Syria Could Be Washington’s Next Big Foreign Policy Failure

Doug Bandow

President Donald Trump criticized candidate Hillary Clinton for
her interventionist tendencies. Now he plans to maintain U.S.
forces amid battling Kurds, Turks, Russians, Iranians and
contending Syrian factions. Washington’s policy is frankly mad.
Having attained its primary objective, defeating the Islamic State,
or ISIS, the Trump administration should wrap up American
operations in Syria.

As a superpower the United States has interests all over, but
few of them are important, let alone vital. Syria is peripheral to
America economically and militarily. It is a humanitarian tragedy,
but the United States has remained aloof from worse conflicts.
Although the Assad government is odious, the country’s civil war
featured numerous murderous, undemocratic, radical and otherwise
undesirable factions.

President Barack Obama resisted the temptation to intervene
directly in the Syrian imbroglio. In contrast, President Trump
launched airstrikes against the Assad government. He quadrupled the
number of U.S. troops to about two thousand. Moreover, reported
Reuters, “U.S. forces in Syria have already faced direct threats
from Syrian and Iranian-backed forces, leading to the shoot-down of
Iranian drones and a Syrian jet last year, as well as to tensions
with Russia.” Now the president is going all in, planning an
extended occupation and expansive nation-building program, and
risking conflict with multiple antagonists.

Some analysts have even less realistic ambitions. Declared the
Washington Post: “The United States cannot prevent a
resurgence of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, prevent Iran from
building bases across Syria, or end a civil war that has sent
millions of refugees toward Europe without maintaining control over
forces and territory inside the country, just as Russia and Iran
do. Only by being a factor on the ground will Washington be taken
seriously as it seeks the implementation of a UN peace plan for
Syria — a road map calling for nationwide democratic
elections — that Russia and the regime of Bashar al-Assad are
trying to bury.”

How did the United States
get into this mess?

Seriously? Officials in Washington, with a few troops on the
ground, are going to deter terrorist organizations, constrain Iran,
end sectarian fighting, cow Moscow, and create a democratic Syria?
Washington spent decades wrecking the region through misguided
meddling and now is going to fix the mess in a few months or couple
years? It is a delusion, a fantasy.

With the defeat of the Islamic State, Syria’s civil war has
changed form. The Syrian government, with Iranian and Russian
support, is targeting the few remaining Sunni Arab insurgents while
Turkey has turned several Sunni rebel groups into anti-Kurdish
proxies. Russia has deployed S-400 antiaircraft missiles, giving it
leverage against Turkey and the United States.

Washington plans a permanent military presence in northern
Syria. The administration is backing an independent Kurdish
military, a policy guaranteed to run afoul of Turkey, Syria and
Iran. Just as Iraqi Kurds used the chaos of war to expand their
control, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) expanded Kurdish
influence in Syria and now controls roughly a quarter of the
country, called the Democratic Federation of Rojava. The United
States worked with the Syrian Democratic Forces, dominated by the
Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG), to defeat the Islamic
State.

After the defeat of ISIS Washington promised to end weapons
transfers to Kurdish forces. But then the Trump administration
announced plans for a new Kurdish border force to prevent an ISIS
revival. Ankara responded with “Operation Olive Branch” against
Afrin, just over the Syrian border, and threatened to march east on
Manbij, which contains American troops. Washington’s friends,
including non-Kurdish troops, have begun breaking away to aid their
compatriots — using U.S.-supplied weapons.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and many of his backers view
America as an adversary, determined to do Turkey ill. Indeed, in
few nations is popular antagonism toward Washington greater.
Erdogan has benefited politically from escalating Turkey’s war
against Kurdish separatists at home and abroad.

How did the United States get into this mess?

With the Arab Spring the United States called for Syrian
president Bashar al-Assad’s overthrow. His regime was odious, but
threatened no one outside his borders, certainly not the United
States. Washington’s designation of Damascus as a state sponsor of
terrorism was political, reflecting Syria’s support for Arab
organizations hostile to Israel. The United States made
half-hearted efforts to support groups seeking to oust Assad. Alas,
genuine moderates were few and ineffective, so Washington ended up
backing more radical groups. Much of America’s aid ultimately ended
up in the hands of jihadists who viewed the United States no more
favorably than the Assad government.

While seeking to oust Assad, Washington improbably sought to
simultaneously defeat ISIS, back so-called moderates, avoid
radicals, support PYD, use YPG, cooperate with Turkey, oppose Iran,
and sidestep Russians. As always, Washington’s ambitions greatly
exceeded its ability.

Now the administration assures us that it has an even better
idea, an extended occupation by combat troops amid multiple
contending armed forces, highlighted by forcing Assad from office,
fixing war-ravaged areas, building up Kurdish forces, satisfying
the Turkish government, banishing Tehran’s influence, and avoiding
confrontation with Russia. There is no risk of overreach or mission
creep. And certainly no need for Congress to vote on the issue.

Secretary Tillerson recently set forth the administration’s
Syria policy. His talk ignored the consistent failure of American
Mideast policy, starting with Syria. The United States also has
been involved in Afghanistan since 2001 and Iraq since 2003 —
at the cost of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars —
and neither country is remotely peaceful or stable. Washington
helped wreck Libya, spreading chaos throughout the region. The
U.S.-backed equally destructive intervention by Saudi Arabia in
Yemen. Now, the Trump administration says it has the answer.

“It is vital for the United States to remain engaged in Syria”
and “crucial to our national defense to maintain a military and
diplomatic presence in Syria,” said Tillerson. He added: “Syria
remains a source of severe strategic threats and a major challenge
for our diplomacy.”

Threat to what? America was secure when Syria was united, allied
with Moscow, and periodically at war with Israel. The United States
was secure when the Assad regime lost control over much of the
country and radical Islamists dominated the opposition. America was
secure when the Islamic State created its infamous “caliphate”
stretching over much or Iraq and Syria. America is secure with ISIS
defeated, Assad ascendant, and chunks of the country held by a
confusing mix of competing forces allied with varying nations.
America’s interest in Syria is transcended by that of virtually
every nation in the region, especially Iran, Turkey and Russia.

Tillerson cited the Islamic State, contending that America’s
presence “is just more training and trying to block ISIS from their
escape routes.” Former NATO commander James Stavridis similarly
argued that “the message is our military presence is still about
defeating ISIS and ensuring that it’s an enduring defeat.”

However, an American occupation of northern Syria isn’t
necessary to stop ISIS from regrouping. The Islamic State always
was the responsibility of the Middle Eastern states, all of which
it considered to be its enemies. American involvement encouraged
the Assad government to focus on other insurgents, enabled Ankara
to tolerate the activities of ISIS, and allowed the Sunni Gulf
States, led by Saudi Arabia, to shift their resources elsewhere,
especially to intervening in Yemen’s civil war.

The Islamic State has lost 98 percent of the territory it once
held. It beggars belief that Turkey, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia,
Iraq and Syria cannot together prevent an Islamic State revival.
While early in the conflict Damascus targeted other insurgents, for
reasons both of geography, particularly the location of the
country’s most heavily populated areas, and Washington’s
involvement, which made U.S.-backed forces more dangerous. Today
the Assad government wants to reestablish control over any lands
controlled by the Islamic State.

Ironically, ISIS resulted from prior U.S. military intervention.
Secretary Tillerson’s appeal to the alleged mistake of withdrawing
from Iraq in 2011 misrepresents history. It was the Bush
administration’s invasion which created Al Qaeda in Iraq, the
precursor to ISIS. It was the Bush administration’s inability to
win approval of a status-of-forces agreement that forced America’s
withdrawal. And it was the Bush administration which put in place a
Shia-nationalist government which alienated Sunnis, whose support
was necessary for the Islamic State to take over much of the
country.

Equally false is Tillerson’s claim that Washington is working
with Ankara and maintaining friendly ties. Overall, the U.S.-Turkey
relationship has never been worse, at least in recent history:
Ankara is unashamedly moving toward dictatorship and enhancing ties
with Russia, against which NATO is directed.

Moreover, President Erdogan always was more interested in
ousting the Assad government and containing Kurdish forces than in
destroying the Islamic State. Steven A. Cook of the Council on
Foreign Relations observed: “Over the course of the conflict in
Syria, the Turkish government turned a blind eye to jihadists,
enabled Al Qaeda affiliates, and was (at best) ambivalent about
fighting the Islamic State.”

The Erdogan government long complained about U.S. reliance on
Kurdish fighters and now has intervened militarily to prevent
consolidation of an autonomous Syrian Kurdish state. Forget fine
distinctions drawn by the United States between forces which it
supports and those being attacked by Turkey. Ankara sees only
“terrorists.”

Tillerson also made the unexceptional observation that Assad’s
regime violates human rights. But then, so do many U.S. allies in
the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Bahrain and Egypt.
Nor has the administration indicated how a continuing presence in
north Syria will help oust Assad, which continues to enjoy the
backing of Iran and Russia.

Reviving support for much-diminished “moderate” insurgents would
be hopeless. Russia likely would respond as it did before,
accelerating its support for Damascus. The administration’s
strategy is simply wishful thinking: “Because of its influence on
the Syrian regime, Russia must join the international community and
support this way forward [meaning Assad’s departure] to end the
conflict in Syria.” Tillerson probably believes in the Tooth Fairy
and Great Pumpkin as well.

Tillerson complained that “for many years, Syria under Bashar
al-Assad has been a client state of Iran.” But as he recognized,
the two governments were allied before the start of the civil war.
Tillerson warned that to disengage “would provide Iran the
opportunity to further strengthen its position in Syria” and spoke
of “reducing and expelling malicious Iranian influence from Syria.”
How would a small U.S. presence do that? Iran is not only closer
geographically, but has much greater interest in Syria and is
working with the Damascus government. Tillerson assured Americans
that “we’re not there to engage with Iran,” but then what will
America do?

Anyway, why does this justify U.S. military involvement?
Tillerson cited “continued strategic threats to the U.S.” from
Tehran. But Iran will not attack America. The Jewish Institute for
National Security of America recently worried that Iran’s gains
“threaten to entrench Tehran as the arbiter of postwar Syria and
consolidate its control of a ‘land bridge’ connecting Iran
directly to Lebanon and Hezbollah.” However, Iran is weak
economically, isolated internationally, divided internally and
surrounded by enemies. Tehran’s “empire” is more drain than gain:
embattled Yemen, divided Iraq, sectarian Lebanon and ravaged Syria.
Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others are fully capable of
containing Iran without an American military presence. Military
outlays by Saudi Arabia alone vastly outrange those of Tehran.

The administration’s fixation with Iran is encouraging Syrian
factions to again play the U.S. Former YPG spokesman Newaf Xelil
said “We think that it is surely possible that the Americans will
find real reasons to deepen their relationship with the Kurds in a
strategic sense,” pointing to Washington’s desire to roll back
Iranian influence. The Free Syrian Army’s Mustafa Sejari argued
that the president should “turn words into action” and do more to
aid “moderate forces.” Yet defending a Kurdish statelet would be a
high price to pay for doing little to limit Iran.

Tillerson also contended that “we must persist in Syria to
thwart Al Qaeda, which still has a substantial presence and base of
operations in northwest Syria.” But in its foolish determination to
oust the Assad government, the Obama administration aided Al Qaeda
affiliated groups. Moreover, the same administration supported
Riyadh’s attack on the Houthi-backed Yemeni government, limiting
its operations against the local Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,
perhaps the group’s most threatening off-shoot.

Nor would staying in Syria hamper terrorist operations. To the
contrary, American military intervention has created enemies and
spawned terrorists around the globe. Anyway, Al Qaeda and other
groups can operate almost anywhere, including in the territory of
an ally, such as Pakistan. Staying around Syria would change
nothing.

Despite Tillerson’s contrary assurances, the administration is
embarking upon another interminable nation-building project.
Tillerson said “consistent with our values, America has the
opportunity to help a people which has suffered greatly. We must
give Syrians a chance to return home and rebuild their lives.” But
this does not require an American military presence.

Even though Washington doesn’t control the entire nation, the
secretary’s ambition is expansive: “Continued U.S. presence to
ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS will also help pave the way for
legitimate local civil authorities to exercise responsible
governance of their liberated areas.” He talked about
“stabilization initiatives,” which “consist of essential measures
such as clearing unexploded land mines left behind by ISIS,
allowing hospitals to reopen, restoring water and electricity
services, and getting boys and girls back in school.”

Other officials also forecast a lengthy U.S. presence. Said Col.
Ryan Dillon, a military spokesman in Baghdad, “We’re going to be
[in Syria] until the political process gains traction” —
which could be never. The State Department’s Stanley Brown
observed: “Right now the key foreign-policy interest is stabilizing
these areas and creating a sense of hope in these communities.”
Creating a sense of hope? How long will that take?

However, the fullest measure of the administration’s folly is
evident from the potential U.S.-Turkish clash over the Kurds. The
situation is complicated, but Turkey’s worries are not baseless.
The PYD and YPG are nominally independent from the PKK and the U.S.
government insists that it does not back Kurds battling Turkey.
However, in Ankara’s view these Kurdish groups are but an
“offshoot” of the PKK. And the connections are strong. Newaf Xelil
said that “They are not different parts at all, and they cannot be
divided in any way, not politically, not economically, not
militarily.” Indeed, he added, “For us, it is all Kurdistan and we
are now defending Afrin with all we have,” including forces once
working with America.

In any case, Washington long showed little concern for the
Erdogan government’s perspective. But the administration
miscalculated when it announced plans to create, train, and arm
what the Pentagon called the Border Security Force to patrol
Syria’s border with Turkey. Although Washington backtracked in response to Ankara’s invasion,
its reassurances fell short. Turkish foreign minister Mevlut
Cavusoglu warned that “We would need to restore trust before we can
even discuss a serious issue.” Turkey’s President Erdogan bluntly
warned the United States: “don’t get in between us and terrorist
organizations, or we will not be responsible for the unwanted
consequences.” He added: “Don’t force us to bury in the ground
those who are with the terrorist.” Indeed, insisted Erdogan, “Until
the last terrorist is neutralized, this operation will
continue.”

An unnamed administration official told Washington Post
columnist David Ignatius: “Threats to our forces are not something
we can accept.” Another one anonymously told the Wall Street
Journal
: “We’ve been pretty clear that there will be
consequences if they move toward Manbij.” But no one seriously
imagines the United States going to war with Turkey.

Various proposals have been offered to avoid a confrontation.
The United States should broker talks between Kurds and the Turks
as well as other insurgents. Washington should promise the Turks
not to support independence or expansion for Syrian Kurds or
cooperation with the PKK and promise Kurds that Ankara will not
intervene militarily into Syria. This requires “quietly persuading”
the Turks, wrote Stavridis. Alas, the United States is in no
position to give such guarantees. Doing so would permanently
entangle the United States in a conflict not its own.

In fact, Washington will abandon the Kurds. When Iraqi Kurdistan
went ahead with an independence referendum against Washington’s
advice last September, the Trump administration left the territory
to its fate: blockade by Iraq, Turkey and Iran, and a military
assault by Baghdad. Washington quickly disclaimed any attempt to
halt the Turkish advance in Afrin. Nothing more should be expected
if Ankara expands its operations to toward Manbij.

Washington has attempted to juggle inconsistent policies
throughout the Syrian civil war. Attempting to stay after the
Islamic State’s defeat would be even more foolish. Before taking
office, President Trump declared, “What we should do is focus on
ISIS. We should not be focusing on Syria.” He even warned: “You’re
going to end up in World War III over Syria if we listen to Hillary
Clinton.”

The best strategy to avoid that possibility is for America to
disengage. “What we don’t want to do is leave a mess,” said Gen.
Joseph L. Votel, head of U.S. Central Command. That is inevitable,
however. The better objective is to avoid being part of the mess
that others make. Washington should treat Syria as the human
tragedy that it is, not the security priority that it is not. Bring
American forces home.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan.

How We Got Trump’s Clash with the Deep State

Christopher A. Preble

AMERICA’S FOUNDERS anticipated how a sprawling
national-security state could subvert the popular will, and even
endanger the nation’s interests. James Madison told his fellow delegates at the Constitutional
Convention in Philadelphia, “A standing military force, with
an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to
liberty.”

History informed his judgement. “The means of defense
against foreign danger,” he said, “have been always the
instruments of tyranny at home.”

George Washington agreed. In his Farewell Address, the general
turned president advised his countrymen to “avoid the
necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under
any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are
to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican
liberty.”

Another general-president, Dwight Eisenhower, echoed these
concerns. He worried that the evolving “military-industrial
complex” would acquire “unwarranted influence”
and “endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”
“Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry,” he
continued, “can compel the proper meshing of the huge
industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful
methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper
together.”

Alas, the citizenry is neither alert nor knowledgeable.

Which means that the actual conduct of foreign policy falls to
what Michael Glennon dubbed the Trumanites: “the network of
several hundred high-level military, intelligence, diplomatic, and
law enforcement officials within the executive branch who are
responsible for making national security policymaking.” And
within that executive branch, Glennon concludes in his book
National
Security and Double Government
, “The President …
exercises little substantive control over the overall direction of
U.S. national security policy.”

Even if you don’t buy Glennon’s argument, it seems
likely that the men and women responsible for executing U.S.
foreign policy are uninterested in the views of the many Americans
who actually pay for the nation’s wars, and the few Americans
who fight them.

Defenders of the status quo like to argue that it survives
because it works. The public is wrong to doubt the wisdom of wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan. As the foreign-policy elite sees it, the
American people can’t be expected to understand why we defend
wealthy allies, deploy hundreds of thousands of military personnel
in numerous foreign countries and align ourselves with some of the
world’s most reprehensible autocrats.

Dean Acheson, Truman’s secretary of state, presumably
spoke for many elites (though perhaps too candidly) when he
explained, “If you truly had a democracy and did what the
people wanted, you’d go wrong every time.”

In this sense, it isn’t merely inertia that explains why
U.S. foreign policy remains on autopilot, despite widespread public
dissatisfaction with the status quo. Rather, it’s the deep
state, doing what the deep state does.

Donald Trump tapped into the resentment engendered by the
establishment’s contempt for the great unwashed. He has
failed, so far at least, to dislodge the deep state and its
policies. Then again, maybe he never intended to roll back American
primacy. After all, he promised massive military spending
increases, and expressed regret that we didn’t take the
Iraqis’ oil. Even his claim to have always opposed the Iraq
War was a taradiddle. So there were ample grounds for doubting that
Trump would give the American people the foreign policy they
wanted. Maybe the deep state didn’t thwart him?

The deep state obviously isn’t all-powerful. After all,
had the deep state gotten its way, Donald J. Trump would never have
come close to the Oval Office, let alone be sitting in it.

Now, given the power that we have erroneously invested in the
office of the presidency, critics of the deep state should rethink
their opposition to it, and members of the deep state should
rethink their enthusiasm for a chief executive generally
unencumbered by the Congress or the people. The deep state
doesn’t control the @realDonaldTrump Twitter feed. It cannot stop
him from engaging in behavior that increases the risk of a
catastrophic conflict. Perhaps we should wish that it could?

But we should never welcome a situation in which unelected
officials distort or ignore public sentiments, or undertake
policies that are demonstrably harmful to vital national
interests.

Christopher
Preble
is vice president for defense and foreign-policy studies
at the Cato Institute and the author of The Power Problem: How
American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous,
and Less Free
.

America’s Creeping Regime Change in Syria

John Glaser

In eastern Syria last week, American air and ground forces
attacked Syrian pro-government military units, killing roughly 100
people,
including some Russian advisors
. U.S. Army Colonel Thomas Veale

described
the attack as “taken in self-defense.”

“Self-defense”? Had the regime of Bashar al-Assad bombarded
Boston Harbor? No, but it had attacked a base, long held by Syrian
rebels, with U.S. military advisors present. Despite the
tit-for-tat chronology here, it’s hard to see how Veale’s
“self-defense” claim is tenable.

After all, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained
last month, the Trump administration has committed to an indefinite
military presence of roughly 2,000 U.S. boots on the Syrian
battlefield. Are these troops present at the behest of the host
government? Certainly not. Has Congress ratified their deployment
in some way? Guess again. Are they there preempting an imminent
threat of attack on America? Nope. Are they under the mandate of a
UN Security Council resolution? No.

And you thought our
government toppling days were over.

In fact, the U.S. military presence in Syria has no legal
authorization whatsoever. Those American forces are cooperating
with Syrian rebels to, as Tillerson put it, “help liberated
peoples” in territory outside Assad’s control “stabilize their own
communities” and defend themselves against regime forces. This is,
he added, “a critical step to creating the conditions for a
post-Assad political settlement.”

Dispensing with the euphemistic flummery, U.S. forces are
engaged in a kind of creeping regime change operation — the
lessons of recent history be damned.

One might fairly argue that the Assad regime, in its brutality
against its own people, long ago forfeited the sovereign right to
defend its territory against an invading foreign army. Fine, but we
should be clear that Washington, in responding to the lawlessness,
is also acting lawlessly — hardly a lodestar mission of the
liberal, rules-based world order America claims to lead, and, in
the big picture, decidedly not a case of “self-defense.”

Quaint legalisms aside, the clash between U.S. and Syrian forces
should make clear just how dangerous our military presence in Syria
is. This particular incident, we can reasonably assume, didn’t
escalate only because the regime is desperate to avoid escalation.
Were they to counterattack, the Syrians surely know, the full might
of America would come crashing down upon Damascus, and that would
be the end of them all.

But that is by no means a reassuring “balance of terror,” the
term nuclear strategist Albert Wohlstetter used
to describe the deterrence model of the Cold War’s mutually assured
destruction. Indeed, the multi-sided chaos of the Syrian Civil War
is neither balanced nor stable and the risk of escalation is very
real. Should the actors in the next clash miscalculate, will the
Russians defend their ally in Damascus before it falls, or will
America’s “self-defense” spiral into the destruction of the regime?
Will the resulting anarchy plunge us into a full-scale occupation?
Will Turkey take advantage of the mayhem to rampage through
Kurdish-held Syria? Will Iranian-backed militias still prioritize
fighting Sunni extremist groups? If anything could reverse the
defeat of the Islamic State, it is an escalation like this.

As with much of American foreign policy today, the threat to the
United States in Syria is roughly proportional to the extent to
which we choose to expose ourselves to it. None of the five
missions Tillerson laid out for the U.S. military effort in Syria
— to defeat ISIS and al-Qaeda, usher in a post-Assad state,
counter Iranian influence, facilitate the return of refugees, and
free Syria of weapons of mass destruction — are vital to
protect America’s wealth and physical security.

Nor are these low-cost, low-risk, or high-probability-success
missions. And as everyone knows, the last thing America needs now
is a new set of elective, hazardous, and unachievable war aims on
the other side of the globe.

America has an interest in a stable Middle East, and thus in a
stable Syria, but the notion that U.S. policy has contributed to
that end is rather dubious. The Islamic State, which exacerbated
the Syrian Civil War by orders of magnitude, is, after all, an
outgrowth of America’s war in Iraq. And the U.S. and its allies
encouraged the Syrian rebellion from early on, an effort that was
not only a spectacular failure but also fostered quite the opposite
of stability.

An enduring feature of U.S. foreign policy is that each
intervention, whether it is seen to fail or succeed, eventually
serves to justify further intervention. While it’s true that the
Islamic State has been decimated, thanks in part to the collective
destructive power of Damascus, Tehran, Baghdad, Moscow, Washington,
and various Kurdish and Syrian militias on the ground, it has been
accomplished at great cost in blood and treasure. The answer to
this near-Pyrrhic victory is not for Washington to invent new
missions that lack legal authorization or a plausible timeline of
success, but instead to reckon with its own role in this
interminable tempest and acknowledge the very real possibility that
backing away may be in the best interest of America and of
Syria.

John Glaser is director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute.

Perhaps It’s Time for South Korea to Go Nuclear

Doug Bandow

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un plays the international game with
style. He sent his sister, Kim Yo-jong, to the Olympic games in the
Republic of Korea. And he extended an invitation for South Korea’s
President Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang. It’s impossible for the
ROK leader to say no.

Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration isn’t happy. Even
before the North’s dramatic move, Vice President Mike Pence
demonstrated his great displeasure at the North Koreans’ presence
in the Olympics, which he called a “charade.” Then, the refused to
stand when Pyongyang’s athletes entered the stadium and studiously
ignored the presence of not only Kim Yo-jong but also the North’s
nominal head of state Kim Yong-nam (no relation). Had Pence
approached them with his hand outstretched he would have grabbed
the initiative for the Trump administration. But instead he refused
to even glance in the North Koreans’ direction, as if doing so
would make them disappear.

Of course, there is no reason to believe that Kim Jong-un has
decided to mend his evil ways and abandon nuclear weapons, respect
human rights, hold elections, and accept unconditional
reunification. But the North Koreans really didn’t use their
participation “to paper over the truth about their regime, which
oppresses its own people & threatens other nations,” as Pence
tweeted before leaving for Korea. After all, lots of thuggish
dictators, including several proclaimed to be “friends” by
President Trump, sent delegations, without much affecting their
reputations.

Since none of Pyongyang’s
attitudes or positions have changed, there is no reason to believe
that it is willing to offer anything more of value.

Pyongyang’s grand gestures were aimed less at Seoul and more at
the Trump administration. After all, the two Koreas have fielded
joint sports teams before, most recently in the 2014 Asia Games,
without lasting impact. Moreover, the last two leftish ROK
presidents held summits with Kim Jong-il, the father of the present
ruler — many missile and nuclear tests ago. Along the way
Pyongyang collected some $10 billion in aid and other revenue as
part of the “Sunshine Policy,” without yielding peace. The regime
is focused on self-preservation.

Officials in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea told me
they had no intention of being “swallowed” by the South. But South
Korea does not threaten Pyongyang’s security. Last summer my North
Korean interlocutors dismissed the ROK as a “puppet” of America. In
truth, while the South is a vibrant democracy with one of the
world’s largest industrial economies, it has subcontracted its
security to the U.S. The American military even has operational
control over South Korean forces in wartime. And all the “big guns”
are in Washington’s hands.

Moreover, the advanced U.S. military position — roughly
30,000 troops stationed on the peninsula, a Marine Expeditionary
Force on Okinawa targeted for a Korean conflict, and much more
within reach via sea or air — threatens more than retaliation
for another North Korean invasion. Washington has demonstrated its
willingness to oust foreign governments at its pleasure. Even
without Seoul’s consent the U.S. could start a preventive war.

Hence North Korea’s push to create not only nuclear weapons, but
missiles to strike America. In Muammar Khadafy’s final moments he
might have thought, if only I hadn’t given up my missiles and
nukes. The North’s Kim seems unlikely to ever utter those words,
whatever happens to his rule. For the DPRK, talking to the ROK is
usually a waste of time, other than attempting to shake free a few
loose won.

But not in this case. President Trump’s belligerent behavior
made the otherwise meaningless gesture worthwhile. The Kim regime
is looking for some insurance until it creates a nuclear deterrent
which is unquestionably secure. In this way the president probably
deserves, as he shamelessly demanded, credit for Pyongyang’s
softening. But the North offered only process, an inter-Korean
summit, not substance, acceptance of denuclearization. Indeed, the
purpose of offering the former was to avoid the latter.

And the Olympics gambit was successful, in part because it
pushed President Moon back to his left-wing roots. After reaching
agreement with Pyongyang on the Olympics, he declared: “We are
facing a precious opportunity to resolve the North Korean nuclear
issues in a peaceful manner and open up the path of establishing
peace on the Korean peninsula now.” At Moon’s request, the U.S.
reluctantly agreed to postpone military exercises with South Korean
forces. Pleasant video of smiling North Koreans, and especially the
attractive Kim Yo-jang, filled the South’s airwaves. The North even
raised questions about “dependence on the outsiders,” meaning the
U.S. And talk of military options at least temporarily faded.

In return, Pyongyang offered the prospect of fewer
provocations and better relations. Again. Said Kim Jong-un in his
New Year’s Day address: “The South Korean authorities should
respond positively to our sincere efforts for a detente.” Of
course, there was no mention of ending missile or nuclear
developments, let alone eliminating existing arsenals. The North’s
objective is not to surrender its sovereignty, but to get Seoul to
assert its sovereignty against Washington. Since none of
Pyongyang’s attitudes or positions have changed, there is no reason
to believe that it is willing to offer anything more of value.

Which makes North Korea’s Olympics participation, by normal
terms, a bad deal for the allies. After all, so far Pyongyang has
given up nothing. But “normal” means that Korean policy is set in
Washington. That was inevitable so long as the ROK was essentially
helpless, unable to defend itself against the DPRK and its
allies.

But that world long ago disappeared. South Korea has taken its
place among the first rank of nations. Yet its security remains in
the hands of American presidents, most of whom know little of the
Koreas and have no incentive to sacrifice U.S. interests on the
ROK’s behalf. Today that means an aggressive, coercive approach,
topped by threats of war. And it is based on the belief that any
conflict would occur, as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) coldly put it,
“over there,” meaning the Koreas.

Which is why North Korea’s Olympic politics actually is a win
for Americans, if not the Trump administration. First is creating a
communication channel which might also encourage a U.S.-North
Korean dialogue. Axios reported that National Security Adviser H.R.
McMaster believed “resumed communications by the North Koreans are
diversions and don’t have any effect on its determined pursuit of
nuclear weapons.” However, President Trump said “I would love to
see them take it beyond the Olympics.” Indeed, “at the appropriate
time, we’ll get involved.” Hopefully he is serious.

Second, the North Korean gambit makes a U.S. attack less likely.
President Trump could act over the objection of Seoul and without
using any American forces based in the ROK. However, doing so would
be less effective and more dangerous, especially if the U.S. made
no preparations for North Korean retaliation. And it likely would
rupture the alliance.

Third is to channel South Korean nationalism in a positive
direction. Katina Adams, a State Department spokeswoman, said “We
are in close contact with the Republic of Korea about our unified
response to North Korea.” However, Washington analysts worry about
the North driving a “wedge” between the U.S. and South Korea. In
fact, the president said “if I were them I would try.”

Continuing positive signs from the North could encourage the
Moon administration to step back from President Trump’s “maximum
pressure” policy. For instance, during last year’s presidential
campaign candidate Moon proposed restarting the Kaesong industrial
park, which likely would run afoul of sanctions passed after its
closure.

Such a step might be unwise in Washington’s view, but the Korean
challenge most directly affects South Korea. Seoul should take the
lead.

Keeping the ROK dependent on America is in neither country’s
interest. Of course, the bilateral relationship goes back more than
seven decades. The vice president waxed enthusiastic: “the sons and
daughters of our two nations have stood together in defense of our
most cherished values.” However, younger South Koreans remember
military dictatorships rather than the Korean War, and are more
likely to bridle at the costs of dependence.

Indeed, though the ROK benefits from U.S. defense subsidies,
Seoul could pay a very high price for that backing. And much more
than host nation support, at issue in upcoming burden-sharing
negotiations. The ROK could find itself dragged into a catastrophic
conflict by its ally. With the potential for mass death and
destruction. Washington’s hostile reaction to a possible
South-North détente should remind South Koreans about the dangers
of placing their security in the hands of a self-interested
superpower half a world away.

At the same time, Washington is coming to realize that
guaranteeing the South’s security is not cheap. The U.S. soon might
find its homeland under nuclear attack if it comes to the ROK’s aid
in a war with the North. While the South is an attractive friend,
the relationship does not warrant risking the incineration of one
or more major American cities.

There is much on which the U.S. and ROK can and should cooperate
on. But the South, with 45 times the GDP and twice the population
of the North, is well able to defend itself. Then its future would
not be subject to Washington’s whims. And if the North moves ahead
with its missile and nuclear programs, it might be better for the
ROK to create a countervailing arsenal than expect the U.S. to
maintain a nuclear umbrella that holds Americans hostage. At the
very least, the mere mention of such a possibility might get
Beijing’s attention and spur greater action against the North.

There is no simple answer to the challenge posed by a nuclear
North Korea. But the starting point of any Korea policy remains
preventing an unnecessary conflict. And the North’s participation
in the Olympics has, however imperfectly, slowed the momentum to
war. For that Americans should be thankful.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute.

Let’s Make America a Mineral Superpower

Stephen Moore and Ned Mamula

Why is the United States reliant on China and Russia for
strategic minerals when we have more of these valuable resources
than both these nations combined?

This has nothing to do with geological impediments. It is all
politics.

This is an underreported scandal that jeopardizes American
security. As recently as 1990, the U.S. was No. 1 in the world in
mining output. But according to the latest data from the U.S.
Geological Survey, the U.S. is 100 percent import dependent for at
least 20 critical and strategic minerals (not including each of the
“rare earths”), and between 50 and 99 percent reliant for another
group of 30 key minerals. Why aren’t alarm bells ringing?

This import dependency has grown worse over the last decade. We
now are dependent on imports for vital strategic metals that are
necessary components for military weapon systems, cellphones, solar
panels and scores of new-age high-technology products. We don’t
even have a reliable reserve stockpile of these resources.

Fortunately, the Trump administration is working to reverse
decades of policies that have inhibited our ability to mine our own
abundant resources, mostly in the western states — Montana,
Colorado, Wyoming and the Dakotas. In December the Trump
administration issued a long-overdue policy directive designed to
open up federal lands and streamline the permitting process so
America can mine again.

Rare earth minerals are
the seeds for building new technologies, and a strong case could be
made that these strategic metals are the oil of the 21st
century.

No nation on the planet is more richly endowed with a treasure
chest of these metals than the U.S. The U.S. Mining Association
estimates there are more than $6 trillion in resources. We could
easily add $50 billion of GDP every year through a smart mining
policy.

Environmentalists are threatening to file lawsuits and throwing
up other obstacles to this pro-economic development mineral policy
— just as they oppose more open drilling for oil and gas. The
stupidity of this anti-mining stance is that the green energy
sources that they crave — solar and wind power — are
dependent on rare metals to be viable.

Rare earth minerals are the seeds for building new technologies,
and a strong case could be made that these strategic metals are the
oil of the 21st century.

The suite of 15 primary minerals — which the U.S. has in
abundance domestically — has been referred to as “the
vitamins of chemistry.” They exhibit unique attributes, such as
magnetism, stability at extreme temperatures, and resistance to
corrosion: properties that are key to today’s manufacturing. These
rare earth elements are essential for military and civilian use for
the production of high-performance permanent magnets, GPS guidance
systems, satellite imaging and night vision equipment, flat
screens, sunglasses and a myriad of other technology products.

Thanks to hostility to mining, huge portions of public lands in
the west have not been explored or mapped in nearly enough detail
to satisfy the hunt for minerals. It takes seven to 10 years to get
mining permits here, versus two or three years in Australia and
Canada. The nation must also map and explore again as was done in
the Old West, when mining for gold, copper, coal and other
resources was common.

Mineral imports from China and Russia are providing enormous
geopolitical leverage to these countries at precisely the wrong
time in global events. China, Russia and others have used their
mineral wealth to hold importing countries hostage. Do we want
Vladimir Putin to hold the commanding heights on strategic
minerals?

We need a change in strategy and philosophy when it comes to
mining. For federal land development, the 20th-century philosophy
of “lock up and preserve” needs to be replaced with an ethic of
“use and explore.” We have hundreds of years of these resources
with existing technology.

China’s leaders have been known to boast that the Middle East
has the oil and China has the rare earth minerals. But that’s
false. We do. With a pro-mining policy, we can make
America a mineral-exporting superpower, not an importer reliant on
our adversaries. This strategy has worked like a charm when it
comes to energy; it should be employed to yield the same America
First results for strategic minerals.

Stephen Moore is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and an economic consultant with Freedom Works. Ned Mamula is a geoscientist and adjunct scholar at the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute.

Silvio Berlusconi, the Candidate of Calm

Alberto Mingardi

When Silvio Berlusconi exited the public arena to universal
relief in 2011, few would have predicted the scandal-ridden
politician’s return would be met with the same emotion.

Berlusconi’s background as a media mogul, not to mention his
adventurous private life, aroused lasting suspicions. And his
political style — defined by a certain directness in
appealing to voters and a total disregard for the liturgy of
politics — anticipated contemporary “populism.”

But the world is now welcoming back a new Berlusconi. No longer
able to hold public office – a law bars people who have been
sentenced to more than two years in jail — his name will
nevertheless be on the ballot, written in large block letters in
the logo of “Forza Italia,” when voters go to the polls next month.
If Italians back his center-right coalition, they will effectively
be choosing him as its puppet-master.

It’s easy enough to see why Italians may be drawn to Berlusconi
out of nostalgia (though his tenure was by no means impeccable).
What’s perhaps more surprising is that European partners and
international observers seem to have developed a new sympathy for
the scandal-ridden former prime minister, whom they see as a safe
card in next month’s election.

While he occasionally embraced some uncompromising, conservative
positions (most recently on immigration, after a Nigerian man was
accused of killing a young woman in Macerata), Berlusconi has for
the most smoothed out his coalition partners’ rough edges. Under
his influence, for example, the far-right Northern League has
stopped calling for Italy to leave the eurozone. And his attacks on
the populist 5Star Movement — which he has called “a job
center for the unemployable” — showed his willingness to
confront that other homo novus of politics, Beppe
Grillo.

What plays in Berlusconi’s favor is that, more than anything,
what everyone wants from Italy is stability.

Foreign investors own 40 percent of Italian public debt —
which stands at about €2.2 trillion — and have nothing to
gain from further turmoil. The rest of the country’s debt is
domestically owned, meaning domestic investors too, are interested
in stability. Italy is a country of savers, with a high home
ownership rate (70 percent) and a rapidly aging population.

In this context, Berlusconi — who has claimed that Italy
should comply with the fiscal compact and cut taxes, but without
raising the deficit — is starting to look like the “reliable”
choice. His conflicts of interest, for once, strengthen this
impression.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Berlusconi’s rhetoric may have
been over the top, but the policies he put in place never were.
This perhaps cost Italy the radical reforms it badly needed, but in
times of heated populism, it could be reassuring.

When it comes to economic policy, Berlusconi was never very
effective. His governments (2001-2006 and 2007-2009) tended to
increase the budget deficit, before promoting cuts in their later
years under market pressure. He may have promised to deregulate the
Italian economy in every one of his electoral campaigns, but he
didn’t achieve a permanent cut in red tape. He did cut some taxes,
but selectively — he took aim at the death tax, and the
property tax — and he didn’t show any Reaganesque impulse to
take on productivity and the private sector. He attempted to
challenge the power of the trade unions, too, but can hardly claim
much success there either.

His rhetoric may be over
the top, but his policies never were.

His critics often implied that he would use his office to
promote his own business agenda (he owns substantial stakes of an
insurance company and has conspicuous real estate interests, aside
from his media and publishing empire.) But it’s plausible that the
causation ran the other way; Berlusconi’s personal interests made
him a more careful politician that he would otherwise have
been.

His own debut in politics, in 1994, ended up strengthening
republican institutions: He curbed the secessionist attempts of his
northern allies and indirectly forced the communist left to embrace
more market-friendly public policies. In 2011, when the spread of
Italian bonds vis-à-vis the German Bunds escalated and occasioned a
political crisis, the center-right leader made the most difficult
choice a career politician can face: He quit high office, paving
the way for a grand coalition government led by Mario Monti.

Resigning is never easy, but Berlusconi’s own conflict of
interest made him understand better than anyone else that
international markets needed to be calmed. It made him reliable.
Never a fan of unpopular measures himself, he loyally supported
Monti’s, which included a sharp rise in retirement age.

Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian giant in the social sciences,
famously made a distinction between rentiers and speculators: The
first care deeply about stability of their possessions, aim to
preserve their savings, go for security; the second are apt to
shrewdly take advantage of anything, including reckless public
finance initiatives, to increase their lot. Both kinds of people
are essential to a healthy society, according to Pareto, but cannot
both prevail at once.

Berlusconi may have made his money as a “speculator” as an
enterprising newcomer, but, at age 81, he is now firmly on the
rentier side. He, as much as anybody else in the country, will put
a premium on Italy’s economic security.

This shift is reflected in his political agenda. Berlusconi has
plenty to lose, and is more attuned to the many Italian families
who, when push comes to shove, prioritize safeguarding their
savings, their purchasing power, the value of their flat.

His opponents, meanwhile, are clearly political speculators:
They make dangerous bets because they have little to lose and
little to preserve.

Both speculators and rentiers can be attractive political
candidates. People may vote because they want to gamble on some
bold vision of the future, or they may vote to preserve their peace
of mind and their holdings.

But at a time when Italy needs someone to calm the waters, the
scales could tip in favor of safety. It is true that Berlusconi
appears worryingly old and sometimes confuses his own points. But
24 years after he entered Italian politics promising a free market
tsunami that never happened, his own life and story makes him the
only candidate who represents the calm, still waters of the status
quo.

Alberto Mingardi is director general of Istituto Bruno Leoni, Italy’s free-market think tank, and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.

Establishment Republicans Can No Longer Claim to Be Fiscal Conservatives

Ryan Bourne

So much for US Republicans starving the government beast.

When the party’s major tax reform package passed in December,
Democrats worried that projections for a $1 trillion debt increase
over a decade would be used by Republicans to justify spending cuts
and reforms to old-age entitlements.

Instead, with a looming government shutdown, Republican and
Democrat leaders last week conspired to pass a budget-cap busting
spending package. This increased outlays by around $300bn over two
years — a rise that no doubt will become the new baseline
thereafter.

People decry a lack of bipartisanship in the US, but Congress
has shown that when you get a cross-party consensus, taxpayers
suffer.

Under these plans, military spending would be raised by $80bn in
2018, and then $85bn in 2019. At Republicans’ request, the US
will have added around one-and-a-half times the UK defence budget
to its military spending its year.

Not only is the long-term
outlook unsustainable with untouchable entitlement growth, but the
country is now running up huge debts even in a strong and growing
economy.

And now we know what “working across the aisle”
really means — chucking money your opponents’ way.
Democrats pushed for matching increases in non-defence spending,
and eventually settled for an extra $63bn in 2018 and $68bn in
2019. This cross-party spending spree will result in a budget
deficit that Jeremy Corbyn would be proud of.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the US was already
projected to run a deficit of 4.7 per cent in 2019 after the tax
cuts, up from 2.9 per cent in 2017.

Given reasonable economic assumptions, we are looking at the US
federal government now running deficits in excess of 5.6 per cent
of GDP, and then increasing further. All this comes, of course,
after a long period of sustained growth and with unemployment at a
16-year low of just 4.1 per cent.

This makes no economic sense from any school of thought.

In Keynesian terms, now is the time to fix the roof while the
sun is shining. Certainly, the deficit should be restrained to
levels necessary to get the debt-to-GDP ratio back on a downward
path.

With monetary policy tightening, unemployment low, and most
forecasters estimating that the US is already growing above
potential, there is no case for any kind of “fiscal
stimulus” today.

It is utterly irresponsible from a pure public finance
perspective too.

The country’s burgeoning entitlement spending, which is
driven by an ageing population, means debt is forecast to increase
exponentially from here to the future absent reform to those
programmes.

Even before the recent tax and spending changes, the
Congressional Budget Office thought debt held by the public would
rise from 78.7 per cent to 150 per cent by 2047. Facing these
headwinds with higher debt levels risks large future fiscal
consolidations being needed. At that stage, no doubt taxes will be
hiked, therefore reversing some of the pro-growth effects of the
recent tax reform.

Sadly, the Republican establishment has shown that they can no
longer claim to be fiscal conservatives. The revenue impacts of the
tax reform bill had a big enough effect on the debt. But arguably
net tax cuts were necessary to grease the wheels of pro-growth
reforms, such as cutting the corporate tax rate, and lowering
marginal income tax rates. Otherwise too many losers kick up a
fuss.

But in the long run, spending is the true burden of government
activity.

The Republicans should have been telling voters that if they
want to keep their tax cuts, there needs to be some fiscal
restraint.

Instead, they have now given up any pretence of caring about the
government debt burden.

We are therefore left with the bizarre spectacle of President
Trump having last year advocated for balancing the budget over 10
years, only for a Republican-controlled Congress to present him
with proposals that will blow up deficits to more than $1 trillion
per year.

Extrapolating this forward, the only feasible means of the US
getting on top of its terrifying debt outlook is to reform the
generosity and eligibility of entitlements, yet Trump has
effectively said this will not happen.

Congress can therefore form all the groups and task forces it
wants about how to deal with the long-term debt challenge. But the
truth is current politicians have conspired to put the US in a very
worrying position indeed.

Not only is the long-term outlook unsustainable with untouchable
entitlement growth, but the country is now running up huge debts
even in a strong and growing economy.

With a starting point of high debt levels and a political
equilibrium where agreement can only be found to raise spending
upwards, at the moment, it is difficult to see a way out.

Ryan Bourne
holds the R Evan Scharf Chair for the Public Understanding of
Economics at the Cato Institute.

As China Rises, the U.S. Should Stand Back and Allow Other Asians to Rise Too

Doug Bandow

How to respond to the People’s Republic of China is one of
Washington’s more vexing foreign policy challenges. Not only
is the PRC on the rise, but President Xi Jinping is pushing an
increasingly authoritarian policy. The result looks ominous to many
Americans.

The strategy preferred by successive U.S. administrations,
continued military dominance of East Asia, cannot last. This
approach is not necessary to protect the U.S. Yet it costs far more
to project power against China than to defend America from China.
And it costs the PRC far less to deter Washington than for
Washington to coerce the PRC.

Which makes Washington’s strategy financially
unsustainable. Last year the Congressional Budget Office figured
the U.S. was going to again run trillion dollar annual deficits
around 2022. Total red ink would run $10 trillion over the
following decade.

Whatever Washington’s
short-term desire to limit the PRC, America also benefits greatly
from a peaceful Asia.

But because of irresponsible Republican fiscal policies,
analysts now fear the U.S. could begin running an annual
trillion-dollar deficit as early as next year. That will come on
top of a national debt which already tops $20 trillion and
accumulated unfunded liabilities—promised benefits with no
funding behind them—of some $200 trillion.

At some point Washington will have to trim outlays or face
fiscal disaster. However, Americans are unlikely to accept
reductions in social programs to finance military outlays to
confront the PRC over such issues as Taiwan, the Diaoyu/Senkaku
Islands, and other bits of foreign territory.

Instead of trying to organize a containment system, Washington
should focus on advancing its few serious interests, such as
freedom of navigation. Otherwise the U.S. should step back and
leave China’s neighbors free to respond to whatever they
believe necessary. Those with the most at stake should do the
most.

Perhaps the PRC’s most important potential antagonist is
Japan. Since the late 19th century, their bilateral history has
been always difficult and sometimes violent. Nuclear-armed China is
no longer vulnerable to Japanese coercion, but much hostility
remains. As Beijing’s “peaceful rise” has turned
more assertive if not aggressive, Tokyo has begun to slowly expand
military outlays and adjust defense policies. (North Korea also has
contributed to rising Japanese hawkishness.)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing to change the so-called
Peace Constitution to authorize a wider military role. There is
even talk of adding aircraft carriers, creating an ability to
preempt hostile missile launches, and developing nuclear weapons,
though the latter remains unlikely absent either a South Korean
nuclear program or America closing its nuclear umbrella.

Equally noteworthy is how Japan’s other neighbors, once
captive to their memories of World War II, also are beginning to
escape the past. Tokyo has been increasing defense cooperation with
Australia. The two nations are looking to forge a visiting forces
agreement for Japanese personnel involved in joint exercises. Noted
Euan Graham at Sydney’s Lowy Institute: “Japan
doesn’t enter into these types of agreements lightly. This
will provide a framework so the two countries do not have to
negotiate separate agreements every time they want to conduct
exercises.” The PRC’s attempt to turn its financial
clout into political influence also has created controversy in
Australia.

The Philippines, which suffered under brutal Japanese military
rule, now is encouraging Tokyo to do more. Last year Japan
announced that it was providing spare helicopter parts and donating
aircraft to Manila, as well as training Filipino pilots.

Disputes over the Paracel and Spratly Islands have helped keep
China and Vietnam apart. The latter, which fought a brief but
bloody war with the PRC in the late 1970s, has been looking for new
friends. As a result, Japan and Vietnam have been expanding their
defense ties, including port calls and naval exercises, and the two
nations’ defense ministers met late last year.

India also is playing a growing regional role. Beijing long
dismissed the former’s potential, but India’s economic
growth has accelerated in recent years and Prime Minister Narendra
Modi seems capable of matching President Xi. Hemant Adlakha of
Jawaharlal Nehru University recently pointed to a shift among Chinese
academics, who increasingly cite India as their nation’s
second most important rival, after America.

When Myanmar was under western sanctions, India helped
counterbalance China there. India began a military relationship
with Vietnam in 2000, which has since expanded. Last year
Vietnam’s foreign minister visited New Delhi, where he
declared that he wanted to “step up” the two
nations’ partnership to contribute to “stability,
security and prosperity.” India has also sold anti-ship
cruise missiles and advanced surface-to-air missiles to
Vietnam.

In December, New Delhi and the Philippines conducted maritime
maneuvers. Even more significant, in November, Prime Minister Modi
met Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte and the two signed a
memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation and
logistics.

India also has been expanding its relations with Japan.
Moreover, in January India invited ambassadors from the ten ASEAN
(Southeast Asian) nations to the annual Republic Day parade.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Chulalongkorn University in Thailand
observed: “When India is included,
Southeast Asian countries see it as a potential giant that could
counterbalance China.” The point is not to “match China
one for one,” noted Dhruva Jaishankar of Brookings India,
“but if you can provide even part of an alternative, that is
helpful.” New Delhi looks increasingly willing to challenge
the PRC in the latter’s home territory.

Of course, none of these countries want war and the U.S. should
encourage regional rapprochement. Whatever Washington’s
short-term desire to limit the PRC, America also benefits greatly
from a peaceful Asia.

As for China, the U.S. should emphasize common interests, such
as bilateral trade and denuclearization of North Korea. Instead of
seeking to ostentatiously contain the PRC militarily, Washington
should step back. Better for the U.S. to balance from afar, relying
on natural competition from Beijing’s neighbors, and
especially India and Japan, to moderate what might otherwise become
threatening tendencies from China.

The PRC is going to grow, but so will its neighbors.
Washington’s best policy will be to reduce its military role
while leaving China’s neighbors to decide how best to respond
to a potentially more assertive China. The ultimate objective is
not to suppress China’s potential growth, but to ensure that
peaceful development continues to govern East Asia.

Doug Bandow is
a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special
Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of Foreign
Follies: America’s New Global Empire (Xulon).

The Grassley Letter Everyone Is Ignoring Is Way More Important Than the Nunes Memo

Julian Sanchez

It hasn’t been built up by weeks of hype or a fevered social
media campaign, but a letter from Sens. Chuck Grassley and Lindsey
Graham
—sent to the Justice Department in January, and
released in declassified form this week—may be more
significant than the now-infamous #memo #released by Rep. Devin
Nunes earlier this month.

The Grassley letter and the Nunes memo both deal with the same
thing: The FBI’s surveillance of former Donald Trump adviser Carter
Page under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the role
of a controversial dossier on links between Trump and the Russian
government compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. But
while the Nunes memo has largely been greeted with justified
ridicule, the Grassley letter makes a more direct and serious case
that the FISA warrant targeting Page may have been issued on
insufficient grounds—while at the same time undermining key
aspects of Nunes’ argument.

Grassley’s letter pokes holes in the one truly significant
claim made in the Nunes memo: That the FBI improperly concealed
from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that the Steele
dossier was part of opposition research underwritten by the
Democratic National Committee. Grassley’s letter confirms the
accuracy of the counter almost immediately offered by intelligence
committee Democrats: That the application did, in fact, disclose
that the dossier’s funders were politically motivated.

More than that, it makes clear that not specifically naming the
DNC was not some aberrant omission, but the result of the common
intelligence practice of obfuscating the identities of people who
aren’t under suspicion. Glenn Simpson of the research firm
Fusion GPS, who directly hired Steele, is referenced only as an
“identified U.S. person.” Even Steele himself does not
appear to have been named: The ambiguous pronoun
“his/her” is used to avoid specifying a gender for the
dossier’s author. The judges who reviewed the application
almost certainly would have recognized Page as an adviser to Trump
and inferred that opposition research concerning him was likely
funded by Democrats—and could easily have asked if they
thought it was necessary to clarify.

But when it comes to the broader question of whether the FISA
wiretap order on Page was adequately grounded in evidence, the
Grassley letter provides more serious grounds for doubt, directly
making several key claims that the Nunes memo only insinuates.
Critically, Grassley and Graham assert that the Steele dossier
formed the “bulk” of the FISA application, and as
important, that the application “appears to contain no
additional information corroborating the dossier allegations
against Mr. Page,” and that the FBI “relied more
heavily on Steele’s credibility than on any independent
verification or corroboration for his claims.”

If the Grassley letter is
accurate, it should provoke a debate, not about whether some cabal
within the FBI had chosen Carter Page as the unlikely vehicle for a
byzantine plot against Trump, but about whether the FISA process is
rigorous enough to protect the civil liberties of all Americans,
including those without high political connections.

The Nunes memo, strangely, never explicitly made this claim,
instead misleadingly quoting former FBI Director James
Comey’s testimony that parts of the dossier were
“salacious and unverified”—apparently a delicate
way of referring to the headline-grabbing allegation that Trump had
been caught on tape with prostitutes. Grassley and Graham focus on
the more relevant question Nunes neglected: Whether the specific
(and not particularly salacious) allegations about Carter
Page
relied upon in the FISA application had been
corroborated.

Much of the rest of the Grassley letter is focused on whether
Steele misled the FBI about the extent of his contacts with the
press regarding his findings, and whether this should have
influenced their assessment of him as credible. These are
reasonable questions to pose, though it’s worth recalling
that warrant applications, especially before the FISA court, are
routinely based at least in part on information provided by sources
with checkered histories and ulterior motives. Whether any of the
facts about Steele outweighed his track record as a reliable
intelligence partner and source of information is a judgment call
that is difficult to assess from the outside and after the
fact.

More important is the question of whether the FBI took adequate
steps to either confirm or refute Steele’s reporting before
seeking a wiretap order. The bureau, after all, has a number of
quite intrusive tools that should have been available well before
the high standard of “probable cause” for a full
wiretap order was met. They could have used National Security
Letters, which require no judicial approval, or Section 215 orders,
which require only a minimal showing of “relevance to an
investigation” to review Page’s financial and
telecommunications records and search for indications that he might
be acting as a liaison or “cutout” between Russians and
the Trump campaign. They would also have been able to plumb a
substantial database of information—including intercepted
communications from Russian intelligence targets—looking for
apparent references to Page. If they were truly relying primarily
on their personal confidence in Steele’s reliability, despite
these myriad means of seeking confirming evidence, one might quite
reasonably regard that as an unacceptably thin basis for seeking a
90-day wiretap of an American citizen.

Neither Grassley nor Nunes really grapple with the critical
question of why, if the evidence was so thin, surveillance on Page
was renewed on three separate occasions, including once during the
Trump administration. Normally, after all, the FISA court would ask
for evidence that the previous three months of wiretaps had
produced some substantive intelligence before acceding to a
renewal. But the question of whether the initial order was
adequately justified is an important one, even if the surveillance
did bear fruit. The Constitution demands that searches be supported
by probable cause before they are carried out, not retroactively
justified by the fact that evidence was found.

If the Grassley letter is accurate, it should provoke a debate,
not about whether some cabal within the FBI had chosen Carter Page
as the unlikely vehicle for a byzantine plot against Trump, but
about whether the FISA process is rigorous enough to protect the
civil liberties of all Americans, including those without
high political connections. This is no longer a question of whether
the FBI concealed information from the FISA court, but of whether
the court looked at a relatively meager body of evidence and signed
off on a wiretap anyway. That wouldn’t imply a personal
conspiracy against Trump, but a deficiency in the mechanism by
which thousands of targeted FISA warrants—more than 300
focused on Americans in 2016—are routinely approved. The
problem, in other words, would not be that the Page application got
exceptionally lax scrutiny, but rather that it didn’t.

Julian
Sanchez
is a research fellow at the Cato Institute.

Uber Drivers Can Help to Explain the Pay Gap

Ryan Bourne

The gender pay gap is a tricky concept for proponents of
“evidence-based policy”. The Government has introduced a
legal requirement for businesses with more than 250 employees to
publish average gender pay statistics. The rationale is for
“transparency”, apparently, though it does not take
Nostradamus to forecast how these will be used in public debate.
The demands for action will follow.

Yet what is rarely mentioned is that there is a large amount of
empirical literature in economics that explains why apparent
headline pay gaps exist. Controlling for occupation types, time in
the labour force, education levels, and market rewards for
unpleasant or unpopular work and more, the remaining
“gap” between genders almost entirely disappears. The
evidence for discrimination by sex is weak to non-existent. Judging
whether the somewhat different demand for “equal pay for equal
work” is achieved is likewise heavily dependent on how you
define “equal work”, given the nature of different
jobs.

Many would argue, with some reason, that societal expectations
of women shape occupation choice, tasks assigned, the nature of pay
negotiations, and decisions on how to care for children. If all
male advantages in these areas were eliminated, so is implied, the
sexes would be equally represented across jobs. Pay gaps for the
same work would likewise be eliminated.

But is a 50-50 occupation split and pay gap elimination likely?
There were already reasons to be severely doubtful. In Scandinavian
countries with extensive pro-family policies, preferences for child
caring and careers still seem to result in higher pay for men.

In the UK, male models are unlikely, on average, ever to be paid
as much as female. An innovative new study sheds further light,
showing pay gaps still exist even in markets where contractors do
the same job and workers set their own hours.

A new paper on ride-sharing app Uber shows male drivers, on
average, earn 7pc more per hour than their female counterparts in
the USA. This is remarkable. Drivers have full flexibility to work
when they like, pay rates are fixed and transparent, there are no
earnings negotiations and customers do not appear to care about the
gender of their driver. Almost all the explanations about the
patriarchal nature of business environments and how non-women
friendly the working hours are therefore fall away. And yet there
is still a pay gap.

Why? The study’s authors Cody Cook, Rebecca Diamond, Jonathan
Hall, John List and Paul Oyer drilled down into what was happening
in Chicago, and found three factors fully explain the
phenomenon.

First, men were likely to have more experience using the app,
and so make more efficient decisions to boost earnings. Though men
and women experienced very similar learning curves for performance,
men tended to have delivered more rides, both because they stayed
using the app for longer and completed more rides per hour. This
“experience” effect explains over a third of the
average.

Second, men tended to drive faster than women, accounting for
almost 50pc of the gap. Faster driving increases the number of
rides completed per hour. This is not just an experience effect
either. There is no evidence that women, on average, drove faster
after completing more journeys. They seem to just have a preference
for driving more slowly no matter how many trips they have
completed.

Third, and finally, men were more likely to drive in the
lucrative locations. As a result, men tended to have shorter trips
to the rider, longer overall trips, and higher returns through
incentives such as surge pricing. This explains about a quarter of
the gap.

Might this be due to women feeling constrained about when they
can drive, due to family responsibilities? No. The authors show
that the times workers drive actually tend to boost women’s pay
relative to men. It simply seems to be that with free choice, women
Uber drivers in Chicago, on average, act differently from their
male counterparts.

Politicians would do well to bear this in mind next time they
wade in on some pay gap statistic for a certain industry. Yes,
policies, work environments, and social norms affect career paths
and earnings. But free choice in occupation and at work, including
attitudes to risk and personal priorities, can drive apparently
inequitable aggregated statistics too.

It is easy to perceive how this could affect other industries.
Might any pay gap in the financial sector in part be explained by
different attitudes to risk? Could it not be the case that
warehouse staff doing ostensibly the same job as those in stores
for retailers are paid more because their workplace locations are
less desirable?

There are lots of potential explanations for differential pay by
industry, let alone nationwide. Indeed, if campaigners and
politicians really want to “eliminate the gender pay
gap”, as they say, then their to-do list is quite extensive.
It includes: enforcing complete educational parity for men and
women, in the same disciplines, imposing the same preferences on
work-life balance, ensuring the same time is spent in exactly the
same careers, making sure men and women have the same risk-appetite
and preferences, the same levels of productivity, share domestic
tasks exactly equally, have the same attributes, the same career
paths and working lifetimes in the same occupations in the same
sized firms.

Yet, the Uber example shows that when men and women are
genuinely free to choose, they tend to choose differently. A more
just goal is surely to facilitate people pursuing their own
dreams.

Ryan Bourne
holds the R Evan Scharf Chair for the Public Understanding of
Economics at the Cato Institute