Before Meeting Kim, Trump Had to Repudiate the Iran Deal

When President Trump announced America’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal two weeks ago, critics warned the move would undermine U.S. credibility just when it was needed most: on the eve of negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear-weapons and missile programs. If Mr. Trump was willing to rip up the Iran deal, which had won the blessing of the United Nations Security Council and America’s biggest allies, why would Kim Jong Un believe the U.S. would abide by any new agreement?

The counterargument from Trump loyalists was mainly to blame President Obama for failing to make the Iran deal binding. If it had been ratified as a treaty by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, the agreement would have been harder to depart. But Mr. Obama evidently believed that ratification was unattainable, unnecessary to ensure his successors’ compliance, or both. But what is done by executive action can be undone by executive action. America’s credibility, therefore, wasn’t on the line—even if Mr. Obama’s might have been. Continue reading

Tennesseans and Bob Corker can help prevent global genocide

Coauthored with Allyson Neville

Thursday is Yom Hashoah – or Holocaust Remembrance Day – which honors the memory of the six million Jews who perished during World War II. The remembrance of this genocide underscores that there is much more we need to do to make good on our commitment “never again” to allow such atrocities to take place.

Promising legislation that would help in this task is currently before Congress.

Unfortunately, action has stalled. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Tennessee’s own Sen. Bob Corker, has an opportunity to break the logjam and should do so straightaway.

When we read the headlines from around the world, it is easy to feel discouraged by stories of overwhelming violence and ceaseless atrocities happening today in Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, and South Sudan. There and elsewhere, unimaginable violence destroys lives, devastates families, and annihilates entire communities. Continue reading

A U.S. Battlefield Victory Against Russia’s ‘Little Green Men’

The U.S. military has created a new precedent for how to counter Russian “hybrid war.” Set in a murky clash of arms in Syria in early February, and one averted in March, this precedent—you might even call it a “red line”—will reverberate from the Middle East to the Black and Baltic seas.

The problem is the appearance on your territory of what defense-policy wonks call “little green men.” They come heavily armed and dressed for combat. They operate at the direction of a government, Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Yet they wear no insignia, and their sponsors deny any control over them. Operating outside the laws of war, they pursue Russian political ends such as the illegal takeover of Crimea and the dismemberment of Ukraine. Via a Russian mercenary paramilitary company called Wagner Group, they have turned up to support Russian ends in Syria as well.

Hybrid war, in the popular conception, encompasses all sorts of irregular conflict, from little green men to cyberdisruption to information operations. Its point is the pursuit of political ends by means not readily traceable to their origin. It seeks conflict without accountability. It probes the question of how much gain is possible short of regular military means. As such, it poses particular challenges to deterrence and wartime accountability. These challenges are of especially great and increasing interest in Europe’s east, from Finland and Sweden through the Baltics, Poland and Ukraine, on to the Balkans. What to do? Continue reading

Build the Walzer: Review of ‘A Foreign Policy for the Left’ By Michael Walzer

Forty-one years ago, in the shadow of the Vietnam War, Michael Walzer published Just and Unjust Wars, an exploration of the morality of going to war and of war-fighting—a 20th-century update on the old problems of jus ad bellum and jus in bello. A professor at Harvard and Princeton University and long a member of the idiosyncratic left-wing intellectual crowd around Dissent magazine, Walzer established himself as an original thinker and laid the predicate for his lifelong willingness to call out fellow leftists as necessary for the sloppiness or shoddiness of their often abstract moral reasoning on matters of war and peace.

Vietnam was an unjust war, in Walzer’s view, one that should never have been fought. But for him, it hardly followed that all wars are unjust. At a time when a kind of nihilist pacifism was taking hold among many on the left, Walzer insisted on reminding his comrades of the moral necessity of World War II and the struggle to defeat fascism. Similarly, at a time when many of his contemporaries were apologizing for, if not celebrating, brutal regimes emerging in postcolonial states where liberation movements had thrown off an imperial yoke, Walzer insisted on holding these governments accountable for their misdeeds. Continue reading

Review: A Radical Critique of Modernity in ‘Why Liberalism Failed’

First, a point about the title of Patrick J. Deneen’s “Why Liberalism Failed”: While the failure he alleges does indeed encompass the progressive element in American politics, Mr. Deneen’s target is much bigger. The “liberalism” that has failed, in his telling, is the very project of modernity itself, whose origins date to the 16th and 17th centuries and whose signal political achievement, arriving in the 18th century, was the founding of the United States. Yes, that “failure”—and that liberalism.

Liberalism went wrong from the beginning, in Mr. Deneen’s view. Its fundamental innovation was to define politics around the liberty of the individual, the protection of whose rights is the purpose of government. Thomas Hobbes reasoned about a “state of nature” in which human beings stand weak and afraid, their lives “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” They band together to create an all-powerful state—“Leviathan,” as he called it—to provide relief from this condition and from the fear of violent death that goes with it. But the human quest to use politics to improve on natural conditions only begins here. Building as well on Machiavelli and Francis Bacon, liberalism seeks not an accommodation with nature and human convention but mastery over nature and liberation from convention. By way of John Locke, who saw human beings as naturally reasonable and tolerant and saw politics as a way of securing their individual liberty, it’s a short step to the American Founders and the Bill of Rights. Continue reading

The Gap Between Tweet and Action

For those willing to take it seriously, the question of Trump-ian national security and foreign policy has always been the extent to which the disruptive if not incendiary rhetoric of Donald Trump, the man, would be matched by a Trump administration effort to remake U.S. policy in accordance with his Twitter account. Was “America First” a fundamental reconception of the U.S. role in the world with new policies to match? Or could we expect more policy continuity than actual disruption?

Of course, many remain entirely unwilling to get to this question. Trumpian rhetoric is too unsettling for them to countenance in any way. To deride the utility of U.S. alliance commitments, the value of global trade, the obligation of the United States to adhere to international humanitarian law and human rights treaties such as the Convention against Torture—and to do so, moreover, under the same slogan as the pro-German isolationism of the 1930s—is more than enough to indicate a fundamental, disastrous change of course. By this light, Trump has been walking away from two generations of policy that served the United States very well. Continue reading

A Bucket List for the House GOP

To those feverishly speculating, whether in glee or in terror, that the election results in Virginia and New Jersey portend loss of GOP control of the House of Representatives in midterm elections a year from now, I ask this question: What difference does that prospect make not as of January 2019 but between now and then? The analogy is imprecise, but if someone told you authoritatively you were going to be pushing up daisies 14 months from now, how would you handle the news? I think an answer many people would give would be: make the most of the time you have left.

For an example of how to go about doing that, one need look back no further than the first year of the Obama administration.

In 2009, the top priority for President Obama and the Democratic party in Washington was to pass a health care reform bill. They were trying to do so on the strength of their possession of the White House and strong majorities in the House and Senate. The 111th Congress opened with 60 Democratic senators, enough to defeat a filibuster and pass legislation without GOP votes—and indeed, on this topic, the GOP was providing none. Continue reading

Taking President Trump Seriously


The Impeachment Fantasy

These are perilous times for understatement and modest expectations. In the age of Trump, even the smallest of things are transmogrified into epoch-defining events. These are the days of mountains out of molehills, “a new low” almost daily, and more proof (as if more were needed) that your political opponents are every bit as debased as—no, even more debased than—you rightly concluded long ago.

In keeping with the times, many now detect a strong whiff of impeachment in the fetid Washington air. And it is here that I would like to apply a little critical political realism to the question, to set aside personal views and analyze it as coolly and dispassionately as possible. I’m sure there’s still an audience for that sort of thing. But just in case there isn’t, let me begin by saying that the idea Donald Trump is going to be removed from office is about the most farfetched fantasy in the rich history of Washington partisan delusion.

To return to measured understatement, the likelihood of such an outcome is not zero. But if you examine the hypothetical chain of events that would produce Trump’s removal, you will find not a president barely maintaining his balance atop a house of cards sure to collapse at any moment, but rather a confluence of constitutional procedures and political calculations that will work to keep him in the office to which he was elected certainly for the next two years, and very likely for the rest of his term. Continue reading

A Strauss Divided: Review of ‘Patriotism Is Not Enough’ by Steven F. Hayward

Steven F. Hayward’s Patriotism Is Not Enough is a loose intellectual portrait of the life and thought of Harry V. Jaffa and his circle of close friends and even closer enemies. Jaffa, who died two years ago at the age of 96, was a prominent student of Leo Strauss’s who held forth and shaped a generation of students of his own at Claremont McKenna College and its associated graduate school and institute in California. Jaffa was the author, most famously, of the classic study of Abraham Lincoln, Crisis of the House Divided, a book that sought to establish Lincoln not only as a statesman of the first rank but also as a profound political thinker in his own right.

Jaffa was also among the most quarrelsome men of letters ever to reside in the groves of academe, and it is this fact that gave Hayward’s book its impetus and provides its propulsion throughout. Hayward begins with a juxtaposition of Jaffa and Walter Berns, another prominent student of Strauss’s, with whom Jaffa quarreled incessantly throughout their adult lives. Jaffa and Berns, born six months apart, died on the very same day in 2015. This quirk of mortality set Hayward, a tremendous admirer of both men, on his way, and it informs the book’s personal style, which will painlessly acquaint newcomers with some pivotal moments and issues in recent intellectual history, even as it keeps those who already know the subject entertained. Continue reading