Foreign Policy



Mexico’s Brutal Drug Violence

Published November 29th, 2011 by tcarpenter

I’ve written a lot recently on the drug violence in Mexico that has taken at least 42,000 lives (and perhaps as many as 52,000) since President Felipe Calderon unleashed the military on the country’s powerful drug cartels in December 2006.  The situation there grows steadily more worrisome, and is now having an impact on the Central American countries and on the United States.  Yet Washington continues to pursue the failed prohibitionist policy that enriches the drug traffickers–and demands that other countries do so as well.  Prohibition didn’t work regarding alcohol in the 1920s, and it’s creating a similar bloody mess this time regarding illegal drugs.  One might expect political leaders to learn from the mistakes of the past, but apparently that’s expecting too much.

Remembering America’s Unnecessary Wars

Published May 28th, 2011 by tcarpenter

My colleague Doug Bandow has a terrific article on the Huffington Post website that is especially appropriate for Memorial Day.  He makes a compelling case that contrary to the platitudes that we will hear this weekend about how “freedom is not free,” and that we owe our freedoms to those who died in America’s wars, the truth is much more troubling.  The reality is that many of this country’s wars–and nearly all of them since the end of World War II–have had little or nothing to do with defending the freedom of the American people.  Instead, the motives ranged from misplaced humanitarianism (e.g., the Balkan wars and Libya), to insane attempts to impose enlightment and democracy on pre-industrial societies (e.g., Afghanistan), to cynical attempts to project U.S. power for dubious, if not sleazy, motives (e.g., Vietnam and Iraq.)

Doug argues that all too often the political elite in the United States has used American soldiers as nothing more than “gambit pawns” in a global strategic chess match.  He’s right.  And the best tribute we could give on this Memorial Day to those who have lost their lives in such conflicts (including two good friends of mine in the Vietnam War) is to make sure that our troops are never again sent into harm’s way for frivolous reasons. 

Libya’s Political Minefields

Published March 20th, 2011 by tcarpenter

Are you wondering about what the United States and its allies are getting into by imposing a no-fly zone and launching missile strikes and air strikes against Libya?  Are you worried that by attacking the forces of Muammar Gaddafi the Obama administration may have embarked on yet another unnecessary war that could lead to a messy entanglement? 

I address those and other matters in a new article in The National Interest Online.  The focus of the piece is how Libya is not a cohesive nation-state like most Western countries, but is instead an artificial collection of tribes with a fairly sharp geographic division between the eastern and western parts of the country.   America is wandering into another volatile situation, and as usual, our leaders seem utterly clueless about the potential political pitfalls and minefields.

Is Iraq’s New Boss the Same as the Old Boss?

Published February 27th, 2011 by tcarpenter

When the Bush administration decided to invade and occupy Iraq, a key stated goal was to bring democracy to that country.   But aside from periodic elections with competing parties, the new Iraq is beginning to resemble the old Iraq.  In particular, the government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is treating journalists and other critics with intolerance and outright brutality reminiscent of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Disturbing evidence of such repression has been building for at least the past two years, but the developments this week are truly shocking.  As with many other countries in the Middle East, demonstrations have broken out in Iraq demanding, among other things, an end to the Maliki government’s rampant corruption.  Those demonstrations culminated on Friday with a “Day of Rage.”  Although the demonstrations even on that day were mostly peaceful, security forces killed at least 29 participants.

They also rounded up dozens of journalists, writers, photographers, and intellectuals who had been involved in organizing the rallies.  Late in the afternoon, the Aldiyar Television station, which had telecast footage of the demonstrations, reported that security forces arrested seven employees, including a director and an anchorman, and closed the studio.

One of the many other journalists arrested that day in Baghdad was Hadi al-Mahhi, who told Washington Post reporter Stephanie McCrummen what happened after soldiers arrested him and several colleagues while they were sitting at an outdoor cafe.  The soldiers loaded al-Mahdi and the others into Humvees and drove them to a side street, where they beat them severely.  Then, they took them to a former defense ministry building that now houses a unit of the army’s increasingly feared intelligence unit.  Mahdi was taken to a room alone, where he was beaten again with clubs, boots and fists.  Not satisfied with such garden-variety brutality, they took his shoes off, wet his feet, and administered electric shocks.

This is the new Iraqi democracy for which the United States spent $800 billion and sacrificed nearly 4,500 American lives.  An Iraq in which regime opponents are arrested and tortured, in which more than a third of the terrorized Christian community has fled, and in which more and more women are being forced back under the veil by religious zealots.  One hopes that the Obama administration learns from the folly of its predecessor and resists the siren calls that we’re now hearing to intervene in Libya and other countries to bring the blessings of democracy to those populations.

The China Challenge

Published January 30th, 2011 by tcarpenter

Dealing with an increasingly assertive China is likely to be the biggest challenge the United States will face in the coming decades.  It will be difficult to contain and manage the growing differences between the two countries, but it’s essential to get the relationship right.  If disagreements get out of hand, the consequences could be extremely bad, not just for the two countries, but for the global economy and world peace.

My latest thoughts on this difficult and complex relationship can be found in this article.

Yet Another Sleazy U.S. Foreign Client

Published December 31st, 2010 by tcarpenter

If honorable Americans haven’t squirmed enough about their government crawling into bed with numerous unsavory regimes and political movements around the world during the Cold War (including the Shah of Iran, African tyrant Mobutu Sese Seko, and the Saudi royal family), we now have evidence of a more recent relationship that may top them all.  Since the mid-1990s, Washington has backed the independence of Serbia’s province of Kosovo, a secessionist movement led by the Kosovo Liberation Army, a motley collection of Islamic militants, strident Albanian nationalists, and mafia chieftans.  The United States and its NATO allies have helped bring the KLA to power through an air war in 1999 and an ongoing military “peacekeeping mission.”

There was always ample evidence about the odious nature of the KLA, but U.S. officials in both the Clinton and Bush administrations repeatedly downplayed or dismissed that evidence.  Now, though, a damning new investigative report commissioned by the Council of Europe presents evidence that the KLA, including Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, systematically killed Serbian prisoners to harvest their organs and sell them on the black market–a horrific war crime by any definition of the term.  I discuss that report and its policy implications in greater detail in a new article published in The National Interest.

This episode is a real test for the Obama administration, which constantly touts the importance of moral values in U.S. foreign policy.  Let’s see if President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are willing to disown Washington’s ghoulish client in the Balkans.  I won’t hold my breath.

North Korea Behaving Badly Again

Published November 27th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Those of you who are worried about the latest spike in tensions between North Korea and South Korea should read the excellent piece by my colleague Doug Bandow in the National Interest Online.  Among other things, Doug questions why nearly six decades since the end of the Korean War, the United States is in the middle of a parochial spat between two small nations half-way around the world.  He shows why North Korea’s neighbors should be perfectly capable of handling that obnoxious little troublemaker on their own.

The security commitment to South Korea is yet another example of U.S. global obligations that are both obsolete and dangerous.  The sooner we get our troops out of harm’s way, the better.  We have far more pressing problems much closer to home–including the soaring (and spreading) drug violence next door in Mexico.

Our Tax Dollars: Supporting Child Rape in Afghanistan

Published September 2nd, 2010 by tcarpenter

I’ve long argued that the mission in Afghanistan has morphed from a limited, focused effort to damage al-Qaeda into a foolish and expensive–in both blood and treasure–nation-building crusade.  But there is now evidence that we are spending billions of tax dollars and risking the lives of our soldiers to protect the biggest concentration of pedophiles in the world.  Please read this article and then tell me if you think the war in Afghanistan is worth it.

Ground Zero “Mosque” Opposition: Some Thoughts

Published August 29th, 2010 by tcarpenter

I haven’t weighed-in on the “ground zero mosque” controversy before, although some of my colleagues at the Cato Institute have done so on both sides of the issue.  However, the tone of the opposition to the building of the mosque (actually a multi-functional Islamic cultural center) makes me increasingly uneasy.  

First of all, while most opponents of the Cordoba House project acknowledge that there is a legal right to buid the center, and insist that their objection to it is based solely on the lack of “decency” of erecting a symbol of Islam on that site, their actions often belie such assurances.  After all, the initial action  that opponents took was to try to get the New York City government to deny a building permit.   That didn’t exactly show respect for the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment.

Second, opponents almost always stress the “hallowed ground” aspect of the proposed site for the center–some 2 1/2 blocks from ground zero.   But there are several problems with that argument.  Most notably, there are already two other (smaller) mosques and several other religious buildings in the immediate area–not to mention shops, restaurants, and porno outlets.  Do opponents of the new Cordoba House want those structures to be bulldozed?  They don’t appear to advocate that step.  So why the outrage over this project?

Third, while some of the opposition to the building of Cordoba House reflects genuine anguish on the part of people who lost friends or relatives on 9-11, and for whom the sight of a major Islamic center so close to ground zero would be a cause of further pain, there is something much broader–and uglier–at work.  The “proximity to ground zero” argument does not explain why there have been equally virulent campaigns against proposed mosques and other Islamic structures in such places as Tennessee, Wisconsin, Florida, and Virginia.  What’s the justification in those cases?  Proximity to the Grand Old Opry, Lambeau Field, the Manassas battlefield, and Disney World?  No, those campaigns reveal an underlying religious bigotry.  Muslims may be the latest targets of that intolerance, but they’re hardly the only ones.  In earlier periods, Jews, Mormons, and other religious minorities experienced similar discrimination.

Finally, those who spew vitriol in response to the Cordoba House project need to understand that they are playing with social and foreign policy dynamite.  Contrary to some hawks who would like nothing better than a holy war against Islam, the United States is not at war with all Muslims.  We are at war with a small faction of radical Muslims.  But moderate Muslims in the United States and around the world are watching the Cordoba House controversy.  And some moderate Muslims are already being radicalized because of their anger at the opposition to that project.

Critics need to understand that an ill-advised position on this issue could help lead to a disastrous self-fulfilling prophecy in which most Muslims, both here and abroad, do end up hating the United States and becoming mortal enemies of this country.  The consequences of that kind of religious war are too horrible to contemplate.  Even those Americans who do not like many of the values put forth by Islam, and I count myself among them, need to stand up for the principle of religious tolerance embodied in the First Amendment.  That is both the prudent thing to do and the morally right thing to do.

South Pacific Realism

Published April 30th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Last month, I spent nearly three weeks in Australia and New Zealand.  In addition to delivering some speeches on U.S. foreign policy, especially the future of America’s role in East Asia, I held a number of meetings with defense and foreign ministry officials in both countries.  Three important insights emerged from those meetings.  First, although Australia and New Zealand have crucial economic ties with China, they are also increasingly nervous about Beijing’s growing power.  Second, despite repeated assurances from U.S. officials and nongovernmental foreign policy experts from America that everything is just fine and that Washington will keep military forces in East Asia and take care of the region’s security problems (as it has since the end of World War II) forever and ever, the Aussies and Kiwis look at our enormous federal budget deficits and have major doubts about those assurances.  Third, since they believe that U.S. military retrenchment is likely at some point, they want both India and Japan to play larger security roles in the region.  Otherwise, they fear that China will become totally dominant.

I found their thinking far more realistic than the drivel that passes for foreign policy analysis in the U.S. government and most American think tanks.  My reflections on the meetings and my analysis of East Asia’s security situation and the choices facing America’s allies can be found here and here.