Let Non-Refugee Visas Skip the Immigration Line, Save Lives

David Bier

As the Syrian civil war spiraled out of control, Syrian Americans across the United States tried to get their families out. Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.), a retired Army lieutenant colonel, served with one of them. His good friend tried to obtain a visa for his mother. She was eligible, so she should have been able to escape the violence, but she didn’t make it out in time. “I’m certain had he been able to get her to the United States she’d still be alive,” Russell explained last year.

His friend’s case highlights how the lack of a rapid legal means to flee violence abroad can be lethal. It also reinforces the importance of improving legal immigration, outside of the formal refugee program, to better protect persecuted people with ties to the United States. Here’s one way to do that: allow those who, like this Syrian mother, are already eligible for visas to bypass the arbitrary limits on the number of visas.

Because the U.S. government restricts the number of visas issued each year, nearly 5 million people are currently waiting in line. And while refugees admitted under the formal U.S. refugee program can skip these waits—which can last decades—those who qualify for visas sponsored by a U.S. family member or U.S. employer must wait behind everyone else.

It adds nothing to our security to force them to stay in harm’s way for a little longer.

No one knows how many people in line are refugees, but the backlogs of hopeful immigrants from countries which have produced many refugees in recent years have stretched into the thousands. More than 40,000 refugees from Iran, for example, where minority religions are oppressed, have found refuge in the United States since 2005. Yet another 53,000 Iranians await visas under non-refugee programs.

The United States has accepted a paltry 8,000 refugees from Syria, the epicenter of one of the worst humanitarian crises around the world. But another 6,400 or so with family- or employer-sponsored visas are stuck in line. Even if most of these backlogged visa applicants are not refugees, the visa limits will still clog the escape route for the unlikely few who are.

The point is simple: People fleeing violence and persecution shouldn’t have to wait in line. We cannot risk letting those most disposed to be our allies—those with proven ties to our country—believe we are unwilling to save them from certain violence, persecution, or death. It is a mistake that could have lasting consequences for America’s relations around the world.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration tried to use the refugee program to save Syrian green card applicants. But sadly, this well-meaning approach is not the answer. One big problem is that the refugee process is so slow that it is literally fast-tracking people from one line to another.

Even worse, admitting these refugees under the refugee program will take slots away from other refugees who need the program most—those without any legal way to come to the United States. This doesn’t make sense. We should keep the refugee open for people who desperately need a way out, but who have no other options. Refugees with U.S. ties should simply be fast-tracked with the visas for which they are already eligible.

Of course, opponents of refugee resettlement could offer up their oft-repeated objections—“we don’t know who they are,” “we can’t vet them,” etc. But these complaints are inapplicable in this case. We do know who they are—they are the mother of a U.S. soldier, the brother of an American entrepreneur, the employee of a U.S. businessman. Unless we reform the process, these are the people who we are condemning to persecution or death.

Besides, these are people who will be immigrating here eventually either way. It adds nothing to our security to force them to stay in harm’s way for a little longer.  They are coming—let’s make sure it’s in economy class, not in a coffin.

David Bier is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute.

On the Italian and Eurozone Doomsday Scenario

Steve H. Hanke

On June 23rd, the voters in the United Kingdom (UK) turned a collective thumbs-down on the European Union (EU). The Brexit advocates — the ones who had had enough of the EU’s mandates and regulations — won the day. But, this is only the first step on a long and winding exit road. To formally begin its withdrawal from the EU, the UK must trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, won’t do that before the end of 2016. Once triggered, the UK has two years to negotiate its exit from the EU.

The Brexit vote was a surprise that temporarily rocked the markets, sent the pound to a 32 year low, and sent the chattering classes chattering. It also poured fuel on a simmering Italian fire — a fire that could result in an Italian, as well as a Eurozone, doomsday scenario.

In anticipation of poor results from the Italian banks’ stress tests (which will be reported on July 29th), Italy’s Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, has indicated that his government will unilaterally pump billions of euros into Italy’s troubled banks to recapitalize them. There is a problem with this approach: it is not allowed under new EU rules. These rules require that bank bondholders take losses (a bail-in) before government bailout money can be deployed. But, in Italy, a big chunk of bank debt (bonds) is held by retail investors. These retail investors vote in large numbers. So, the EU bail-in regulation, if invoked, will certainly put Renzi’s neck on the chopping block. And that will come sooner rather than later because the Prime Minister has called for a referendum on Italy’s constitution in October and stated that he’ll resign if the referendum is voted down.

If, following the stress tests, holders of Italian bank debt are required to bail-in banks, there will most certainly be a strong backlash that will not only kill Renzi’s referendum but also his government. That would most likely put the Five Star Movement in the saddle. The Movement is already surging, winning control of important local governments in Rome and Turin. This populist-left movement wants to exit the Eurozone. If you think Brexit was big, such a scenario would not only spell doomsday for Renzi but also probably for the euro.

Let’s take a closer look at the Italian economy and its banks. That requires a model of economic activity. The monetary approach posits that changes in the money supply, broadly determined, cause changes in nominal national income and the price level (as well as relative prices — like asset prices). Sure enough, the growth of broad money and nominal GDP are closely linked. Indeed, the data in the following chart speak loudly.

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Italy’s money supply (M3) growth rate since 2010 has been well below its trend rate (6.53 percent) for most of the period (see the accompanying chart). Not surprisingly, Italy’s nominal GDP growth rate during the 2010-2015 period was only 0.4 percent per year.

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As weak as the money supply growth rate has been in Italy, it has been stronger than the Eurozone’s average in recent years (see the following table). Indeed, Italy’s money supply growth has been slightly stronger than France’s or Spain’s.

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If we break down the contribution to the money supply growth, only 17 percent of Italy’s M3 is accounted for by State money produced by the European Central Bank (ECB). The remaining 87 percent is Bank money produced by commercial banks through deposit creation. So, Italy’s banks are an important contributor to the money supply and, ultimately, the economy. Recently, they have been contributing significantly to Italy’s money supply growth. That said, both the money supply and growth in credit to the private sector have been growing below their trend rates. So, anything that would cause banks to contract their loan books — which would cause the money supply and credit to the private sector in Italy to slow down — would plunge Italy into a recession.

It’s no surprise that Renzi has his eye on banks. It’s also easy to see why he is worried and ready to pull the trigger on a state-sponsored bank bailout. The accompanying chart on non-performing loans should be cause for concern.

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To put the non-performing loans into perspective, there is nothing better than the Texas Ratio (TR). The TR is the book value of all non-performing assets divided by equity capital plus loan loss reserves. Only tangible equity capital is included in the denominator. Intangible capital — like goodwill — is excluded.

So, the denominator is the defense against bad loans wiping the bank out, forcing it into insolvency. A TR over 100 percent means that a bank is skating on thin ice. Indeed, if the non-performing loans were written off, a bank with a TR in excess of 100 percent would be wiped out. All of the five big Italian banks in the accompanying table — including the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS), the world’s oldest bank — fall into this ignominious category.

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They need to be recapitalized. This could be done by issuing new shares on the market. But, all these banks’ shares are trading well below their book values. BMPS’ price is only about 10 percent of its book value, and Intesa Sanpaolo (the best of the lot) is only about 66 percent. In consequence, any new shares issued on the market would dilute existing shareholders and be unattractive. This is why an Italian state rescue is the most attractive source for the recapitalization.

Renzi holds the right cards. If the EU continues to refuse to let Renzi play them, the Italian banks will be bailed-in by the bondholders, who will receive a close haircut. Renzi’s constitutional changes will probably go down in flames, and with them Renzi’s government. With that, the Five Star Movement will form a government and Italy will exit the Eurozone. So, if the EU does not bend and allow one of the loopholes in its rules to be used, the Boys in Brussels could set a doomsday machine into motion.

Steve H. Hanke is a professor of Applied Economics at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.

Trump, Clinton, and Executive Power

Michael D. Tanner

If there was one single sentence in Donald Trump’s acceptance speech last week that summed up his entire campaign, it was this: “I alone can fix it.” Trump’s ideology may be amorphous, but he firmly believes in the “big man” school of politics. Like Putin, Erdogan, or the late Hugo Chávez, Trump sees himself as Horatius at the Bridge, the only thing standing between us and the dystopian future of his nightmares.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton eschews “I” in favor of the collective “we,” by which she means the government, by which she means her. Hillary’s book may famously have said, “It takes a village,” but she clearly sees herself as the chief of that village.

We’ve come a long way since the founding of the Republic, when the president was seen as “an executive,” who would “take care that the laws are faithfully executed,” not the legislator-in-chief. As James Madison warned in Federalist 47, “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

And that was against the backdrop of a time when the government itself had much less power.

But ever since, as the government accrued more and more power and authority, presidents have taken more and more of that power to themselves. And the last couple of decades have seen an acceleration of executive aggrandizement.

When Bill Clinton was first elected president, his advisor Paul Begala waxed rhapsodic about executive orders. “Stroke of the pen. Law of the Land. Kind of cool,” he gushed to the New York Times. Clinton was followed by George W. Bush, whose favored mechanism was the signing statement. That allowed him to sign bills into law, while simultaneously saying that he didn’t feel bound to enforce them. This led us, in turn, to Barack Obama and his famous “a pen and a phone.”

Now, we have two candidates who both promise to expand executive power to as yet unseen dimensions.

Partisans on both sides will undoubtedly cheer their candidate, who, they’re certain, will only use that power to do good things. They should be careful what they ask for.

Neither one seems willing to accede to the checks and balances built into our system of government. Hillary Clinton, for instance, has said that she plans to go further than President Obama’s executive orders on immigration, despite the fact that those orders have been struck down in the courts. What, in her long history of contempt for the law, suggests that she would accept any restraints on her ability to do whatever she wants to do?

Donald Trump has also made it very clear that he does not intend to be held hostage by constitutional niceties. Speaking on 60 Minutes last Sunday, he paraphrased the famous dictum that “The Constitution is not a suicide pact” — loosely derived from a ruling by Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson — to suggest that he intends to act on issues important to him no matter what Congress or the courts have to say. In an earlier interview he was asked about executive orders, and he replied that of course he was going to follow President Obama’s lead on executive orders, but “I’m going to use them much better, and they’re going to serve a much better purpose than he’s done.”

What is even more troubling is the willingness of partisans on both sides to expand executive power (and government power more generally) as long as their man — or woman — is exercising that power. But that is foolishly short-sighted. Pendulums swing in politics. Therefore, whatever new powers you give your hero today, they will someday be wielded by your worst enemy.

After all, how do fans of President Obama feel about the possibility of a President Trump using his pen and phone? Do those who cheered President Bush’s appeals to executive power still think it’s a good idea when it may be Hillary Clinton holding that power?

Our system of government was designed to disperse power among multiple, competing actors: the legislature (itself divided), the executive, the judiciary, and the states. We don’t have, or need, a king or queen, a strongman, or a fearless leader. Most importantly, government power, at all levels, was to be extremely limited. Real power, and real sovereignty, resided with the people.

Now two candidates for president want to take even more power into their hands. They may claim to speak for “We, the People,” but their power would automatically and inevitably come at the expense of our liberties. Partisans on both sides will undoubtedly cheer their candidate, who, they’re certain, will only use that power to do good things.

They should be careful what they ask for.

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

The Democrats’ Three-Way Split on Foreign Policy

A. Trevor Thrall

The Democrats in Philadelphia aren’t doing any better than the Republicans at promoting an image of unity. So far no one can make it through a speech without interruption from the Sanders supporters. The clash between Clinton and Sanders has for the most part been framed as disagreements over economic and welfare policy. But one overlooked division stems from a rising dissatisfaction with the foreign-policy vision of Clinton and other Democratic elites.

These divisions matter in the short run in Clinton’s campaign against Trump but also in the longer run for the course of a potential Clinton White House and the Democratic Party. Those vying for influence within Democratic ranks are essentially split three ways over the direction of foreign policy.

The first group is called the liberal internationalists. Their motivating ethos is that the United States is, in former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’swords, the “indispensable nation.” This group believes that the United States must play a decisive leadership role on all fronts—military, economic and diplomatic—with the rest of the world.

Those vying for influence within Democratic ranks are essentially split three ways over the direction of foreign policy.

Hillary Clinton, of course, is the current torchbearer for this group, which is composed primarily of well-educated and well-to-do Democrats and includes most Democratic elites and party leaders. Like Clinton, this group of Democrats supports the vigorous use of military force both to confront terrorism and to defend and promote human rights. As evidenced by Clinton’s strong defense of NATO in response to Trump’s recent comments questioning the U.S. role in Europe, liberal internationalists believe American security is closely linked to the security of its allies around the world and that the global alliance system is central to the pursuit of a wide range of American foreign policy goals.

As Clinton told the Veterans of Foreign Wars this week, “I believe in standing with our allies because they are part of what makes us exceptional.” This group is also supportive of American leadership and international cooperation in other arenas such as climate change and global health. On the economic front, these Democrats strongly favor free trade and view globalization in a generally positive light.

In contrast, restrained internationalists support the cooperative and economic aspects of American foreign policy but hold a much stronger preference for the use of diplomacy over the use of force. Some in this camp are supportive of limited military efforts to prevent humanitarian disasters, but this group includes the sizeable number of dovish Democrats who have opposed most major military actions since Vietnam. Though like other Democrats they view terrorism as a threat, restrained internationalists worry about going too far in the fight against terrorism and getting entangled in endless wars abroad while eroding civil liberties at home.

Finally, the Sanders campaign has provided a huge boost to the isolationist-protectionists, who believe that the United States needs to focus its energies inward. Rejecting claims that the United States is the indispensable nation, this group believes that the United States does too much to help other countries solve their problems at the expense of critical domestic priorities.

Unlike the liberal internationalists, isolationist-protectionists tend to have less education and lower incomes. They are the people most affected by the death of American manufacturing and the restructuring of the economy. Given this, isolationist-protectionists view globalization and the global economy with great suspicion and overwhelmingly oppose free trade deals. In an op-ed condemning the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Sanders argued, “One of the major reasons why the middle class has been in a forty-year decline: poverty has been increasing and the gap between the very rich and everyone else has been growing wider and wider due to our disastrous trade policies.”

Finally, thanks to this laser focus on domestic issues, isolationist-protectionists tend to be the least supportive of the use of force whether the issue is terrorism, defending allies, or protecting human rights.

Despite general agreement with Clinton on the need for U.S. leadership on global issues like climate change and for working with allies, Bernie Sanders is not a liberal internationalist and his surprisingly successful campaign revealed two fault lines at work dividing the Democratic Party on foreign policy. The first fault line was the question of military intervention. Where Clinton has supported every major American military action since the 1990s, Bernie Sanders—and many Democrats—opposed them. The second fault line was international trade. Like her husband before her, Clinton was a champion of free trade while serving as Secretary of State. Sanders, of course, along with many Democrats, fiercely opposed the Obama administration’s trade deals.

In highlighting these fault lines the Sanders campaign energized the two insurgent camps within the Democratic base, uniting them under a banner bearing eerie similarities to the one promoted by Donald Trump, a vision combining economic protectionism and an emphasis on domestic issues over foreign affairs. The appeal of populist and nationalist rhetoric made it difficult for Clinton to beat Sanders, continues to make it hard for her to consolidate her base, and has blunted what was expected to be her significant advantage over Trump on foreign affairs.

Longer term this year’s campaign suggests that liberal internationalism’s days as the Democrats’ undisputed foreign policy platform are numbered. The battle between Clinton and Trump may temporarily paper over the Democrats’ internal struggles, but in fact Donald Trump’s success only reinforces the danger of assuming Americans have the stomach for ambitious foreign policies. As a recent survey from the Pew Research Center found, 57 percent of Americans think the United States should deal with its own problems and let other nations manage on their own, more think that involvement in the global economy is mostly bad than mostly good, and 70 percent of Americans want the next president to focus on domestic policy, not foreign policy.

Like it or not, Clinton and other liberal internationalists will need to do more to persuade Democrats that the United States can and should continue to engage the world as deeply as it has for the past generation.

A. Trevor Thrall is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and an associate professor at George Mason University in the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs.

Toss Turkey out of NATO: U.S. Doesn’t Need Civilian Dictatorship or Military Junta

Doug Bandow

Turkey’s brief democratic moment is ending. The rise of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Development and Justice Party (AKP) in 2002 signaled the collapse of the militarized secular republic created by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The failed coup of two weeks ago killed the semi-liberal democracy that briefly replaced Kemalism.

NATO is an anachronism and Ankara’s membership even more so. The Cold War’s premier military alliance led by the U.S. should have disappeared once the Europeans recovered from World War II and especially after the Soviet Union dissolved. Today Turkey undermines U.S. and European security. As Ankara moves toward an authoritarian one-party state, its membership in NATO becomes ever more incongruous. A civil divorce would be best for all parties.

Erdogan, who as Istanbul’s mayor was jailed for publicly reading an Islamic poem, began as the reformer Turkey had spent decades waiting for. He was supported by liberals hoping for a more democratic and open society in which the military stayed in its barracks. Many Europeans saw Erdogan as the man to take Turkey into the European Union.

And he delivered, at least until the AKP won its third consecutive election in 2011. Then he began moving in an unmistakably authoritarian direction. Credited with reviving Turkey’s economy, Erdogan appeared to believe that AKP officials deserved to do as well financially as politically. Elected president, he built an 1100-room official residence fit for a sultan of old.

Police and prosecutors who asked too many questions about high officials’ suspicious cash holdings were replaced. Military officers and others were convicted of fantastic charges based on fabricated evidence. Journalism became a risky profession, with record numbers of editors and reporters jailed or fired. Entire media companies were seized, while internet enterprises were pressured.

Those criticizing the president, including a high school student and former beauty queen, were prosecuted. A court decided that comparing Erdogan to Gollum in Lord of the Rings was a criminal offense. Noted Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute, Erdogan “has a track record of persecuting and prosecuting his opponents, usually on the premise that there’s a conspiracy to undermine him.”

Erdogan also decided that politics trumped peace, abandoning the ceasefire he had negotiated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Doing so reignited Ankara’s bitter conflict with Kurdish separatists and reaffirmed Turkey’s fervent support from Turkish nationalists. Ankara also opposed Kurdish ambitions in Syria, which had collapsed into civil war. Erdogan even attempted to drag the U.S. into the conflict against the Assad government while accommodating the Islamic State as it conquered territory and terrorized captive residents.

Last fall his government shot down a Russian aircraft for briefly violating Turkish airspace. Moscow reacted circumspectly, unlike Erdogan, but threatened a far tougher response to a second incident. Whether Ankara’s act was retaliation for Russian attacks on Turkish-supported insurgents, strict enforcement of its airspace, or an attempt to entangle NATO in the Syrian conflict, the attack was irresponsible and dangerous. The alliance responded by warning Erdogan against further provocations.

As Turkey descends more deeply into repression and conflict, its value to NATO decreases ever further.

Although he has began to repair the international damage—Ankara recently normalized relations with Russia—he redoubled domestic repression after the failed putsch. The government has good cause to target anyone promoting a military repeat, and has detained an estimated 10,000 people, including 6000 in the military, and one-third of the top officers. But the regime has treated the coup as the equivalent of the Reichstag fire for the Nazis, an excuse to launch a country-wide crackdown. Warned Turkey’s one liberal party, the largely Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, Erdogan’s campaign was “a tool and opportunity for the government to purge all opposition and limit democratic rights and freedom.” The Great Purge obviously was prepared well in advance.

The regime made the unsupported claim that the cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally, plotted the coup, which seemed unlikely for an elderly exile. In fact, Erdogan blamed the religious leader while the coup was still in progress, before any investigation had even begun. The military long had resisted infiltration by outside forces, including Gulenists. The latter gained ground only after the Erdogan government broke the armed forces’ independence. Absent evidence of Gulen’s involvement—requested by the Obama administration to justify his extradition—it seemed more likely that officers, Gulenist and secularist, joined against a common foe.

Nevertheless, nearly 2800 judges were fired the day after the coup, and at least 50,000 state officials and employees were suspended or ousted in the following days: academics, policemen, governors, interior, finance, and education bureaucrats, presidential staffers, school teachers and administrators, and others. Some of those sacked had been appointed previously by the AKP. The regime even dismissed 350 members of Turkish Airlines, including cabin crew. Most of those targeted apparently were thought to be followers of the 77-year-old Gulen, who has lived in rural Pennsylvania since 1999.

Moreover, barely a week after the attempted putsch the government took over a multitude of private institutions, including 1229 associations and foundations, 1043 schools, 35 health care organizations, 19 labor groups, and 15 universities. The government revoked press cards for journalists, preventing them from working, and closed a score of independent news sites. Guilt by association became official policy: those targeted “belong to, have ties with or are in communication with” Gulenists, claimed the regime.

The regime’s attack on education has been particularly widespread. The government demanded the resignation of 1577 deans, from every Turkish university, including private institutions, ordered all university professors to cancel foreign travel, suspended 15,200 public administrators and teachers, and revoked the licenses of 21,000 private teachers, preventing them from working. An education ministry official pointed to “tip-offs that these are mostly linked with terrorist activities,” meaning Gulen. Obviously these many thousands of people were not involved in the coup. Instead, the Erdogan government appeared determined to eliminate any opposition to its increasingly authoritarian rule.

Exactly what Erdogan plans is unknown. While the formal suspension of the European Convention on Human Rights and imposition of a state of emergency might only be temporary, in practice they seem unlikely to end. Erdogan claimed to be acting to protect “democracy, the rule of law and rights and freedoms of our citizens,” but he has been ostentatiously violating all of them for years. Now the situation is likely to get far worse.

Erdogan has been emboldened, the opposition has been weakened, critics have been silenced, and restraints on the government have disappeared. Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek predicted that the government would authorize creation of committees to assess the guilt of tens of thousands of people accused of disloyalty. This proposal echoes the violent purges of Maoist China and Islamist Iran, which inflicted mass injustice and disrupted national development.

Punishing most anyone thought to oppose Erdogan and the AKP also risks making violence the only form of opposition possible. Yet even before the coup ISIS terrorism and Kurdish resistance were growing. Now Turkey’s ravaged military will be less able to battle these foes.

As Turkey descends more deeply into repression and conflict, its value to NATO decreases ever further. Of course, Ankara retains advocates. Robbie Gramer of the Transatlantic Security Initiative argued: “The anti-ISIS coalition, strategically important American and NATO bases in Turkey, NATO’s posture toward Russia, and the EU’s migration deal would all be at risk if NATO forced Turkey out. Given the array of threats the alliance faces, NATO could not afford to put any of this at risk.”

However, Gramer greatly inflates Turkey’s geopolitical value. Ankara’s 1952 membership is a Cold War artifact. The Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact no longer exist, ending any serious military threat to Europe. Nothing has changed with Vladimir Putin: there is no evidence that Moscow has the slightest interest in staging a blitzkrieg through the Balkans, let alone to the Atlantic Ocean. Russia’s brutal treatment of Georgia and Ukraine is essentially defensive against an expanding NATO, not offensive in attempting to recreate the Soviet empire. There is no renewed Russian threat for Turkey to combat.

Actually, Ankara has become worse than useless for U.S. security. NATO itself is more burden than asset for America. The Europeans are capable of confronting any threat from a much weaker Russia as well as challenges created by conflict in North Africa and the Middle East. The continent refuses to spend seriously on its own security because it expects the U.S. to step in.

Turkey’s primary military benefit to Washington is access to Incirlik airbase, which is not in fact contingent on Ankara being part of NATO. Moreover, the Erdogan government’s cooperation is not guaranteed. It failed to back the U.S. in its invasion of Iraq and initially barred attacks on the Islamic State. Turkey also controls the Bosphorus Straits, but has an independent interest in constraining Russian activity in the Black Sea, which is of only limited interest to America. Finally, Ankara routinely violates the airspace of fellow NATO member Greece and continues to maintain troops on the island of Cyprus, divided by a Turkish invasion four decades ago.

Wishful thinking cannot overcome such a record. It should be apparent that the alliance has little influence over Turkey’s behavior. Hoping to appease Erdogan, James Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts and former NATO commander, argued that “the United States should use NATO as a mechanism to support Turkish positions,” yet those stances are largely antithetical to America’s interests. Nor is there any reason to believe that Ankara would become more pliable if Washington sacrificed America’s basic interests.

Moreover, Ankara probably would not qualify for alliance membership today. It is engulfed in multiple conflicts largely of its own making. The government’s refusal to address the aspirations of the large Kurdish minority led to an extraordinarily brutal military campaign in the 1980s and 1990s which could have induced Western intervention had the culprit not been a member of NATO: 4000 towns were destroyed, 30,000 or so people were killed, and three million people were displaced. The Erdogan government won plaudits from abroad for forging a ceasefire, which Erdogan jettisoned last year for political purposes. Now the conflict burns anew. Ankara recently expanded its military efforts to include Syria’s Kurds, who have created their own autonomous zone.

Moreover, Turkey fostered conflict in Syria and terrorism at home. Early in the civil war the Erdogan government backed the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and attempted to drag the U.S. into the horrid imbroglio. The latter objective might explain Turkey’s otherwise inexplicable decision to down a Russian aircraft. Had Moscow retaliated NATO could have found itself involved in war.

The Turkish government also aided the rise of the Islamic State by turning a blind eye to the latter’s cross-border activities, a decision which backfired badly. Already responsible for an increasing number of terrorist attacks, Daesh might attempt to regroup in Turkey once its “caliphate” disappears. The group then might not be easily dislodged.

Exactly what Erdogan plans is unknown. While the formal suspension of the European Convention on Human Rights and imposition of a state of emergency might only be temporary, in practice they seem unlikely to end. Erdogan claimed to be acting to protect “democracy, the rule of law and rights and freedoms of our citizens,” but he has been ostentatiously violating all of them for years. Now the situation is likely to get far worse.

Erdogan has been emboldened, the opposition has been weakened, critics have been silenced, and restraints on the government have disappeared. Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek predicted that the government would authorize creation of committees to assess the guilt of tens of thousands of people accused of disloyalty. This proposal echoes the violent purges of Maoist China and Islamist Iran, which inflicted mass injustice and disrupted national development.

Punishing most anyone thought to oppose Erdogan and the AKP also risks making violence the only form of opposition possible. Yet even before the coup ISIS terrorism and Kurdish resistance were growing. Now Turkey’s ravaged military will be less able to battle these foes.

As Turkey descends more deeply into repression and conflict, its value to NATO decreases ever further. Of course, Ankara retains advocates. Robbie Gramer of the Transatlantic Security Initiative argued: “The anti-ISIS coalition, strategically important American and NATO bases in Turkey, NATO’s posture toward Russia, and the EU’s migration deal would all be at risk if NATO forced Turkey out. Given the array of threats the alliance faces, NATO could not afford to put any of this at risk.”

However, Gramer greatly inflates Turkey’s geopolitical value. Ankara’s 1952 membership is a Cold War artifact. The Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact no longer exist, ending any serious military threat to Europe. Nothing has changed with Vladimir Putin: there is no evidence that Moscow has the slightest interest in staging a blitzkrieg through the Balkans, let alone to the Atlantic Ocean. Russia’s brutal treatment of Georgia and Ukraine is essentially defensive against an expanding NATO, not offensive in attempting to recreate the Soviet empire. There is no renewed Russian threat for Turkey to combat.

Actually, Ankara has become worse than useless for U.S. security. NATO itself is more burden than asset for America. The Europeans are capable of confronting any threat from a much weaker Russia as well as challenges created by conflict in North Africa and the Middle East. The continent refuses to spend seriously on its own security because it expects the U.S. to step in.

Turkey’s primary military benefit to Washington is access to Incirlik airbase, which is not in fact contingent on Ankara being part of NATO. Moreover, the Erdogan government’s cooperation is not guaranteed. It failed to back the U.S. in its invasion of Iraq and initially barred attacks on the Islamic State. Turkey also controls the Bosphorus Straits, but has an independent interest in constraining Russian activity in the Black Sea, which is of only limited interest to America. Finally, Ankara routinely violates the airspace of fellow NATO member Greece and continues to maintain troops on the island of Cyprus, divided by a Turkish invasion four decades ago.

Wishful thinking cannot overcome such a record. It should be apparent that the alliance has little influence over Turkey’s behavior. Hoping to appease Erdogan, James Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts and former NATO commander, argued that “the United States should use NATO as a mechanism to support Turkish positions,” yet those stances are largely antithetical to America’s interests. Nor is there any reason to believe that Ankara would become more pliable if Washington sacrificed America’s basic interests.

Moreover, Ankara probably would not qualify for alliance membership today. It is engulfed in multiple conflicts largely of its own making. The government’s refusal to address the aspirations of the large Kurdish minority led to an extraordinarily brutal military campaign in the 1980s and 1990s which could have induced Western intervention had the culprit not been a member of NATO: 4,000 towns were destroyed, 30,000 or so people were killed and three million people were displaced. The Erdogan government won plaudits from abroad for forging a ceasefire, which Erdogan jettisoned last year for political purposes. Now the conflict burns anew. Ankara recently expanded its military efforts to include Syria’s Kurds, who have created their own autonomous zone.

Moreover, Turkey fostered conflict in Syria and terrorism at home. Early in the civil war the Erdogan government backed the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and attempted to drag the U.S. into the horrid imbroglio. The latter objective might explain Turkey’s otherwise inexplicable decision to down a Russian aircraft. Had Moscow retaliated NATO could have found itself involved in war.

The Turkish government also aided the rise of the Islamic State by turning a blind eye to the latter’s cross-border activities, a decision which backfired badly. Already responsible for an increasing number of terrorist attacks, Daesh might attempt to regroup in Turkey once its “caliphate” disappears. The group then might not be easily dislodged.

At the same time, Turkey no longer meets the democracy and human rights standards for new members. In fact, Secretary of State John Kerry warned Ankara against moving away from the alliance’s “requirement with respect to democracy” in the aftermath of the coup. NATO was willing to overlook such blemishes in the past, but today’s descent to authoritarianism is much harder to accept. Especially since Erdogan appears to be following a script written years ago. Before taking power Erdogan said “democracy is like a streetcar. When you come to your stop, you get off.” Unfortunately, that stop turned out to be consolidating power.

Further, the regime is distancing itself from the West. Labor minister Suleyman Soylu blamed America for the coup, while an AKP MP, Aydin Unal, claimed that U.S. soldiers dressed as Turks participated in the fighting. Turkey’s ambassador to the U.S. Serdar Kilic merely replied “I hope not” when asked if America was involved. The regime also blamed the U.S. for hosting Gulen. President Erdogan said any state that harbored those involved in the coup would be considered “at war” with Turkey. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim claimed that Washington’s request for evidence of Gulen’s guilt before bustling him off to Ankara’s tender mercies called into question the two nations’ friendship. Obviously that relationship does not include respect for the rule of law.

NATO has become a self-parody, including countries such as Montenegro, which has 2080 men under arms—fewer than the number arrested by Turkey in the coup’s aftermath. However, at least Podgorica is harmless, a modern day variant of the fictional Duchy of Grand Fenwick in the novel The Mouse that Roared. In contrast, Turkey is turning into a security black hole.

Ankara’s political limitations also are becoming more evident. During the Cold War Washington supported brutal dictatorships around the world. But that world has disappeared. The growth of Putinism in Ankara today is a terrible embarrassment, with no corresponding security benefit for America as compensation. And the price will only rise.

The U.S. should change its approach to reflect changing circumstances. Turkey’s membership in NATO no longer serves America’s and Europe’s interests.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan.

Why Send More Troops to Iraq?

A. Trevor Thrall

Through careful incrementalism and downplaying his actions, President Barack Obama has shrewdly avoided scrutiny of repeated military interventions and robbed the American people of robust debate about the where, when, and why of American warfare.

Close on the heels of Obama’s decision to keep 8,400 troops in Afghanistan indefinitely, the administration recently announced that it would send another 560 troops to Iraq to help retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS). This move will bring the total number of American troops in Iraq to somewhere around 5,000. In the scheme of things, 5,000 does not sound like a remarkable figure. The U.S. sent over 150,000 troops to fight the 2003 Iraq War and deployed over 500,000 troops to the Middle East for the first Gulf War.

In place of a clearly defined mission Obama has substituted an amorphous commitment to the security and stability of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria with no clear national security rationale and no clear endpoint in sight.

And in many ways the decision to help Iraqi forces retake the city of Mosul also seems unremarkable. ISIS is a global menace, after all, sparking terrorism around the world and threatening the stability of the Middle East. Moreover, Obama has promised that the American forces will not engage in direct combat but will instead provide support for Iraqi troops. On the surface, sending a few additional troops to help Iraq take care of ISIS simply looks like a smart strategy.

Unfortunately, this approach to American strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq has produced a long and drawn out failure over the past 15 years. National security concerns provide scant justification for direct involvement in the Middle East. ISIS is an imminent threat to Iraq and its neighbors but represents a distant threat to Americans. And, in fact, the best way to reduce the threat of terrorism against Americans is to disengage from internecine warfare in the region, not to stir hatred and enmity through continued air strikes, drone strikes, and an ongoing military presence.

Beyond this, the danger of Obama’s decision is that it signals an unhealthy evolution in the American way of war. In the wake of Vietnam political leaders like Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and General Colin Powell helped articulate a new approach to military intervention. Instead of getting bogged down in endless wars with little prospect for success, the Weinberger and Powell doctrines encouraged presidents to identify limited missions clearly, to use overwhelming military force in pursuit of quick victory, and to use military force only when vital national interests were at stake and with the full backing of the American people. The result of this post-Vietnam strategic evolution was seen in the high-tech, low-casualty warfare that proved so successful during the Gulf War in 1991.

President Obama, meanwhile, has abandoned the strategy that worked so well then. In place of a clearly defined mission Obama has substituted an amorphous commitment to the security and stability of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria with no clear national security rationale and no clear endpoint in sight. In place of overwhelming military force is the “light footprint,” which serves to keep American casualties low while sacrificing the ability to achieve any kind of military victory in a reasonable amount of time.

And finally, Obama has obscured the true shape of his Middle East strategy through his own version of “salami tactics.” By focusing the news media’s attention on discrete efforts like the retaking of Mosul or the killing of a specific terrorist leader, and by adding just a few troops here and a few troops there, he avoids debate about his overall strategy. Meanwhile the United States gets ever more deeply enmeshed in the Middle Eastern morass.

The implications of this approach to war are chilling. Without a clear national security rationale, military intervention stops being a tool of foreign policy and risks becoming either folly or tragedy. Failure to put limits on the mission or to define a clear strategy for victory puts lives at risk, invites political infighting, and raises the costs of intervention. Finally, it robs the American people of the opportunity to participate in a free-ranging debate and make their will known.

A. Trevor Thrall is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute

What Democrats Can Learn from Philadelphia’s Navy Yard

Christopher A. Preble

As Democrats descend on the City of Brotherly Love for their national convention this week, they might be tempted to visit the home of some of the city’s famous businesses, such as the Tasty Baking Company, maker of delicious Tastykakes; clothier Urban Outfitters; or pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, a DNC sponsor.

Today, they are able to visit all of these places, located near the far south end of Broad Street, where that iconic Philadelphia boulevard meets the Delaware River.

But a generation ago, most people couldn’t go there. The Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and the adjacent Philadelphia Naval Station were closed to the public. Today, The Navy Yard is home to more than 150 businesses, employing more than twelve thousand people. It has restaurants and retail shops. And last year it hosted one hundred events that drew more than one hundred thousand visitors. One of the bigger events of the year is the Blue Cross Broad Street Run, a ten-mile race which starts at Broad and W. Fisher, and ends a quarter of a mile inside of the Navy Yard’s gate. The opening of the former military property made this all possible.

That isn’t the story you typically hear. When a military base is slated for closure, elected officials and community leaders rally to stop it. They form “save our base” committees and implore the Pentagon to look elsewhere. They argue that their base is essential to the nation’s defense, and that its closure would have a devastating impact on the community, and the wider regional economy. They envision that the military will leave behind empty buildings and vacant lots, a permanent blight on the landscape.

Philadelphia has a lot of things going for it, but I hope city officials make a point of bragging to visitors from the nation’s capital this week about what has happened to their former military base.

I know. I was there, in graduate school at Temple University in the mid-1990s. The shipyard’s demise had been a long time coming. In April 1991, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney included the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, and the associated properties collectively known as the Philadelphia Naval Complex, in a list of bases to be closed. The Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission concurred. The community’s political leaders fought hard against the decision. Senator Arlen Specter even took the case to the Supreme Court. But, in the end, the BRAC Commission’s decision stood. Philly’s base and shipyard closed officially in 1995.

The mood was grim. Early attempts to find a major commercial shipbuilder to replace the Navy sputtered. It seemed impossible to believe, in those early months, that the South Broad Street community could recover. The city wasn’t doing much better. An estimated 482,000 people—one quarter of its population—had moved out during the previous quarter century. A poll taken in September 1995 found that 43 percent of Philadelphia’s residents wanted to join them someplace else.

But the C in BRAC is misleading. Bases aren’t closed. Properly managed, and with a little bit of luck, most former military facilities are repurposed for other chiefly nonmilitary pursuits. And some make the transition quite quickly.

Of the fifteen instances of defense conversion that I’ve studied so far, Philadelphia’s Navy Yard is one of the most impressive. (I write about it here.)

A private-public partnership with the city of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, and Liberty Property Trust is responsible for managing the area’s rapid redevelopment. The sheer range of businesses there demonstrates the benefits of a diversified economic base, located on 1200 acres near some of Philadelphia’s most famous landmarks. Indeed, its location was always a key selling point. For example, the city’s sports teams play on Broad Street, within walking distance. The Comcast Center, home to the Sixers and Flyers, also hosts performances and shows. Unsurprisingly, the Courtyard Marriott hotel, which opened in 2014, is at capacity for Eagles football games and major concerts. Plenty of open space, a number of historic buildings, and pleasing views of the river, make for a great walking tour. Regular shuttles carry visitors and workers to and from Center City.

The secret of the revival of one of Philadelphia’s great landmarks isn’t a very well-kept one. Politico has some great pics here. The Navy Yard is doing so well that there are rumblings of future expansion to include 1.5 million square feet of rental housing, which would transform the Yard into “a live-work, 24/7 microcosm of edgy, urban living,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Philadelphia has a lot of things going for it, but I hope city officials make a point of bragging to visitors from the nation’s capital this week about what has happened to their former military base. They might even give them a tour. If they do, it could weaken opposition in Congress to another round of base closures, which is so desperately needed. Indeed, the opponents might come around to the view that the opening of a nearby base is precisely the boost that a flagging local economy needs.

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

How Obama Abandoned the American Ethos of Justice

Nat Hentoff and Nick Hentoff

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” — Preamble, U.S. Constitution

When speaking about the war on terror, President Obama frequently invokes a biblical sense of justice that flows from the execution of a judgment through brute force rather than the rule of law.

“Those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget and that our reach is long and that justice will be served,” Obama said in 2014 after ISIS murdered American Steven Sotloff.

It is the sense of justice described in The Battle Hymn of the Republic as a “righteous sentence” meted out with a “terrible swift sword.” Which may be acceptable rhetoric when used to rally public support in wartime, but is dangerous to democracy when used to govern a civil society.

The American ethos of justice embodied in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution can be found in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) definitions of justice, such as “the quality of being fair and reasonable,” or “a concern for justice, peace, and genuine respect for people.”

The Constitution lists the establishment of justice as the primary goal of America’s founding document. All of the desired outcomes flowing from “a more perfect union” — domestic tranquility, the common defense, the general welfare and the blessings of liberty — depend for their success on the Constitution’s promise to “establish justice.”

As Obama’s second term comes to a close, he leaves office with a record that will be defined by the abandonment of the principles of due process and the rule of law that are the foundation of the American ethos of justice.

The Guantanamo Bay prison, a due-process-free black hole of injustice, is still open and damaging America’s reputation and credibility abroad. In 2011, Obama expanded Guantanamo-like indefinite detention by signing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012, which authorized the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens.

Jonathan Turley, writing in 2012 for The Guardian, called Obama’s position on indefinite detention of U.S. citizens a “historic assault on American liberty.” The American Civil Liberties Union said that Obama “will forever be known as the president who signed indefinite detention without charge or trial into law.”

Fifteen years after the Patriot Act was first passed, and nearly eight years after Obama became president, the indefinite detention of Americans is still authorized under U.S. law.

Congress deserves blame for the failure to close Guantanamo and to end authorization for the indefinite detention of Americans. But Obama’s culpability cannot be ignored in apportioning blame.

He bears all of the blame for the civil liberties outrages that were entirely within his control and which enjoyed his vigorous support. These include adopting regulations and procedures that broadly authorize the remote extrajudicial killings by drones not only of foreign combatants, but also innocent civilians and even American citizens living abroad. Obama also sanctioned the CIA’s illegal torture program after the fact by refusing to prosecute those responsible for blatant violations of U.S. and international law.

Such a ubiquitous disregard for the rule of law threatens to cripple our ability to protect and preserve our civil liberties. The lasting legacy of Obama’s war on terror may just be the institutionalized abandonment of the American ethos of justice. And that is a tragedy of historic proportions.

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.

The NATO Alliance Is Terminally Ill

Ted Galen Carpenter

The attempted military coup in Turkey sent shock waves through NATO. No matter how the coup turned out, it would have bad news for the alliance. If the attempt had succeeded, NATO would have faced the embarrassment of having a member governed by a military dictatorship. Although that type of situation was tolerated during the Cold War (with respect to founding member Portugal, several military regimes in Turkey, and the brutal Greek junta from 1967 to 1974), matters are much different in the current environment. Since NATO portrays itself as an alliance of enlightened democracies, tolerating a dictatorial member now would be so politically toxic as to be nearly impossible.

That is likely a significant reason why the United States and other key NATO powers opposed the coup and quickly expressed support for the President Erdogan’s government. But Erdogan’s victory over an extraordinarily inept coup plot did not signal a victory for a truly democratic Turkey. Instead, his government has used the incident to purge not only the military, but the judiciary and the educational system of thousands of opponents. The extent and speed of the purge confirms that Erdogan simply used the attempted coup as a pretext for a plan long in place. NATO still confronts the problem of a member state that is now a dictatorship in all but name. That is likely to be unpalatable to several fellow members and cause serious tensions and divisions in the alliance.

But Turkey’s descent into authoritarianism is hardly the only sign of illness in the alliance. There are noticeable uncertainties about the most pressing security issue: how to deal with Russia. Most of the East European members embrace a confrontational stance toward Moscow, believing that any sign of weakness will only encourage the Kremlin to become even more abrasive and belligerent. NATO’s political and military leadership clearly favors a similar approach. So far, the hawkish strategy has largely prevailed. NATO has conducted air, naval and ground force maneuvers in the Baltic region, the Black Sea, Poland and Ukraine. The decision to deploy three battalions to the Baltic republics (along with one to Poland), ratified at the recent Warsaw summit as a symbol of NATO’s determination to defend even those highly vulnerable members, reflects a similar mentality.

A Trump presidency might well be the last nail in NATO’s coffin.

The hostile stance toward Russia is not without its dissenters, however. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier startled his alliance colleagues with extremely negative comments about NATO’s large-scale military exercises in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Such measures, Steinmeier stated, were “counterproductive,” and he admonished NATO leaders to avoid “saber-rattling and warmongering.” We are “well advised not to create pretexts to renew an old confrontation.”

It is not coincidental that Germany was one of the major NATO countries most adamant about not extending membership invitations to Ukraine and Georgia, despite a vigorous lobbying effort by the United States, Britain, and most East European members. Berlin has also been, at best, a reluctant supporter of the Western economic sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and its support of secessionists in eastern Ukraine. But Germany is not the only NATO member to exhibit doubts about the increasingly hardline policy toward Russia. Both Hungary and the Czech Republic have shown some reluctance. Turkey’s recent, very public, reconciliation with Moscow may lead to a further erosion of any NATO consensus in favor of an aggressive policy.

Potentially the darkest cloud on the horizon for NATO, though, is the U.S. presidential election. Although Hillary Clinton is reliably committed to the status quo regarding NATO (as she is on nearly every other major foreign-policy topic), Donald Trump is not. He has raised the burden-sharing issue in rather blunt and caustic terms. But Trump has sometimes gone beyond that question to express doubts about the wisdom of America’s alliance commitments generally, especially NATO. On more than one occasion, he has scorned NATO as “obsolete.” He has also expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin and indicatedthat he wants a far less confrontational policy toward Moscow.

And in his new interview with the New York Times, he casts doubt on his commitment to Article 5, the very heart of the North Atlantic Treaty. Article 5 proclaims that an attack on one member is an attack on all and obligates the United States to assist fellow members that are victims of aggression. However, Trump stated that he would decide to render aid only if the nations in question have “fulfilled their obligations to us.” Presumably, that meant keeping their promises about defense expenditures and other alliance pledges. He added ominously, “If we decide we have to defend the United States, we can always deploy” from American soil. “and it will be a lot less expensive.”

A Trump presidency might well be the last nail in NATO’s coffin. His administration would be almost certain to demand major reforms, and it is not out of the realm of possibility that he would even seek a U.S. withdrawal. It is the most serious potential fissure in the alliance, but it’s not the only one. NATO is an alliance showing multiple signs of a terminal condition, however much its partisans may want to deny that reality.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at The National Interest, is the author or contributing editor of twenty books on international affairs, including five books on NATO.

Post-Brexit UK Trade Policy: A Chance to Break Free

Simon Lester

People have been worrying about the difficulties the UK will face in developing its own trade policy after the Brexit vote, and clearly the UK government was not well prepared for this task. However, rather than the disaster that some may fear, the chance to develop a new trade policy could also be taken as a great opportunity. If Brexit goes forward, the UK will construct a trade policy from scratch, without the burden of decades of entrenched thinking and interest group influence. If done right, this could lead to significant improvements and innovations in the existing trade agreement model, and freer trade.

The new UK trade policy will be guided by the views of the political leadership. From what we have heard so far, there is general support for free trade among this group. Prime Minister Theresa May has expressed concerns about UK companies being bought by foreigners, but she has also talked of “embracing the opportunities to strike free trade deals with our partners across the globe.” Boris Johnson, the new foreign secretary, has been a strong TTIP proponent (“There is absolutely nothing not to like about the TTIP.”) Secretary for international trade Liam Fox says he is “scoping out” a dozen potential trade deals. Prior to the vote, David Davis called for the UK to step up the negotiation of free trade agreements after Brexit (“The greatest improvements will come if we grasp the opportunities for free trade with both hands.”); and after the vote, the new Brexit minister said, “we can do deals with our trading partners, and we can do them quickly.” And business secretary Sajid Javid has already begun traveling the world seeking trade deals for the UK.

Of course, actual implementation will be carried out by trade specialists, and it is these people who are most important to the future of UK trade policy. The political leadership might be vaguely for free trade and trade deals, but it is the trade experts who understand the nuances. A wide range of issues might be included in a trade agreement, and free trade can be promoted in a variety of ways. It is the experts who will be in the best position to shape the content of the UK’s trade agreements.

As of now, these trade experts are not in place. It has been widely reported that the UK has very few government officials (some have given the figure as 20) capable of conducting a trade negotiation, and will have to hire hundreds of people for this task. This is certainly true, but the difficulty should not be exaggerated. Perhaps the EU really does have 600 trade experts on staff, and maybe Canada has 300, but it is easy to imagine that not all of these people are absolutely necessary. In part, the number needed depends on what the UK plans to be negotiating in a trade agreement. Arguably, as discussed further below, some current trade agreement issues do not need to be in there. Thus, while there has been talk of the UK government’s business department hiring 300 trade specialists, the UK could, conceivably, make do within significantly less than this.

Once the UK trade team is in place, it can begin to formulate a specific vision and model for UK trade policy and agreements. In doing so, trade policy officials should look for input from stakeholders; obviously, it is important to understand what your constituents think. But the key here is not to be unduly influenced by narrow and parochial demands. For example, the Economist noted the following: “[UK] officials will have to survey British industries to discover what protection motorcycle manufacturers and salmon fisheries might require from foreign competition … .” However, while the government should be aware of which domestic industries are demanding protectionism, it does not have to accede to these demands. Rather, it should stand up to interest groups wherever possible. UK motorcycle manufacturers and salmon fisheries might benefit from import protection, but the larger public does not. Lobbying for special protections and favors will no doubt be a part of UK trade policy-making, as it is everywhere, but a good government will not give in to everything demanded of it. Instead, it should carefully consider the impact of a policy on society as a whole.

Brexit, if it goes ahead, is a chance to start fresh on trade policy, without the encumbrances of decades of interest group influence that most governments have to deal with. UK politicians and policy-makers have a chance to set up a sensible trade policy from the outset. They will face resistance, of course, but nevertheless it is an opportunity to think about trade policy without all of the baggage that most governments are saddled with.

Brexit, if it goes ahead, is a chance to start fresh on trade policy, without the encumbrances of decades of interest group influence that most governments have to deal with.

If the UK government believes in free trade, as it should, it can focus on promoting certain core aspects of trade liberalization: Elimination or reduction of tariffs and quotas on imports of goods, including so-called “trade remedies” (anti-dumping, countervailing duties, and safeguards); and the principle of non-discrimination, pursuant to which governments agree not to treat foreign goods and services less favorably than their own, including for government procurement. With an emphasis on these issues, the UK can achieve the greatest economic benefits from its trade agreements.

Unfortunately, trade policy has been a bit distracted from these issues in recent years. In practice, with many trade agreements, tariff reductions sometimes take place over a long period, and do not cover all products. And trade remedy abuses are rarely touched in trade agreements these days. Services liberalization is patchy at best, and much of government procurement is excluded from coverage. Often these omissions reflect the demands of industry groups who wish to avoid competition with foreign producers.

At the same time, many new issues have been added to trade agreements, despite the lack of evidence of any substantial economic benefits, and no connection to trade liberalization. For better or worse, trade agreements are shaped by the views of corporations, labor unions, and NGOs, as shown by the inclusion in these agreements of rules on intellectual property, labor rights, and environmental issues such as shark finning.

Generally speaking, governments’ trade policies have been developed over a period of many years, and the influence of particular interest groups has become fairly entrenched. As a result, it is not easy to argue against the existing trade agreement model, because any change would upset the group who demanded a particular rule, and trade agreements are a delicate balance of the views of a wide range of interest groups. While interest group influence cannot be shut out completely, Brexit has given the UK a chance to formulate a trade policy that brings the focus back to liberalization that benefits society more generally, rather than particular interest groups. Let’s hope the UK political leaders and soon-to-be-hired trade officials embrace this opportunity.

Simon Lester is a arade policy analyst for the Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies at Cato Institute