Foreign Policy

9/11 – A Call to Courage

Courtesy of Quotes Galore

If you are looking for an explanation for the debacle in Afghanistan, the failure of our leaders to heed this advice from Theodore Roosevelt is the best place to start.  It clearly does not apply to any of the brave soldiers who served in Afghanistan, Iraq or anywhere else during the War on Terror.  They followed TR by leaving the comforts of home to join the armed services and assume the personal risks necessary to achieve victory.  However, our political leaders then betrayed this service by pursuing personal political advantage rather than a clear, defined victory.

It began with President George W Bush. Instead of calling the nation to a declaration of war and the domestic sacrifices necessary to achieve victory, he chose prosperity at any price, proclaiming that American people could best support the war effort by “going shopping”. He was more concerned about winning reelection then achieving a clear victory.  He then expanded the mission of the war to encompass a goal he campaigned against – nation-building in a country that had defied domination by two previous empires.

President Barack Obama continued this theme when he failed to declare victory after the death of Osama bin Laden and then chose peace at any price by failing to punish Pakistan for its hiding of bin Laden within sight of their own military academy.    

Donald Trump talked a good game about withdrawal but failed to implement it because of a fear of the political consequences of a failure. He chose safety first rather than duty.  Finally, President Biden’s decision to withdraw, while initially courageous, was tainted by the artificial political goal of completing it by the anniversary of 9/11 instead of waiting until the end of the fighting season in winter. This would have at least slowed the Taliban’s takeover and created more time to identify and rescue the Afghans who helped us.

So how can America rededicate itself to Roosevelt’s brand of courage? First, the reports of Taliban oppression and the attack by ISIS-K that killed 13 marines show Afghanistan remains a threat to the United States and the world.  The Taliban won the military battle, but they have yet to reckon with our economic power.  We have over $2 billion in gold and other reserves held for Afghanistan, which should not be released until they allow all American citizens and applicants previously approved under the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) to leave. To prevent future terrorists from infiltrating the United States, travel to Afghanistan should be illegal and anyone with a passport containing proof of entry there should be thoroughly vetted before entering the United States. This includes any who might be classified as refugees unless they were previously granted entry under the SIV program.  Trade by American companies should be banned as well and, if the Taliban continue to allow terrorist groups to operate in the country, foreign companies doing business there should be banned from American markets.

On Saturday, the names of those who died on 9/11 will be remembered in New York and Washington. We must resist the siren song of foreign and defense policy wonks in Washington who want us to forget those names and treat the Taliban like any other government.  We must also remember to demand of ourselves and our political leaders that America follow the advice of Roosevelt instead of the path of political expediency when we face similar challenges in the future.  Otherwise, we will choose the path to the destruction of our country.

Foreign Policy, Realist Theory

Afghanistan – What the President Should Have Said

My fellow Americans

Two decades ago, a group of terrorists killed almost 3,000 in Washington and New York in a brazen attack they thought could break the spirit of the American people.

They were spectacularly wrong.

America came together and struck back, driving both the the Al Qaeda terrorists and their Afghan enablers out of power.  Al Qaeda’s leader Osama Bin Laden and many of his henchmen now lie dead at the hands of our courageous American soldiers.  Afghanistan was given an opportunity to build a new government that respected both international law and the aspirations of its own people.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban learned a lesson about the limits of their power.  But, so have we.  

While the United States can effectively defend itself and our values at home against our enemies, we cannot impose those values on other nations.  In today’s world, there is no superpower anymore. We live in a world of independent sovereign nations, each with the right and power to defend their own values and goals so long as they do not threaten our own. Indeed, as a nation founded on the concept of e pluribus unum – out of the many, one – we have a unique ability to succeed in this new reality.

We also live in a world where traditional military force can be challenged by new kinds of power.  Whether the attacks come through terrorism, cyber warfare, or other new forms of conflict, America must be ready to respond in unity and consistent with the principles of our constitutional democracy. I am prepared to discuss with Congress new ways to authorize and respond to future foreign attacks of the old and new kind.

In the end, the best way to strengthen America against these new challenges is to strengthen the American people here at home.  It is time for us to unify to defeat the challenges of hopelessness, ignorance and division that weaken us here at home.  We cannot be the beacon of liberty to those struggling against dictatorship if we betray our commitment to expanding the American Dream for our own citizens. It is this challenge I call you to meet now and will continue to do so in the coming months. 

While the world has changed, some things remain the same.  As one of the first and most powerful democracies, we must always be an advocate of human rights against those who wish to keep their people in the darkness of dictatorship.  The new Afghan government must respect those rights if it wishes to be fully accepted into the community of nations. We will insist on protection of those who worked for those rights and will offer sanctuary for them and those who helped our troops in their mission. It is who we are, and we can do no less. 

We learned from our experience in Afghanistan that America is not all powerful.  Nevertheless, rest assured the power of our people, our ideas and our nation endures, because of you and your fellow Americans.

Thank you, and God bless the United States of America.

Domestic Policy, Infrastructure

Building Back Unified

Road Sign from the Theodore Roosevelt International Highway

It goes without saying that I appreciate the value of highways. Fundamentally, they are the basis on land of the great network of trade routes which go to make up civilization.

Theodore Roosevelt, quoted in in the Montana Guidebook to the Theodore Roosevelt International Highway, 1921

A nation’s transportation network is among its most important sources of economic and geopolitical strength. Few knew this better than Theodore Roosevelt and so it was fitting that the first transcontinental highway was christened with his name after TR’s death in 1919 (see this guidebook from the Montana portion).  It was the precursor of the numbered US Highway system and eventually the Interstate Highway system. All of those projects were designed to unify America and brought Americans together through the experience of travel.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill recently agreed to between President Biden and the Congress is in the tradition of this drive for national unity.  The new bill addresses the sorry state of many of our roads, ports and other critical infrastructure while leaving more controversial issues for later legislation. It authorizes $550 billion in new money over five years along with another $500 billion in previously authorized expenditures (hence the $1 trillion price tag referenced in some news reports). Specifically, the new money will be spent in the following areas:

Transportation– $284 billion to be spent to repair roads, bridges, ports and railways

Utilities– $243 billion for upgrading electric power infrastructure and replacing old pipe to stop lead from leaching into municipal water systems. It also includes $55 billion to extend broadband Internet service to rural communities, which is desperately needed to spur healthy economic development here in the Western states.

Environmental Cleanup – The Superfund program for cleaning up hazardous waste sites, mines and wells has been moribund due to lack of funding. This bill would re-invigorate the program with $21 billion to begin this process anew.

Coincidentally, the $550 billion is almost the same amount spent to build the Interstate Highway System (in 1950’s and 60’s dollars). 

The President’s original proposal was a whopping $2.6 trillion that tried to force through Congress various human needs and climate change programs under the popular brand of “infrastructure”.  Much of this is necessary, but the attempt to enact it through under a deceptive title was divisive and ultimately futile. Both President Biden and the bipartisan group of senators should be congratulated for opting for a unifying bill instead.

The new compromise also grasps the nettle of insuring this program to strengthen our nation does not  weaken it by adding to the budget deficit. It would be financed by almost 500 billion in revenue transfers and new revenues, such as reinstating the Superfund tax on the chemical industry and tightening tax rules on cryptocurrency trading.   A plan to beef up tax enforcement on the wealthy that could have brought in as much as $100 billion was unfortunately dropped but may be included in a bill on the human needs legislation. 

After excoriating Republicans for being obstructionist, it is ironic to see the Democratic House leadership trying to obstruct this bill to compel the adoption of the more controversial climate change and social welfare spending through the budget reconciliation bill.  Our families and neighborhoods need help, but federal dollars will only paper over the underlying problems.  Immigration reform, reshoring manufacturing and education reform will do more in the long term to solve them.  Many Democrats and Republicans believe this as well.  The House leadership should join them rather than their Democratic Socialist wing and unify around this bill as the Theodore Roosevelt Highway and similar infrastructure programs of the past unified the country.