Tag Archive for 'us-foreign-policy'



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.

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.

Afghanistan: Obama’s Vietnam?

Published November 29th, 2009 by tcarpenter

President Obama will address the American people on Tuesday night regarding Afghanistan.  Reports have leaked out over the past week that he will announce that he is sending additional troops into that quagmire.  The only question seems to be whether he will send 30,000, 40,000 or some number in between.  That is, frankly, not a very important issue.  And for all of his talk about “off ramps” for the United States if the Afghan government does not meet certain policy targets or “benchmarks,” the reality is that he is escalating our commitment.  Since Obama has repeatedly asserted that the war in Afghanistan is a war of necessity, not a war of choice, his talk of off ramps is largely a bluff–and the Afghans probably know it.

I am in the process of co-writing a book that includes a chapter on America’s disastrous war in Vietnam.  I’m the first to acknowledge the hazards of equating one historical event with a development in a different setting and time period.   In fact, the tendency of U.S. leaders to view every conflict in the world over the last 60 years through the prism of the failure to stem Nazi aggression in the 1930s has been a major cause of policy disasters like Vietnam and Iraq.  And I don’t want to imply that what Obama is doing is exactly the same as the foolish strategy that the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations adopted in Southeast Asia during the 1960s.  But there are a couple of very disturbing similiarities.  In both cases, U.S. leaders opted to try to rescue a failing war by sending in more troops.  And in both cases, Washington found itself desperately searching for a “credible” leader who could serve as an effective partner in the war effort.  The United States never found such a leader in Vietnam.  From the first client, Ngo Dinh Diem, to the last leader of South Vietnam, Nguyen Van Thieu, American policymakers were frustrated by a parade of repressive, corrupt, and ineffectual political figures.  Now, doesn’t that sound more than a little like the problem the Bush and Obama administrations have encountered with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his government?

That fact alone suggests that our Afghanistan mission is not likely to turn out well.

Instead of escalating, Obama should move to rapidly draw-down our forces and narrow the mission to one of trying to harrass Al Qaeda and keep it off balance.  My colleague, Malou Innocent, and I published a Cato Institute White Paper, “Escaping the Graveyard of Empires,” describing how to achieve that goal without pursuing the futile objective of nation-building in Afghanistan.

How Not to Handle North Korea

Published October 29th, 2009 by tcarpenter

I have a new article in the National Interest Online about the speech by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates during his recent visit to East Asia.  His comments inadvertently underscored why U.S. foreign policy is such a mess.  In one speech, he 1) made the North Korean nuclear crisis more dangerous, 2) greatly reduced the chances that China will exert itself to help solve the crisis, and 3) gave U.S. allies Japan and South Korea a green light to continue underinvesting in their own defense while free-riding on U.S. efforts.  Other than that, it was a brilliant speech.

Gates is reputed to be the foreign policy “adult” in the Obama administration.  If that’s true, we’re all in deep trouble.

Afghanistan: The Graveyard of Empires

Published September 7th, 2009 by tcarpenter

Last week, I published an article in The National Interest Online about the folly of engaging in nation building in Afghanistan.  Following the 9-11 attacks, I strongly supported military action in Afghanistan to punish al Qaeda and the Taliban regime that gave the terrorist organization a safe haven from which to plan that dastardly attack.   But I also warned that we should not try to remake Afghanistan into a modern, stable, democratic country–in other words, try to pursue a utopian nation-building crusade.  Yet, during the Bush years, we gradually drifted into exactly that sort of mission.  And, unfortunately, the Obama administration seems to be escalating that effort.

The reality is that Afghanistan is not going to become a Central Asian version of Arizona–or even Arkansas–no matter how long we stay, how much money we spend, and how many American lives we sacrifice.   The country is not called “the graveyard of empires” for nothing.  Invaders from Alexander the Great to the Soviet Union discovered that it was impossible to subdue that fractious society.  Now, the United States seems determined to make the same foolish error. 

We have to adopt realistic objectives.  It is possible to further disrupt and weaken al Qaeda.  But we must learn to treat that terrorist threat as a chronic, but manageable, security problem, not an overpowering threat that requires a definitive victory with a surrender ceremony (which isn’t going to happen anyway).   And it certainly doesn’t require us to (somehow) get the people of Afghanistan to become good 21st century democratic capitalists committed to gender equality.   That won’t happen for generations–if it ever does.

Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, we need an exit strategy, not the escalation strategy that the Obama administration is giving us.  On September 14, my colleague Malou Innocent and I will be publishing a Cato Institute White Paper giving a detailed analysis of the current situation and outlining such an exit strategy.  Please stay tuned.

America and the Turmoil in Iran

Published June 20th, 2009 by tcarpenter

President Obama has received considerable criticism because he has refrained from strongly endorsing the anti-regime street demonstrations in Iran.  Much of that criticism has come from the same neoconservative geniuses, such as former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, who brought us the Iraq debacle.  My colleague Christopher Preble does an especially good job of showing why meddling, even verbally, in Iran’s internal political affairs would be a bad idea.  Given America’s less-than-savory reputation with many Iranians ever since the CIA overthrew the country’s democratic government in 1953 and put the brutal, corrupt Shah back on the throne, a U.S. endorsement of the opposition would likely be the kiss of death.  

The alleged election victory by hardline President Mahmoud Amadinejad was probably the result of fraud, and most Americans hope that the ongoing demonstrations ultimately oust the clerical regime.  But if a revolution occurs, the Iranian people must do it for themselves.  It would be both improper–and given the unfortunate history of U.S.-Iranian relations, counterproductive–for the U.S. government to meddle.   So far, President Obama has struck the right cautious and balanced tone.

NATO’s Sop to Obama

Published April 12th, 2009 by tcarpenter

President Obama came away from last week’s NATO summit in Strasbourg hailing the outcome as a great victory for U.S. foreign policy.  He professed to be especially pleased with promises made by the allies regarding the mission in Afghanistan.  Yet the European members of NATO gave him next to nothing.  He asked for a substantial number of additional combat troops to supplement the surge of American troops he announced last month.  Instead, the European allies agreed to send a mere 5,000 personnel, none of whom will be combat forces.  Moreover, the bulk of that number (3,000) will be sent just temporarily to assist the Afghan government in the upcoming elections.  The rest consist mainly of police and military trainers and wannabe nation-building bureaucrats.

These anemic gestures continue the lack of seriousness on the part of the NATO allies that I’ve written about here and here.  During the Cold War, NATO was a credible security organization–although even then the Europeans underinvested in defense and liked to have the U.S. bear a disproportionate amount of the burdens.  Now, though, the alliance has become a bad joke.  NATO has just celebrated its 60th birthday, and Washington should take stepts to make sure that it’s the last birthday.  NATO has become a very bad bargain for America, and we should terminate our involvement in this increasingly disfunctional alliance.

The Fire Next Door: Drug Violence in Mexico

Published February 4th, 2009 by tcarpenter

While U.S. leaders focus on Afghanistan, Iran, and other problems in distant regions, there is an alarming security threat brewing right next door.  Violence in Mexico, mostly related to the trade in illegal drugs, is spiraliing out of control.  Even worse, it is apparent that the drug traffickers are winning their fight against the Mexican government.  The situation on our southern border has grown so bad that even the Marines at Camp Pendleton in southern California are now barred from spending their leave time in neighboring Tijuana because the city is too dangerous.

The drug violence in Mexico, and how it is spilling across the border into our own country, is the subject of my new policy study for the Cato Institute.  You can access it here.

Washington Is So Generous–With Our Money

Published September 3rd, 2008 by tcarpenter

Secretary of State Rice announced today that the United States would provide $1 billion in aid to help the Republic of Georgia recover from the damage it suffered in its recent war with Russia.  It’s bad enough when American taxpayers have to pay for wars in which the United States was a belligerent.  But this was a war between two other countries.  And one can’t even say that Georgia is an ally of the United States.  America has no defense treaty with that country.  Even worse, the war began when Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saaskashvili, disregarded U.S. warnings not to fall into the trap of provoking Russia.  Instead, he ordered an artillery barrage against the capital of a secessionist region that was under Russia’s protection.  Apparently it didn’t occur to him that it was a bad idea to pick a fight with a country whose military forces were ten times larger than his own.

So now American taxpayers, who are already laboring under a $9 trillion national debt and an annual federal budget deficit of $400 billion, should pay for the Georgian government’s folly.  Thanks, Condi.  It’s not like we had anything better to do with that money.