The Strategika Podcast: Victor Davis Hanson on Understanding Putin


victor_davis_hansonAt the Hoover Institution, we’ve just released a new set of podcasts from our Strategika series on military history and foreign policy (subscribe to Strategika on iTunes here). We begin this series — which focuses on Russia and Ukraine — with a conversation with the great Victor Davis Hanson, who, amongst his many other accolades, chairs the Military History/Contemporary Conflict Working Group at Hoover that produces Strategika. In this episode, Victor attempts to get inside Vladimir Putin’s mind: analyzing his motivations, his ultimate goals, and the possible means of deterring him.

NATO: Alliance or Protectorship?


640px-Flag_of_NATO.svgGiven Vladimir Putin’s recent aggressions — to say nothing of the sum of Russian history — one might think former Soviet-bloc states would be arming to the teeth, lest one of their border provinces becomes the next Crimea, South Ossetia, or Abkhazia. But as it so happens, very few of the nations who border Russia spend more than 2% of their GDP on defense (Lithuania and Latvia each spend half that; the United States spends roughly 3.5%*). In many of them, military spending has has actually declined in recent years.

This begs a question: what is the United States doing in alliance with imperiled countries unwilling to even attempt their own defense? The matter is especially jarring when one considers that — despite not sharing a land border with a potentially belligerent nation (not for the past 98 years, at least) — the United States spends more than twice on defense as all other NATO members combined, despite having a GDP 17% smaller than that of its colleagues.

It’s even worse when you consider how few of the dollars spent by our allies could even potentially benefit us. By my counting, only two of our allies have the means and will to reliably deploy large numbers of combat troops overseas to fight alongside ours: the United Kingdom and Australia (who is not a formal NATO member, but who has fought alongside America in every theater since WWI).

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Shortly before the Charlie Hebdo affair, I conceived an interest in visiting El Salvador. During and after the Charlie Hebdo affair, this interest was unabated. About the Charlie Hebdo affair, it was instantly clear to me that nothing useful would be done, indeed nothing notable would be written. “Notable” being defined as “containing the phrase […]

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The Case For Libertarian Nationalism, Part II: Defense


armed-porcupineEarlier this week, I argued that libertarianism is wholly compatible with a nationalist policy on immigration, despite many (if not most) libertarians believing that national borders are arbitrary abridgments of the inherent right to travel, work, and settle freely. Today, I argue for why a certain kind of hawkish foreign policy is, similarly, utterly congruent with libertarianism.

It’s worth remembering that libertarianism is a political philosophy regarding the nature of the relationship between citizens and states with whom they are in political compact; a philosophy that places a high premium on individual autonomy and the enforcement of negative rights. As such the government of the United States exists for the benefit of its citizens, not those of other countries. While foreigners have the same inherent, inalienable rights as Americans, their protection is simply outside of the responsibility of the United States government.

With regard to other civilized nations — i.e., those nations who have at least a semblance of the rule of law and whose values are sufficiently in concert with our own — our federal government should seek to maintain peaceable, honorable, and open relations. Our citizens should be allowed to trade freely with theirs, and are obliged to follow their laws when visiting abroad, just as their citizens are obliged to follow our laws when here. We should seek non-aggression pacts with all who will treat us honorably, and alliances with those of good reputation whose interests align closely with our own and who can carry more than their own weight militarily.

More on the Cotton Letter


XXX 3D7A4398.JPG AIn regard to Tommy De Seno’s comments on my previous post about Tom Cotton’s letter, we should all recognize that there is a difference between the policy of any agreement with Iran and the constitutional law that governs the agreement. We can have different views about the best way to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions without having to disagree on the constitutional foundations of sole executive agreements or a senator’s right to voice his or her personal views about the Constitution. For what it’s worth, one fix for the controversy would be for Senator Cotton to offer a resolution on the floor of the Senate opposing any nuclear deal with Iran that does not undergo advice and consent.

Some are criticizing the Cotton letter for attempting to interfere with the president’s “sole organ” authority to conduct the diplomacy of the nation. But I don’t think the president’s sole organ authority, first articulated by John Marshall (as a congressman) and approved by the Supreme Court (in U.S. v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp in 1936), prohibits senators from making clear their positions on foreign policy matters. Senators can take votes that might oppose an executive branch policy. For example, the Senate passed a resolution opposing the Kyoto Accords, which effectively killed any chances of that treaty, and the American Servicemen’s Protection Act, which essentially defeated any hope for the International Criminal Court’s ratification by the U.S.

I, of course, have defended the sole organ authority of the president, probably more vigorously than any other law professor and few other government officials. But here the senators are not trying to negotiate with Iran or even trying to set out any terms for a deal. I thought the letter tried to avoid any substantive terms of the deal, but only went as far as stating clearly what U.S. constitutional law was (which I expect the Iranians already knew — or for which they paid advisors who could tell them). As a description of our constitutional law on international agreements, the letter was correct. What is the effective difference between sending the Constitution to the mullahs in an envelope, giving a speech reminding President Obama of the law of treaties, or publishing an op-ed criticizing the sole executive agreement? What would be best now would be for Senator Cotton to offer a Senate resolution opposing any sole executive agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear capability.

The Libertarian Podcast: The Cotton Controversy


We’ve been having a lively discussion here on the site about the propriety of the open letter to Iran sent by Tom Cotton and 46 other Republican senators. In the newest installment of The Libertarian podcast from the Hoover Institution, I ask Professor Epstein to weigh in: was the Cotton letter a breach of protocol…or law? Is President Obama right to pursue an executive agreement rather than a treaty with Iran? And what does it all mean for American national security? Find out by listening below or by subscribing to The Libertarian through iTunes or your favorite podcast service.

The Kremlin’s Explanation of the Nemtsov Murder Is Starting to Unravel


 Êðåìëå ïðîøëà ðàáî÷àÿ âñòðå÷à ïðåçèäåíòà ÐÔ Âëàäèìèðà Ïóòèíà ñ ëèäåðîì äóìñêîé ôðàêöèè ÑÏÑ Áîðèñîì Íåìöîâûì.The official reaction to the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was supposed to play out according to a time-tested formula. The standard script, as perfected after the murders of troublesome journalists (Anna Politkovskaya, Paul Khlebnikov and Mikhail Beketov), calls for the eventual capture, confession, and sentencing of the contract killers, but not the contractors. The killers, of course, would profess to have no idea who their contractor was. They would then disappear into the Russian prison system, knowing their families would be taken care of as long as they maintained their silence.

The news out of Russia, however, suggests that the formula is breaking down this time around:

TASS, the official Russian news service, leading newspapers, and press services reported the sensational news that surveillance cameras around the Kremlin had identified two of the killers (first reports claimed that they were turned off for maintenance), one of whom confessed to being a participant in the crime. Four other suspects were arrested in their Caucasus havens, and another killed himself with a hand grenade while resisting arrest.

Tom Cotton’s Letter Is Exactly Right


Tom CottonTime for a primer on international agreements, thanks to the controversy over Senator Tom Cotton’s letter to Iran. Joined by almost all of the Senate’s Republicans, Cotton’s missive warned Tehran that any nuclear deal with President Obama would not last unless it went to Congress for approval:

…We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.  The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.

As a description of American constitutional law, Senator Cotton has it exactly right. It’s as if he’s just informing Iran about the text of the Constitution. There are three types of international agreements under U.S. law:

The Cotton Letter a Breach of Protocol? Tosh


Noting that the White House and journalists of every description on the left are now accusing senator Tom Cotton of violating protocol in writing to the leaders of Iran, Josh Trevino replies, in effect, “Nonsense.”  From his recent post on Facebook:

[I]n the modern era, we see United States Senators and Congressmen communicating and even traveling abroad to counter Presidential foreign policy rather often. There’s the Ted Kennedy 1984 outreach to Yuri Andropov to form an electoral alliance against Ronald Reagan (yes, you read that right); there is the 1985 John Kerry and Tom Harkin trip to Managua; there is the 1985 Jim Wright “Dear Commandante” letter; and there is the 2002 Jim McDermott trip to Baghdad. For starters.

Does the Kremlin Have Hillary’s E-mails?


shutterstock_166350926With Hillary Clinton set to hold a press conference today over the scandal regarding her State Department emails, I thought this might be a good time to call your attention to a piece of mine over at The Blaze, highlighting the very real prospect that Hillary’s communications may have fallen into Moscow’s hands. As I write there:

Putin’s Kremlin has one of the most sophisticated cyber-warfare systems the world has ever seen.

According to Smoking Gun (which broke the story in 2013), when [the Romanian hacker] Guccifer breached [Sidney] Blumenthal’s account, he discovered Clinton’s email address, When Guccifer supplied Russia’s RT, an official Kremlin media agency, with the Blumenthal emails, it’s a distinct possibility that he supplied the Clinton email address as well.

What Negotiated Solution to Iran’s Nuclear Program Would You Find Acceptable?


shutterstock_137764901There were recently reports that the multi-party talks about Iran’s nuclear program were approaching a deal that would have the Iranians pause their nuclear program for a decade in exchange for lifting of sanctions. This was promptly reported in the conservative press as some variation of “Obama Gives Iranians the Bomb in Ten Years.”

It didn’t sound like an especially bad plan to me. A lot can happen in ten years, especially if tensions between nations are allowed to deescalate. I’m also a firm believer in the Churchill notion that “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.” But I could be wrong. Perhaps this is a bad deal. However, I’m also a firm believer in the notion that complaining about something without offering a solution is just whining. So I have a question for everyone here on Ricochet: What kind of negotiated solution would you find acceptable?

But before that, I need to remind everyone of some important elements in the equation:

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I’m 77 and served in the Navy and am proud of it. This weekend I went out to dinner with two couples in their late 40s. Over the course of 2 1/2 hours I listened to their conversation, which I believe was typical.  They discussed their kids–some in college, some still in high school. They talked […]

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GOP Senators Warn Iran about Nuclear Deal


Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton gathered a group of 47 GOP senators to send an open letter to the Iranian regime concerning any potential nuclear deal. The letter warns the mullahs that the deal — especially if not approved by Congress — is likely to be overturned once a new President enters the White House.

“It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system … Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement,” the senators wrote. “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

The Case For Libertarian Nationalism, Part I: Immigration


416PwkXMKaLLibertarianism is often associated with cosmopolitan and dovish attitudes toward foreign policy and immigration. This is wholly understandable — indeed, justified — in that libertarians and libertarian organizations are disproportionally allergic to military intervention and state-imposed restriction of immigration, albeit not as much as their more vociferous critics often allege. That said, libertarians with these positions have misapplied their principles, and fail to account for both the practical need for a healthy nationalism and its consonance with liberty.

As a matter of principle, American political society — as well as that of other liberty-minded countries — is based on a social contract between the state and its citizens, in which the former provides the latter with some degree of safety from coercion and force. As such, the United States government exists for the benefit of its citizens, not those of other countries, and consequentially owes them a wholly different set of duties. Libertarianism does not speak directly to the relationship between the government of one sovereign people and those of another nation, other than that one should not unjustly harm the other. Foreigners have no more claim on our domestic policy than we have on theirs, and control over our borders and admittance into our polity are core responsibilities of that government.

While US immigration policy has a great many problems, the greatest is the matter of illegal immigration from third-world countries, particularly those of Latin America. The reason we have this problem is not simply that we have a porous border and poor enforcement of our laws, as the same applies to Canada. The third, equally important, factor is that the United States offers a degree of opportunity, safety, and liberty that vastly exceeds that available in Mexico, Guatemala, or the Caribbean in a way that cannot be compared to the (relatively) minor differences between the United States and Canada or Western Europe.

Iraq: What Might Have Been


290165818_4058f117ce_bIn a previous thread, Ricochet member Majestyk expressed a major complaint that he has about libertarians, liberals and even conservatives who gripe about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: What is your alternate scenario?

If we could unwind the clock of history and place you inside George W. Bush’s head (a la Being John Malkovich) what is your preferred policy prescription for U.S. foreign policy in the days following 9/11?

I never hear that question answered and I barely hear it asked.