Thoughts on Cuba

The Obama administration’s decision to begin normalizing relations with Cuba has generated much praise and criticism. You can read the lead editorials in the New York Times and the Washington Post to get a flavor for the arguments, pro and con. On the right, the divisions between conservatives and libertarians have found a predictable expression. … Continue reading Thoughts on Cuba

A Failed Policy

“The US government’s failure to ensure basic transparency and accountability in its torture policies, to provide necessary details about its enhanced interrogation program, or adequately to set out the legal factors involved in decisions to torture hinders necessary democratic debate about a key aspect of US foreign and national security policy. US practices may also facilitate … Continue reading A Failed Policy

CIA Torture and Politician Grandstanding

So the U.S. Senate report on CIA interrogation methods is out, and now we know that the CIA tortured detainees, including the use of violent rectal assault: Some of the detainees were terrorists; some were probably innocent. We'll never know because they were never tried in a court of law: Some neoconservative torture apologists oppose … Continue reading CIA Torture and Politician Grandstanding

Get Ready to Pop the Champaign

That is Aaron Blake’s advice for the White House (Washington Post): “For the first time since January, President Obama is polling a 50 percent approval rating on an issue: his handling of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.” The newest WaPo-ABC poll shows 50 percent approve of Obama's handling of the Islamic State, as … Continue reading Get Ready to Pop the Champaign

Number 7

Glenn Greenwald notes that the bombing targets in Syria marks something of a new record: Syria becomes the 7th predominantly Muslim country bombed by the 2009 Nobel Peace Laureate – after Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Iraq. The utter lack of interest in what possible legal authority Obama has to bomb Syria is telling … Continue reading Number 7

The Coalition of the Kind of Willing?

Barack Obama announced his new strategy for ISIL on 9/10: “So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultation with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.” -- The coalition partners are important because our efforts “will … Continue reading The Coalition of the Kind of Willing?

Evil as a Manageable Problem

President Obama’s comments at a press conference in Estonia has attracted quite a bit of heat. The President stated: "we know that if we are joined by the international community, we can continue to shrink ISIL’s sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities to the point where it is a manageable problem." … Continue reading Evil as a Manageable Problem

Spoils of War [Surplus] continued

A few weeks ago I posted on the distribution of war surplus to state and local law enforcement agencies under the DOD’s Excess Property Program. This is all part of a larger trend detailed in the ACLU’s new report, War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. From the executive summary: This investigation gave … Continue reading Spoils of War [Surplus] continued

Larison’s Non-Interventionist Primer

At The American Conservative, Daniel Larison has written a long, comprehensive description and defense of a principled non-interventionist foreign policy that manages to avoid the extremes of isolationism while retaining its coherence. How well does it succeed? First, a general principle: When a conflict or dispute erupts somewhere, unless it directly threatens the security of … Continue reading Larison’s Non-Interventionist Primer

The Withdrawal

President Obama’s announcement about further troop drawdowns and a time-certain exit from Afghanistan has drawn some sharp responses. As the Washington Post editorial board writes: “YOU CAN’T fault President Obama for inconsistency. After winning election in 2008, he reduced the U.S. military presence in Iraq to zero. After helping to topple Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi … Continue reading The Withdrawal

The Right to Self-Determination in International Law and Practice

I delivered this brief talk to a Model UN conference at Dartmouth on March 28. Here is the text of my remarks. ************************************************************************************************************** My topic for tonight is "The Right to Self-Determination in International Law and Practice." The right to self-determination is one of the most controversial concepts in international relations today. The government of … Continue reading The Right to Self-Determination in International Law and Practice

Quote of the Day

What’s most interesting about this new international order is how the world’s rogue states and flouters of international legal norms are deploying the language of the human rights community with gusto to achieve their revisionist ends. That's from this piece at by Lionel Beehner. I recommend the whole thing, even though I would answer … Continue reading Quote of the Day

What Would a Negotiated Settlement to the Crimean Crisis Look Like?

On Monday, Russia made a non-serious offer to settle the ongoing Crimean crisis. The key points involved international recognition of Crimea's annexation by Russia, military neutrality and federalization of Ukraine, and establishment of Russian as a second state language of Ukraine. The offer is not serious because it would give Russia far more than it … Continue reading What Would a Negotiated Settlement to the Crimean Crisis Look Like?

A Pariah State

Today Vladimir Putin signed a treaty with the self-styled independent government of Crimea, annexing Crimea to Russia. I did not see this coming. It is an unprecedented deviation from the post-World War 2 international norm that force and the threat of force shall not be used for conquest. Article 2 of the United Nations Charter … Continue reading A Pariah State

Quote of the Weekend

My favorite quote from this weekend came from Secretary of State John Kerry (Meet the Press, March 2). The subject: Russia and the Ukraine. This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It's really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century... you just don't invade another country on phony … Continue reading Quote of the Weekend

Making Things Work

Whether one looks to the domestic or the international arena, it appears that little is working these days. Three issues I have been following: 1. The Affordable Care Act (formerly known as Obamacare): The difficulties in the ACA roll out persist and the circular firing squad continues to take aim at the guilty parties. Megan McArdle … Continue reading Making Things Work

A Return to Drones and NSA Surveillance?

After weeks of media obsession with Senator Cruz, the GOP-forced government shutdown, and the impact on public opinion, the Obama administration’s use of drones and the NSA’s vast surveillance efforts are once again gaining some space above the fold. The Washington Post has an interesting piece on the civilian casualties from drone attacks, reviewing the recent … Continue reading A Return to Drones and NSA Surveillance?

Chemical Weapons

They were at the heart of President Obama’s speech last night. Sheldon Richman (Reason) has written a piece that places the US position on chemical weapons in broader context. Unfortunately, US policy and practice has not been nearly as consistent as the President suggests. Moreover, although the US made a commitment under the Chemical Weapons … Continue reading Chemical Weapons

Rand Paul on Syria

Senator Paul has written a brief explanation at Time on why he will vote no on Syria. The argument is quite straightforward (and worth reading in its entirety): “War should occur only when America is attacked, when it is threatened or when American interests are attacked or threatened.” “If American interests are at stake, then … Continue reading Rand Paul on Syria

Even the MSM?

The Washington Post Editorial Board has offered some stern advice to President Obama. They note that even if the president could get away with  unilateral action, “the Constitution grants Congress the exclusive right to declare war.” While the President may claim authority to act, “the legal authorities his administration has informally cited are slender indeed … Continue reading Even the MSM?

Can Congress Hear the Drums of War?

There seems to be little question that we are heading, once again, toward military intervention in the Middle East. Even if we assume that (1) chemical weapons were used on civilians in Syria, and (2) Assad is fully responsible for their deployment, is there a strong case for US intervention? Love or hate Patrick Buchanan … Continue reading Can Congress Hear the Drums of War?

Drone Policy, Revisited

Yes, the administration’s drone policy finally attracted some significant attention as of late. But many critics were willing to accept the assurances that the administration’s use of drones was limited to “specific senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces” that constitute an “imminent threat.” In the first lecture of my public policy courses, … Continue reading Drone Policy, Revisited

The Lessons of Iraq

On the tenth anniversary of the war in Iraq, what are the lessons?  The Economist  (“Anniversary of a Mass Delusion”) provides a lesson that is broadly applicable to politics in general: What I took away from it all was the depressing conviction that all of us, including those of us considered the most responsible, well-trained … Continue reading The Lessons of Iraq

Prewar Intelligence on Saddam’s Lack of WMD’s Ignored

From a BBC Panorama story: But not all the intelligence was wrong. Information from two highly-placed sources close to Saddam Hussein was correct. Both said Iraq did not have any active WMD. [...] Ex-CIA man Bill Murray was not happy with the way the intelligence from these two highly-placed sources had been used. "I thought … Continue reading Prewar Intelligence on Saddam’s Lack of WMD’s Ignored

Rand Paul and Domestic Drones

Some Republicans (including former VP Dick Cheney) applaud the Obama administration’s use of drones for targeted killing of US citizens abroad. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), in contrast, is threatening to filibuster John’s Brennan’s confirmation to head the CIA, based on his failure to answer a simple question during last week’s hearings (transcript here, see pages … Continue reading Rand Paul and Domestic Drones

A State of the Union Promise I Can Embrace

Tonight is the State of the Union. There is little evidence that more than a few of any president’s aspirations find an expression in policy. However, on one point I hope this year’s SOTU proves different. According to the NYT: President Obama plans to announce in his State of Union address on Tuesday night that … Continue reading A State of the Union Promise I Can Embrace

The White Paper

The Justice Department White Paper on the targeted killing of US citizens is out, and worth a read. There are no surprises here, for anyone who has followed this sordid affair. Much of the same policy was articulated by AG Holder last year in his speech at Northwestern Law. Holder basically assured his audience that … Continue reading The White Paper

In the News: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Let’s start with the good: the Obama administration is considering removing all US troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014 (rather than leaving a force of 6,000-15,000 behind).  As coverage in WaPo notes, this option “defies the Pentagon’s view that thousands of troops may be needed to contain al-Qaida and to strengthen Afghan forces.” … Continue reading In the News: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Peaking Over the Fiscal Cliff: Afghanistan

As policymakers look over the fiscal cliff, one can hope that their eyes fix on Afghanistan, the seemingly endless experiment in nation building. I understand that no president wants to seem the inevitable occur on his shift (consider the "optics"), but I sometimes wonder how many people would notice.  I gave a lecture on the … Continue reading Peaking Over the Fiscal Cliff: Afghanistan

My Bloggingheads Conversation with Robert Farley

Robert Farley of the University of Kentucky and Lawyers, Guns, and Money had a "diavlog" with me on We covered Pileus, the Conor Friedersdorf essay on why he can't vote for Obama, libertarianism and foreign policy, and secessionism. This was my bloggingheads debut, and we hope to do more of these in the future. … Continue reading My Bloggingheads Conversation with Robert Farley

The Continuing Saga of Drone Warfare

If you recall, in March, AG Holder justified the use of drones in “targeted killings” (see related post here). The comments were of interest, in part, because a drone had been used recently to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen, in Yemen and in part because Congress was authorizing the expanded use of drones domestically … Continue reading The Continuing Saga of Drone Warfare

Holder on the Use of Lethal Force against US Citizens Abroad

Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech yesterday at Northwestern Law School on the administration’s policy regarding the targeted killing (not assassination) of US citizens abroad.  Full remarks can be found here. Here are a few interesting excerpts. The difference between targeted killings and assassination:  Some have called such operations “assassinations.” They are not, and the … Continue reading Holder on the Use of Lethal Force against US Citizens Abroad

More U.S. Taxpayer-Funded Repression

The latest from Egypt: "I was in Tahrir Square during the 25 January revolution and I saw a lot of injured people, but this time I think there are more serious injuries," says Dr Omar Qassar who is working on makeshift premises. "I've seen two people hit by shotgun pellets in their chest and abdomen. … Continue reading More U.S. Taxpayer-Funded Repression

With Friends Like This…

Now that the US is going to exit Iraq—finally—perhaps we can take the time to reconsider the war in Afghanistan. With rockets being fired at US troops from Pakistan, I am sure that this weekend’s moment of clarity from President Karzai has raised a few concerns: “God forbid, if any war took place between Pakistan … Continue reading With Friends Like This…

Palestinian Statehood: Dispensing with Bad Arguments

The debate over the Palestinian Liberation Organization's imminent application for full recognition at the United Nations continues to rage domestically and internationally. The dominant perspective here in the U.S., at least among Republicans, is that Palestinian statehood should be denied except on Israel's terms. The most common reason given seems to be that the Israelis … Continue reading Palestinian Statehood: Dispensing with Bad Arguments

Somalia Blunder II

The Nation has an excellent article on "Blowback in Somalia," about the United States' disastrous decision in 2006 to back an Ethiopian invasion and overthrow of the Islamic Courts Union in Mogadishu. The Union was a largely moderate confederation of allied civilian groups that had finally kicked the warlords out of the Somali capital. However, … Continue reading Somalia Blunder II

Interposition: Part Nine: The Hartford Convention

Few in power find it convenient to notice inconsistencies in their own conduct. Alas, but President Madison was no exception. Federalism and decentralization exist precisely because free constitutions should not depend on the good graces of those in office, but on the checks necessary to harry them back under the law. Seeking the financial means … Continue reading Interposition: Part Nine: The Hartford Convention