about half of the world’s GDP and a third of all global trade. That means [American] stability is the single most important overseas [European] national security interest, even though for most [Europeans] it’s one that’s usually taken for granted.” Europeans have even more reason to subsidize Americans than Americans have to underwrite Europeans.

Foreign and military policy should be based on circumstances. A U.S.-dominated NATO made sense early in the Cold War. But no longer. Especially since the U.S. cannot afford to continue treating the Pentagon as an international welfare agency. Washington’s long-term finances are much worse than Europe’s.

The world is dangerous and Europe needs to be defended, it oft is said. But threats against Europe have ebbed and the continent’s ability to defend itself has grown. These populous and prosperous nations no longer require America’s protection. Washington should allow the Europeans to defend themselves.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan and a Senior Fellow in International Religious Persecution with the Institute on Religion and Public Policy.

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A Portrait in Courage

Michael D. Tanner

Both around the world and here at home, free speech is under assault. From the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris to the “unexplained” deaths of critics of Russian president Vladimir Putin, people who express unpopular opinions or report the truth are in danger. Worldwide, more than 110 journalists were killed in 2015, bringing the total to 787 since 2005, according to Reporters without Borders.

The threats to free speech in this country don’t rise to that level, of course. But Hillary Clinton wants to change the First Amendment to limit political speech, and Donald Trump wants to rewrite libel laws so that he can sue media critics. Meanwhile, colleges routinely punish those who take unpopular stands and reject speakers who might challenge student orthodoxy.

That’s one reason why it is significant that the Cato Institute will award the eighth biennial Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty to a true champion of free speech, the Danish journalist and author Flemming Rose.

The right and ability to challenge orthodoxy, to speak truth to power, is essential to preserving our freedom.

Rose came to the world’s attention in 2005, when, as an editor at the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, he published a series of twelve cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Rose did so, not because he sought to be offensive, he said, but to challenge the growing wave of “self-censorship in Europe caused by widening fears and feelings of intimidation in dealing with issues related to Islam.”

Rose’s decision to publish the cartoons sparked riots in Europe and across the Islamic world. A price was put on Rose’s head, and he has received numerous credible death threats. A plot to assassinate him was disrupted by the FBI in 2009. Still, he firmly rejects the idea, so prevalent these days, that “you have a right not to be insulted or offended.”

While he came to prominence as a result of the Muhammad cartoons, Rose is not a provocateur but a defender of free speech as a matter of principle. In fact, he has recently undertaken a new cause: standing up for Muslims targeted by some of Europe’s new anti-terror laws, and fighting restrictions on religious speech deemed “extreme” by authorities. He has condemned Dutch politician Geert Wilders’s call to ban the Quran.

Rose has spoken out against groups ranging from Russian Orthodox authorities to Hindu nationalists who have been attacking free expression, sometimes under the color of law, sometimes violently. He has criticized U.S. corporate and campus speech codes. In November 2014, he released The Tyranny of Silence, which recounts his experience with the Muhammad cartoons and goes on to make a spirited case against censorship anywhere in the world.

Rose traces his dedication to free speech to experiences he had as a reporter covering the fall of the Soviet Union. “The dissidents in the Soviet Union made a strong impression on me,” he told an interviewer for The Atlantic in March, because they showed him just “how important it is to have the right to attack ideas, no matter what.”

His experiences in the Soviet Union also left him a critic of government power and socialism generally; he told The Atlantic that the Soviet Union showed “what a real socialist society looked like: dysfunctional, authoritarian, and murderous.”

In announcing the award, Cato president Peter Goettler declared that it represented a recognition that “freedom of expression and speech is fundamental to the advancement of civilization and is critical in protecting the values of liberty and limited government.”

The Friedman Prize, which carries with it a $250,000 cash award, was established in 2002 and is presented every two years, following deliberation by a distinguished board from around the world. The previous winners are: former deputy prime minister and finance minister of Poland Leszek Balcerowicz; dissident Chinese economist Mao Yushi; Iranian writer and journalist Akbar Ganji; a leader of the Venezuelan student pro-democracy movement, Yon Goicoechea; former prime minister of Estonia Mart Laar; Peruvian property-rights reformer Hernando de Soto; and the late British economist Peter Bauer.

The right and ability to challenge orthodoxy, to speak truth to power, is essential to preserving our freedom.

Now, more than ever, people need to be free to dissent from the existing political order. The right and ability to challenge orthodoxy, to speak truth to power, is essential to preserving our freedom. This is not about being rude or crude in the name of fighting “political correctness” — though being a jerk should be protected as well. Rather, this is about the inalienable human right to speak our minds. Every time someone surrenders his right to speak in the face of government repression, terrorists, or even hecklers, it diminishes us all.

The courage and consistency of Flemming Rose reminds us what is at stake.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of Going for Broke: Deficits, Debt, and the Entitlement Crisis.

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The Gig Is Up

Ike Brannon

California and Massachusetts regulators have decided to allow Uber drivers to be considered independent contractors rather than employees, a distinction crucial to the success of the ride-sharing app. But it’s hardly the last word on the matter. The left has been vilifying Uber as the villain of the new “gig economy,” in which more and more workers—especially younger ones— support themselves as self-employed contractors, stitching together a variety of app-enabled tasks. Liberals consider such arrangements largely exploitative—with companies such as Uber getting fabulously rich while the contractors doing the work hustle, scrape, and scuffle for crumbs. Uber corporate employees, after all, enjoy fringe benefits, unemployment insurance, and job security; the drivers do not.

“Uber Is Not the Future of Work,” proclaimed Lawrence Mishel of the left-wing Economic Policy Institute in the pages of the Atlantic. Bernie Sanders posted Mishel’s article on his campaign website and has declared he has “serious problems” with “unregulated” businesses like Uber. Last year Hillary Clinton got in the mix, saying the gig economy raises “hard questions about workplace protection and what a good job will look like in the future.”

These arguments distract from some of the key benefits of a gig economy. An economy with a greater proportion of independent contractors is one that is less susceptible to the vagaries of the business cycle. Recessions should be shorter and cause less unemployment if the economy has more independent contractors.

The gig economy is no disaster. It not only empowers more people to be their own bosses, it has benefits for the rest of the economy too.

In a recession triggered by a decline in demand—which is the ultimate cause of most recessions—the initial decline in sales that most companies experience forces them to make a determination: Is the decline a short-term phenomenon or something more significant? It’s an impossible task, at least at first, so companies typically hedge their bets by keeping idle or underemployed workers on the payroll, since it can be costly to reacquire and train new workers when they need them back. When companies do lay off workers, they would rather not rehire them until they are nearly 100 percent sure they will need them for an extended period of time. This is because so much of the cost of a worker—especially expensive, skilled workers—is in the form of fixed fringe benefits that can’t be scaled back. That is why many companies respond to a nascent economic expansion by having existing workers work months or more of overtime before they finally hire reinforcements.

When workers are independent contractors, as they are with Uber, a recession doesn’t necessitate that the costs be fully borne by the relatively few people who lose their jobs. In an economy with more independent contractors, a reduction in demand gets spread out. While incomes do fall, there are fewer people without jobs than in a non-gig economy. Gig economies dampen the employment swings within a business cycle—a good thing. Given that it’s the young and unskilled whose careers bear the brunt of the long-term costs of any recession, this should be hailed as a welcome evolution in the economy rather than something that needs to be fixed.

Foes of the gig economy would argue their unsteady income in a recession is precisely what is wrong with the gig economy, but I would argue that it’s much better for the pain of a recession to be spread out among millions of workers whose livelihoods are modestly dented than for it to be concentrated on a few who lose their jobs altogether. As long as there’s a business cycle, hours, employment, or compensation will have to fluctuate to match demand. We should want employment to be last on that list, but so much in our labor market causes employment to fall first. For instance, union contracts can make it very difficult for companies to save money by reducing the hours each employee works.

Corporate profits already fluctuate more than labor market variables over a business cycle, so Bernie-sian suggestions that corporations should somehow bear the brunt of the business-cycle downturns neglect the fact that this already occurs.

When health care costs are some 30 to 40 percent of a worker’s compensation, labor markets aren’t flexible. For all its faults, the Affordable Care Act did make it less expensive for most people to acquire health insurance on their own, freeing millions of Americans to work for themselves without worrying about access to health insurance.

Nancy Pelosi crowed in 2010 that the Affordable Care Act would help people escape their jobs and do more fulfilling things. That these new, self-directed gigs don’t look precisely like Democrats thought they would—apparently the left wanted more buskers and community activists, not cabbies—should be irrelevant.

The gig economy is no disaster. It not only empowers more people to be their own bosses, it has benefits for the rest of the economy too. Before the Democratic party makes the end of gigging a party-platform plank, it might want to look at those benefits and recalibrate its rhetoric.

Ike Brannon is a visiting fellow at the Cato Institute.

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FBI, Locals Team up to Invade Citizens’ Privacy

Adam Bates

Our cellular phones, the U.S. Supreme Court recently opined, contain “a digital record of nearly every aspect of [our] lives – from the mundane to the intimate.” Indeed, many of us use our cellphones to privately convey our love, our insecurities, our fears, our locations, and our most sensitive relationships.

Yet right now, across the United States, law enforcement agents have secret, unfettered access to all of it, and the government is trying to keep it that way.

It was recently revealed that the FBI has been colluding with the Oklahoma City Police Department to conceal the use of equipment capable of powerful, surreptitious, and constitutionally dubious cellphone surveillance. The device, known as a StingRay, operates by mimicking the signal of a cell tower. The StingRay puts out a boosted signal that muscles out the signals of legitimate cell towers and forces nearby phones to connect to the device.

Government surveillance techniques will continue to advance with the pace of technology.

Once your phone is connected, the operator of the device can triangulate your position, see the incoming and outgoing numbers, and by all indications intercept the actual content of your communications. Police often deploy StingRays without probable-cause warrants or, in some cases, court orders. Even when police seek warrants and orders, the federal government has coached them to mislead judges about precisely what they are being asked to authorize.

StingRay deployments have been confirmed in at least 24 states and the District of Columbia, and there is every reason to believe many of the remaining states possess them and simply haven’t been forced to disclose it. Different departments have different deployment policies, but cities such as Baltimore have admitted to deploying the devices in thousands of investigations.

Given such widespread use, and such obvious and troubling privacy implications, one would expect to find a large body of court rulings on the constitutionality of warrantless StingRay surveillance. One would be mistaken.

Notwithstanding a promising recent Maryland appellate court ruling that StingRay surveillance is unconstitutional without a warrant, police departments in the rest of the country remain generally free to use the devices in complete secrecy. Shockingly few cases have been reviewed by the courts, and judicial and legislative oversight of law enforcement StingRay use is virtually nonexistent as a result. That secrecy is by design.

When local police departments receive federal permission to operate StingRays, they are required to coordinate the terms of use with the FBI. The FBI, in turn, requires that law enforcement agencies agree to an exhaustive list of conditions in order to acquire the device.

One of these terms, discovered only after a litigious freedom-of-information request by the New York Civil Liberties Union, explicitly forbids law enforcement and prosecutors from disclosing information about StingRay capability or use. The prohibition even applies to judges and defense attorneys, leaving the typical checks on police misconduct in the dark.

The agreement even allows the FBI to force state prosecutors to drop evidence or entire cases rather than reveal the use of StingRay surveillance. And that condition isn’t hypothetical; it has actually happened around the country, resulting in dangerous criminals being let go or given sweetheart plea deals in order to maintain secrecy.

The agreement in the Oklahoma case is alarming because it goes even a step further. Rather than merely order the Oklahoma City Police Department not to disclose information regarding StingRay use, the memorandum tells the department to construct an entirely independent investigation around the “lead” created by the StingRay to obfuscate the source of the evidence.

In legal circles, this practice is known as “parallel construction,” and it is particularly effective at concealing government investigative methods as well as government misconduct. In a parallel construction, the government uses evidence produced through confidential (or improper) means to create a new, seemingly independent investigation of illegal activity.

For instance, an illegal search of a target’s trash could reveal the time and location of a future drug deal. A police officer could then follow the target on the night of the meeting and use any number of pretextual traffic violations to justify a stop and dog sniff of the car. When the drugs are discovered and the case goes to court, the government behaves as if it were the random traffic stop, and not the illegal search, that led to the arrest.

This “evidence-laundering” tactic conceals evidence from the court and from the defense, and as of September 2014, the FBI was explicitly counseling the Oklahoma City Police Department to use parallel construction to cover up its use of StingRay surveillance.

This deceit makes it difficult, if not impossible, for defendants to challenge the legality of the surveillance. Combined with the nondisclosure terms, parallel construction helps explain why there has been so little judicial oversight of StingRay use despite thousands of deployments across the country.

Government surveillance techniques will continue to advance with the pace of technology. If the Fourth Amendment and the concept of individual privacy are to have any meaning at all moving forward, the judicial and legislative branches of government must take a stronger interest in protecting our constitutional rights against unfettered government access to the most intimate details and communications of our lives.

Adam Bates is a policy analyst with the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice.

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Learning the Limits of American Military Power

Christopher A. Preble

An apparent terrorist attack downs an aircraft en route to Cairo. Bomb blasts rip through several Baghdad neighborhoods, killing at least seventy. An Afghan police officer turns his gun on his colleagues, killing eight. Saudi Arabia wages war in Yemen. Nearly five million Syrians are registered as refugees by UNHCR, with perhaps six million more displaced internally by the five-year long civil war raging there. According to some reports, 470,000 Syrians have been killedISIS still holds Mosul.

The DC foreign-policy establishment has a cure for what ails the Greater Middle East: more U.S. intervention. More (illegal) support for the Egyptian regime. An open-ended U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. More advisers for the Iraqi government in Baghdad. More bombs and missiles for the Saudis. More air strikes and special ops troops to take on ISIS, perhaps with a full-scale ground offensive not far behind.

This interventionist impulse is not new. In his opening remarks before the “Advancing American Security” conference hosted earlier this week by the Charles Koch Institute, Andrew J. Bacevich produced a slightly tattered cover from the New York TimesMagazine, dated March 28, 1999. A clenched fist, painted in the stars and stripes in vivid red, white, and blue accompanied the headline: “What the World Needs Now.” The subtitle “For globalism to work, America can’t be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is.” The article by Tom Friedman concludes “The global system cannot hold together without an activist and generous American foreign and defense policy.”

The case for restraint in U.S. foreign policy is strong, but someone still has to make it, and they need venues for doing so.

Bacevich and many of the fourteen other speakers over the course of the day offered a different take. They pointed out that U.S. intervention—especially military intervention—was at least partly to blame for the chaos consuming the region. And they suggested—sometimes delicately, sometimes less so—that the use of even more force would offer few solutions. Oftentimes, it makes manageable problems worse—though the effects are mostly felt by peoples elsewhere, not by Americans here at home.

Former ambassador Chas Freeman noted that policymakers rarely ask the question “and then what?” when contemplating whether or not to use force. As we have seen in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere, military victories often merely reveal underlying political problems that the U.S. military cannot solve. The RAND Corporation’s Gian Gentile, drawing on his own experiences as a combat commander in Iraq, observed that the intricacies of nation-building—i.e. COIN—would not be easily be mastered, even by a military as skilled and adaptable as our own. And COIN is still likely to fail, given the myriad impediments that obstreperous partners and irreconcilable foes can put up before even a determined military’s path. The scale of the undertaking necessary to achieve success is rarely outweighed by the benefits. And then there are the opportunity costs: more than one speaker at the CKI conference pointed out that our attempts at nation building abroad had drawn needed resources away from nation building at home; even the out-of-towners had heard the stories about DC’s failing Metro.

But Bacevich was particularly well-placed to start the conversation about the broad contours of U.S. foreign policy. His latest book, a military history of America’s adventures in the Greater Middle East, is filled with reminders of the limits of military force.

As he surveys the seemingly endless series of campaigns and minor interventions, all the way up to full-scale land wars, such as the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the one idea that emerges repeatedly is that U.S. military operations were often ineffective, and sometimes pointless. Even apparently clear-cut military victories have failed to produce equally decisive strategic gains for the United States.

For example, Reagan’s assault on Muammar Qaddafi, operation El Dorado Canyon, “had a transitory impact at best.” Clinton’s Operation Determined Force, a bombing campaign to degrade Serb forces, and halt attacks on Bosnian civilians, “offered much to admire,” in terms of planning and execution. “As a practical matter, however, it was largely superfluous.” Similarly, Operation Infinite Reach, the cruise missile strikes on suspected al Qaeda facilities in Afghanistan and Sudan in August 1998, were “a well-executed but largely pointless expenditure of high-tech weaponry.”

But the most egregious instance in which U.S. government officials failed to accurately assess the effectiveness of military operations, a failure that has misinformed U.S. foreign policy in the Greater Middle East ever since, occurred after Operation Enduring Freedom drove al Qaeda leaders out of Afghanistan, and their Taliban hosts out of power there.

A number of Bush administration officials, cheered on by hawkish pundits, believed that “Enduring Freedom had demolished any need for the United States to constrain the use of force.” For Charles Krauthammer, “Afghanistan demonstrated that America has both the power and the will to fight, and that when it does, it prevails.”

Bacevich offers a crucial corrective, and compels us to question anew the purpose of military power in the first place. CENTCOM Gen. Tommy Franks and others, he explains, “confused partial operational success with permanent mission accomplishment.” U.S. forces had managed to outdo the Soviets, unleashing “upon Afghans the forces of anarchy” while remaining “oblivious to what the restoration of order was now likely to require.”

But American officials, and the senior military officers who advise them, have failed to appreciate such facts. They retain their faith in the military’s “ability to mete out punishment with micrometer-like precision.” Others cling fast to even more grandiose objectives, believing that the United States should “shape the world in conformance with our interests and our principles.”

We can’t be certain that an alternative approach would have achieved even less satisfactory results, but our uneven track record in the Greater Middle East should, at a minimum, force us to reconsider some of the enduring truthsunquestioned assumptions that have guided U.S. foreign policy for decades. A greater appreciation for the limits of military power should restrain our willingness to use it.

So too should our favorable geostrategic position. As the world’s largest economy protected physically by wide oceans to the east and west, and peaceful and friendly neighbors to the north and south, we do not need to wage war frequently in order to be safe, prosperous and reasonably free. Our willingness to do so, especially since the end of the Cold War, has often had the opposite effect.

But we will not arrive at these conclusions if we fail to reflect seriously upon our foreign-policy aims, and the actual results. The case for restraint in U.S. foreign policy is strong, but someone still has to make it, and they need venues for doing so.

Christopher A. Preble is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.

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Revoke Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize

Nat Hentoff and Nick Hentoff

Last week, President Obama passed an important historic milestone. The occasion was not marked with ceremony, and no statements were issued by the White House. In spite of its significance, most of the national media allowed the occasion to pass with little comment or in-depth analysis. Which is why you may not be aware that Obama now has the ignominious distinction of being continuously at war longer than any other American president in U.S. history.

The New York Times noted the irony that the longest-serving wartime president was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize only nine months into his first term in office. Yet the article characterized Obama as a reluctant warrior laboring under a heavy burden inherited from his predecessor. The article also focused on Obama’s efforts to transform the nature of how the United States wages war, relying more on drone strikes and targeted special forces operations than traditional intervention with ground forces. But in doing so, the Times told only half of the story.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it awarded the 2009 Peace Prize to President Obama because “(h)is diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority.”

Four years later, Christof Heyns, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions, told a conference in Geneva that President Obama’s drone strike program threatens 50 years of international law by encouraging other states to violate long-standing human rights standards.

The extent to which Obama’s drone strike program has institutionalized the practice of extrajudicial killings — in violation of international law — is documented in The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program, a new book by Jeremy Scahill and the staff of the online news publication The Intercept.

Appearing on Democracy Now! to discuss the book, Jeremy Scahill rejected the Obama administration’s absurd claim that drone strikes are a cleaner, more humane way of waging war.

“Obama has codified assassination as a central official component of American foreign policy,” Scahill said. “This is a global assassination program that is authorized and run under what amounts to a parallel legal system … where the president and his advisers serve as the judge, jury and executioner of people across the globe.”

One of the most startling revelations in The Assassination Complex involves the disclosure of secret government documents on Operation Haymaker, a drone strike program operating in northeastern Afghanistan. According to the government’s own documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in U.S. airstrikes during one five-month period were not the intended targets.

The New York Times also reported that President Obama has taken military action in a total of seven countries — Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen — without the authorization of Congress. If you include covert military actions taken by special operations forces, the list is longer and the impact much broader.

The metastasizing of U.S. military force under the Joint Special Operations Command was first documented in Scahill’s 2013 book and documentary film Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield.

Nick Tursa has done additional reporting on the issue for The Nation magazine.

“During the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2014, U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) deployed to 133 countries — roughly 70 percent of the nations on the planet — according to Army Lt. Col. Robert Bockholt, a public affairs officer with U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM),” Tursa reported in a January 2015 article in The Nation. “This capped a three-year span in which the country’s most elite forces were active in more than 150 different countries around the world, conducting missions ranging from kill/capture night raids to training exercises.”

In a second article, published in April 2015, Tursa reported that “(i)n 2014, the United States carried out 674 military activities across Africa, nearly two missions per day, an almost 300 percent jump in the number of annual operations, exercises, and military-to-military training activities since U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) was established in 2008.”

Awarding a Nobel Peace Prize on the basis of expectations was unprecedented. But after eight years of continuous warfare, the Nobel Committee should take another unprecedented action: It should revoke Obama’s peace prize and demand repayment of the prize money.

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow. Nick Hentoff is a criminal defense and civil liberties attorney in New York City.