About that Trump speech …

I was going to blog about Trump’s “major” foreign policy speech. I really was. And then I watched it.

How best to sum up 20 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back? Let’s start and end with this:

But don’t take my word for it, or Sen. McCain’s. Watch for yourself, if you have the stomach for it.

Trumped up foreign policy


Donald Trump will give what is being billed as a major foreign policy speech tomorrow intended to “recast the real-estate mogul as a more sober and serious presidential candidate than he’s perceived by many Americans and foreign allies.”

This may be the tallest of tall orders. In a long article over at Huffington Post Highline, author Andy Kroll reports on the deep dismay within the ranks of America’s military and foreign policy leadership over the possibility of a Trump presidency:

[W]hen Trump has weighed in on national security questions, his remarks often reveal either ignorance or disdain for military expertise and the codes of conduct that govern the armed forces. …

Trump’s pronouncements on foreign policy, combined with his years of broadsides, have set off a very real fear within military circles about what might happen were he to become president. In the last two months, I spoke with dozens of people in the national security realm—current and retired officers, veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and former White House, State Department, Pentagon and CIA officials. The words they used to describe their mood: Terrified. Shocked. Appalled. Never before, they say, has a candidate gotten so close to the White House with such little respect for the military.

What do we know about his foreign policy positions so far? By my reckoning, based on his extant speeches, statements, and tweets, Trump would …

  • Authorize torture against terrorism suspects.
  • Order the US military to commit war crimes.
  • Abandon longstanding alliances, like NATO.
  • Walk away from defense commitments to South Korea and Japan even if that means they develop nuclear weapons of their own.
  • Wage trade wars against China and other countries he deems guilty of engaging in unfair trade practices.
  • Close America’s border with Mexico and confiscate remittances from Mexican workers in the US in order to fund the building of Trump’s border wall.
  • Bar Muslim immigrants and refugees from US soil.

We’ll see how much of that agenda the candidate walks back tomorrow, or whether he doubles down. In the meantime consider this post a placeholder until the speech at the National Press Club in Washington.

I read Ben Carson’s plan to defeat global jihad so you don’t have to

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson attends a 'Building the New Puerto Rico' event in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, November 8, 2015. Carson said he supports Puerto Rico becoming the 51st U.S. state in Fajardo on Sunday. REUTERS/Alvin Baez - RTS61WA
That’s how I feel about it too.

Thanks to the miracle of social media I learned today that Ben Carson has rolled out a “comprehensive plan” to defeat ISIS and rid the world of the scourge of ISIS and global Islamic jihad once and for all. Given that foreign policy is widely considered Carson’s weakest of weak points, I figured I would give it a read to see if he’s stepped up his game any.

Yeah, not so much.

I could go through it all for you (all six pages, two of which are full-page portraits of the humble doctor), picking each bit apart and showing that his ideas are: 1) impossibly vague; 2) uninformed by any knowledge of the region, its history, or cultures; 3) disconnected from any understanding of military strategy or actual diplomacy; 4) vows to do what the Obama administration is already doing; 5) empty platitudes; or 6) some combination of all of the above.

Why though? If you’re inclined to vote for him for president because he seems to be a nice guy who isn’t tainted by politics then nothing I write here is going to change your mind. You’re also highly unlikely to be reading my blog …

If you care about having a serious debate about American foreign, the unseriousness of Carson’s big strategy reveal will just frustrate and annoy you.

But if the masochist in you wants to check it out to take in the sheer audacity of its badness, then by all means, click away.

Congress and the art of the empty gesture

Mitch McConnell has introduced a measure authorizing the use of force against ISIS.
Mitch McConnell has introduced a measure authorizing the use of force against ISIS. No, he really did.


Congress may, just may, finally take up a joint resolution authorizing President Obama to use military force against ISIS.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quietly introduced just such a measure on Wednesday, and with so little fanfare that the move surprised even his own colleagues:

When the National Journal asked Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn to comment on the fact that McConnell had introduced the resolution, he replied, “He did?”

Here’s the text of the operative part of the proposed authorization. The full resolution can be read here:

The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force in order to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, its associated forces, organizations, and persons, and any successor organizations.

But look what’s missing here:

  • There’s no expiration date for the authorization.
  • There are no imposed geographical limitations in terms of authorized theater of operations.
  • There’s no limitations imposed in terms of states, groups, or individuals who can be targeted militarily.
  • And most importantly, there are no limits placed on the extent of military force that the president can employ, including as many American “boots-on-the-ground” as this, or any future president, thinks is necessary.

In short, under the McConnell proposal, this president, and his successors, will be authorized to use any level of force, anywhere in the world, for as long as he or she wants, so long as a link to ISIS can be asserted. It’s the 9/11 authorization all over again, just with the names changed.

As I wrote back in November, up until now the Obama Administration had been relying on that post-9/11 authorization to use force against Al Qaeda for the legal authority to drop bombs on ISIS and to assist local forces in Iraq and Syria, including with special forces units. And Congress, until now, had shown no appetite for putting itself on the hook by giving the president a new authorization, despite Obama’s explicit request for one back in February 2015.

So this new measure is a step in the right direction in terms of assigning real responsibility for policy toward ISIS and creating a framework of accountability for its outcome. All of which is why its not likely to make any real difference.

Because one thing that we have long known is that Congress really doesn’t like having to answer for military operations. If they authorize something and it goes disastrously wrong they don’t want the blame. If they tie the president’s hands by refusing to authorize and something catastrophic happens later, they don’t want to have to explain that either.

Congress wants to be able to hold presidents accountable for how they use military force, but doesn’t want to take responsibility itself. From Congress’ perspective it’s just easier, and safer, to let the president go his own way so that they can cheerlead or snipe as they see fit and as the political winds blow.

So it is unsurprising that McConnell, having introduced a joint resolution, seems in absolutely no hurry to schedule a vote. The Atlantic report cited at the top of this post sums the situation up nicely:

The president’s undeclared war on ISIS puts Republicans in an awkward spot. GOP leaders don’t want to look as though they have ceded authority, a perception Republicans risk if they fail to act as a check on the administration’s power to deploy military force. But if Congress does authorize military force, such an action might be construed as a stamp of approval for the president’s broader foreign-policy objectives, making it harder for the GOP to credibly level criticism against the administration as it fights the Islamic State.

For now, McConnell can point to the resolution as evidence that Republicans are working to hold the president accountable, and perhaps convince the administration to take a harder-line in the fight against ISIS. The measure also gives the majority leader a chance to paint a picture of a more assertive brand of Republican foreign policy compared to a more constrained approach from the administration.