Ten thoughts on Trump’s immigration hold

I’m away from news for just a couple of days, and everything seems on fire. I would have worded out some things about the immigration ban sooner, but, you know… children, work, whiskey, and birthdays. So here are simply ten random thoughts I had about the immigration hold when I finally had a chance to sit down, because the internet likes lists…

1. Some of the wording of the order seems to be interpreted in a way where it can block legal green card holders from entry or reentry to the country. This is essentially an ex-post facto law, and punishment without trial. This part is wrong, illegal, and maybe even unconstitutional under any circumstance.

2. There is precedent for temporarily banning immigration from specific countries. Carter did it with Iran. Obama once did it for six months for everyone from Iraq. Hell, it was just two weeks ago that Obama changed the refugee and immigration policy for Cuba.

3. The point of two wasn’t to say it was automatically right.

4. The security risks Trump cites are highly over-inflated and an accurate risk assessment wouldn’t have advised going anywhere near this far for safety alone, rather than theater that aims at making some people feel safer.

5. Often, though it sounds cold-hearted, refugees simply aren’t our problem.

6. Syrian refugees are. America’s actions directly contributed to the length and breath of their civil war, and we’ve actively prevented any resolution of the conflict that would seem like a win for Assad and Putin, opting instead to have continued violence as the literal goal of our strategy. Our weapons and money have been used, specifically, to prolong the conflict rather than end it.

7. There are better ways to help Syrian refugees than bringing them to America. There are plenty of countries in the region taking in no or few refugees that receive significant amounts of US foreign aid (here’s looking at Mina in Saudi Arabia, and similar sites), who have languages and cultures and geographical locations that would make either permanent resettlement or eventual return much easier. Making continued foreign aid dependent upon taking more refugees could easily be effective, preferable, and we wouldn’t be spending any more than we currently are while avoiding Americans feeling like “dem dere terrorists could infiltrate refugee flows”.

8. A 90-120 day ban on a few specific countries is preferable to his original proposal during the campaign for a temporary ban on all Muslims. However, he does claim that during the vetting process, Christians would get precedence, based on their status as an oppressed minority group.

9. If he was going to do a ban based on immigration from specific countries, he chose the wrong ones. Saudi Arabia should have just about topped that list, but they’re considered an ally.

10. If, in the future, we don’t want to worry as much about the possibility of refugees from these countries wanting to kill us, maybe we should look at what the countries on the list have in common. Over the past decade, we’ve armed violent actors within or simply bombed Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. We’ve saber rattled against Iran, and there’s plenty of US politicians simply itching to invade it, openly. That’s six of the seven countries he listed. Granted, we could be talking about a chicken and egg thing, but at very least US actions have contributed to the kinds of extremism we’re worried about in these countries by, you know… blowing people up.

–Gary Doan

Israeli abstinence

As long as I touched on some unorthodox to libertarian ideas about abortion and immigration yesterday, I might as well keep that ball of controversy rolling with the Israel/Palestine conflict.

In general, libertarians tend to believe that the Israelis are engaged in occupation of land stolen from the Palestinians by the foreign power of England after WW2, and have expanded their reach into Palestinian territory consistently over the following decades with slow-moving land grabs.  My wife, among others, considers herself a Jew for Palestine because they’ve been mistreated by what can be seen as a foreign occupier.  In general, when pressed, libertarians that are honest will concede that the Israeli government domestically is much more libertarian than the Palestinian Authority or really just about any of the surrounding Arab states.  This probably is why Ayn Rand and her Objectivist followers are so pro-Israel.  Concurrent to both leanings is a libertarian preference for non-intervention and neutrality in foreign affairs.

There’s a complicated set of issues like the right of return, the wall, trade, retaliatory airstrikes, a monopoly on the ability to provide basic things like water and power, border demarcation, and of course terrorism both from Palestinians and the Israeli military that often come into play with each new twist.  Oftentimes, the more immediate concern is on current and ongoing expansion of Israeli territory via settlements into disputed land.

Today, in what I hope isn’t an already ingrained and established precedent, Trump lead his foreign policy preferences with a tweet.  He wrote…

The resolution being considered at the United Nations Security Council regarding Israel should be vetoed.

As the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties, and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations.

This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis.

The only possible objectives of this tweet are (1) an attempt to influence Obama’s vote (2) an attempt to signal his posture towards Israel once he becomes President (3) just a vague attempt at virtue signaling for the consumption of domestic supporters who lean towards the AIPAC side of foreign policy preferences (4) some combination of those or (5) there is no objective and he just wrote it out on a whim.

I suspect that Obama supports this resolution in practice, while Trump is calling for a veto, and they’re both wrong.  Were I advising an American President on the matter, I’d suggest an abstention on nearly any issue involving a dispute between the two groups.  There are at least two things that the US getting involved in any of these matters won’t accomplish, regardless of the vote or what America attempts or even how.  One, a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and two, a perception among either side that America is an honest and impartial broker of negotiations.  These are the goals that America’s publicly claimed to pursue since the Camp David Accords, and both are unachievable, or at very least unachievable by American actions.

American policy on matters like this, historically, has been to veto every such proposal.  The rationale is that the Palestinians are attempting to bypass negotiations with Israel and instead get a hearing in a more sympathetic venue like the UN, where they have the absolute backing of nearly every Arab state, and plenty of allies of convenience opposed to what is seen as US interests.  There are good reasons to suspect that Palestine lacks the ability to negotiate effectively one on one with Israel, given their relative lack of power in any meaningful respect.  There are also good reasons to believe that Israel will never get a fair hearing in the UN, with so many countries opposed to it.  So the current paradigm has been a stalemate.  Palestine offers resolutions that they know will be vetoed by the US, in order to point to America’s bias which supports Israel in order to bolster support among domestic audiences in Palestine and throughout the middle east.  It’s all been for show for so long and so consistently, that it’s hard to envision that we could take another path.

What would abstaining from a vote accomplish?  The better question is what participating would accomplish.  The resolution at hand pertains to Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria, and eastern Jerusalem.  I am among the vast majority of Americans who couldn’t point to any one of those outside of maybe Jerusalem on a map without English text.  The majority of American politicians couldn’t point to these places without the aide of an AIPAC representative, and even then they wouldn’t even know which side of the wall they sat on or whether they were even in the Gaza strip or the West Bank.  Even if America had a better sense of geography, middle eastern politics, religion, and history… it would only serve to highlight the absurdity of being anything other than neutral, and the utter foolishness of any hubris that believed a lasting peace could be obtained through American diplomacy in the region.  There is no American interest advanced by giving a veto for Israel indefinitely at every proposal pushed by Palestine.  There is plenty to lose, and plenty which has already been lost by taking sides throughout the region in local disputes and civil wars.

–Gary Doan

The most truthful liars

Apparently, one of the day’s top stories is a spat over which liar is more trustworthy.

Recently, I argued that there are plenty of reasons not to trust the CIA or James Clapper, and to demand they provide proof before believing either.  This has been especially true since the NDAA of 2013 amended the Smith-Mundt Act to allow for the US government to conduct domestic propaganda, but would have been true regardless given the history of the agency’s unwillingness to follow domestic or international law.  James Clapper in particular has lied, under oath, to Congress about the very existence of large-scale spying programs leveled against the American people, and he’s currently the head of seventeen intelligence agencies.  This isn’t to say that “it wasn’t the Russians”, merely that there are plenty of reasons to demand proof of these claims by Clapper and the CIA rather than to take them by faith, with the realization that for the past three years the government can legally lie to you and wage propaganda campaigns against it’s own citizens.

On Friday, President Obama bragged that in September, he talked to Putin about the hacking at the DNC, told him to “cut it out”, and Putin listened.  On Sunday, Donna Brazile contradicted that, saying the Russians continued hacks right up until the election.  I guess it’s possible that the DNC was aware that hacks were still going on while the President was not.  Maybe the DNC was following the actions of Cozy Bear, while the President was being briefed on Fancy Bear and Guccifer (I really love some of these hacker monikers, by the way), and they are both right rather than one or both lying to us.

Honestly, if one were to assume if one of those two stories is correct, Brazile’s is more believable.  The narrative that Obama told Putin to quit, and Putin backed down is laughable despite Obama representing the most powerful country in the world.  Obama is nearing the end of his term, and the past eight years offered Russia only reset buttons rather than red lines.  There is no real chance that there is any threat Obama could make that he could still carry out which would cause Putin to act any differently.  On the world stage, there is not a country or region in the world that Obama has improved US standing in, and there is no reason to think anything about his statecraft has changed now that he no longer has the power to back up threats.

On the other side, we have Donna Brazile, best known for her utter lapses in any basic journalistic integrity that are so extreme that even major players at CNN and The New York Times have called her out on the inappropriate conduct, calling it “very, very upsetting” and “journalistically horrifying”.  CNN went as far as to sever ties with her over this, given how her actions, made public, reflected on them.

But this isn’t just something that points out her lack of credibility when making claims… this is linked to the story itself.  Politically speaking, she is just about the worst choice to represent the DNC on this matter.  The DNC’s whole narrative is based on getting people to ignore the content of the leaked DNC emails by focusing on who released them and why.  Granted, it’s a stupid and ineffective narrative, because nobody’s been actually claiming that the information released wasn’t factual, but it’s really all they have.  One of the things the DNC emails showed, was Donna Brazile, while working for CNN, was leaking debate questions to Hillary in order to give her an advantage.  Whether she was made the Chair of the DNC as a reward for helping Hillary to cheat, I don’t know.  But I do know that her acting as a spokesman for the DNC about the email scandal she was personally involved in is completely counterproductive to their attempts to make this about anything other than the content of the information wikileaks released.

Who’s more believable… the CIA, James Clapper, Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama, Guccifer 2.0, or Donna Brazile?  How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?  Not a single character in this entire manufactured drama has an ounce of credibility (unless you count wikileaks), and not a single one has offered sufficient proof of their version of events.  It often seems that a prerequisite for political power is lying to the people you represent.  Was it “the Russians”?  Probably.  But if this information is meant to have an actual effect in policy, we should demand more than a “probably”.  If it was the Russians, how long did their hacking go on?  Well, I don’t see any reason why it would have stopped… but does that matter at all?

None of this does.  I don’t feel comfortable about a foreign power trying to influence a domestic election in America, but I’m not surprised by it and there’s a limited amount of counter-responses we could give, none of them likely to be pursued by our next President.  I don’t like how corrupt the leak has shown a major party in the US to be, but I’m even less surprised by that.  I’m entirely uncomfortable with how cozy Trump seems to be with Putin and how unwilling he seems to be to accept the CIA’s assessment as plausible, but on the other hand Hillary’s stated approach would have been more likely to lead us into war with Russia.  We are where we are, and anything our government might do in response to the hack, if it was Russia, we’ll be unlikely to read about in the paper for quite some time.  Every actor on this stage traffics in lies as part of their job in the kabuki theater of politics, and the only solace is that they’re getting less competent at it.

–Gary Doan

Cheap talk and inaction

Obama has spent two terms dismissing Putin’s invasions of other nations, from Georgia to Ukraine, both of which were nothing other than brazen land grabs meant to begin reconstituting an expansion into former Soviet territory.  Two terms of ignoring Putin’s crackdowns domestically on everything from NGOs and aide organisations, to Muslims and gays, to free speech in any quarter.  From Pussy Riot to any political opposition, to state control of media, to any real pretense of Russian “democracy”, it’s all been dismissed by Obama as a price paid for avoidance of confrontation.  From constitutional changes Putin’s made to stay in power to rules crafted to exclude any meaningful participation of rival political parties, none of it has mattered.  Jailing dissidents and the functioning of domestic spying apparatuses and propaganda tactics from a former KGB agent seems, if anything, to have been emulated and respected by our last two Presidents.  Two terms of caving in on everything from trade to a refusal to call him out despite Putin dragging Russia towards Dugin’s version of the World Island have gotten us to exactly where we are at today.  In a 2012 debate, Romney only had to call Russia a “geopolitical foe” that presented unique challenges in our modern world for Obama to dismissively quip “The 1980s are calling and they want their foreign policy back.”

This morning on NPR, while he has five weeks left to his Presidency, Obama gave the toughest threat I’ve ever heard him levy at another nation.  After accusing Russia of being behind an attack on the integrity of American democracy, he had this to say…

“I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections … we need to take action. And we will — at a time and place of our own choosing. Some of it may be explicit and publicized; some of it may not be.”

What could this threat against Russia possibly entail?  Well, he separated it out nicely for us into two categories.

One: Explicit and publicized.  Obama is not going to start a literal hot war in the next five weeks, rather than speak in the language of the cold war.  Five weeks is not nearly enough time to organize enough nations to sign on to effective sanctions.  Giving some kind of speech on TV, radio, or at the UN with useless, toothless words just highlights how weak his position is in the transition towards our next President.  Taking action “at a time and place of our own choosing” is simply not an option unless the exact time he chose was somewhere within the confines of the next several weeks.

Two: Some of it may not be (explicit and publicized).  The obvious implication is cyber-attacks and other forms of spy-craft espionage.  But if we’re going tit-for-tat here, what do the options on the cyber-front even look like?  It’s kind of hard to hack into elections that are rigged by the Kremlin already in a country whose pretense of democracy is a joke meant only for a geopolitical show that the west pretends to believe because doing so is easier.  Obama’s not going to shut down power stations or vital infrastructure to begin WW3 on his way out the door.

Obama has given his strongest statement to date against Putin, and it is completely toothless, too little, too late.  His words are as hollow as a UN-subcommittee report.  This may seem like a strange criticism from a self-described non-interventionist libertarian who would kind of like to avoid American wars and let Putin “bomb the shit outta Isis” in Syria.  I’ve made the case that Hillary’s no-fly zone support was an insane idea that risked war with Russia, in order to pursue America’s current objectives of a continuation of the civil war rather than support for one side or another winning.  But this isn’t about what we should or shouldn’t do about Russia, Syria, or Putin.  It’s about the fact that Obama no longer has the power to make that decision on behalf of our nation, and he’s only starting to talk tough now that he has no ability to back up his talk with action.

–Gary Doan

Bull In China

Trump’s being roundly criticized for suggesting that the US isn’t “bound by the One China Policy”. Leaving aside the question of whether or not it was a diplomatic thing to say or issues that saying that may create… was he wrong?

Near as I can tell, the Shanghai Communique was both overly vague as to what that meant and not legally binding. When Carter unilaterally acted to break off relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan), Congress responded by passing the Taiwan Relations Act resuming relations. Reagan’s Six Assurances specifically states that the US would not recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. The actual definition of what the “One China Policy” even means in America is under dispute, and I see no laws in America that prevents us as a nation from not recognizing it. This is all a separate issue from whether or not we should be “bound”, how specifically such a policy should be defined if we were, or whether or not it’s a good idea to continue to follow such a course in absence of a requirement.

The more or less “official” libertarian position would be as simplistic as free trade, both with mainland China and with Taiwan, an end to the export of military equipment to Taiwan, and either “no comment” on relations between the two, or at very least no differences in policy based upon their relations with one another.  The more or less “official” constitutional conservative position would be that the President can say whatever he wants, but the Senate needs to ratify any treaties that relate to an actual change in policy rather than rhetoric.  The “realist” foreign policy position would recognize a lot of the complexities involved… China is our largest trading partner, and any provoked confrontation or major change in positioning could have major impacts on the Chinese, US, and even world economy.

The Trump position?

“I fully understand the One China policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by a One China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade,  I mean, look, we’re being hurt very badly by China with devaluation; with taxing us heavy at the borders when we don’t tax them; with building a massive fortress in the middle of the South China Sea, which they shouldn’t be doing; and, frankly, with not helping us at all with North Korea.”

First off, I don’t think he fully understands the One China policy, I don’t believe we should be pursuing a new type of trade deal with China right now, threatening uuge tariffs, or at least pursuing them, is not only bad economics but when it comes to relations between the US and China right now is more dangerous than your run of the mill protectionism, especially at the rates Trump has stated, and damn… it’s painful to even hear him talk sometimes.  But the portion of that which really jumps out at me is North Korea.

If I believed there was a significant chance that threatening to formally recognize Taiwan as, say, a sovereign country (rather than the legitimate government of China) with normalized relations would lead to China actively working with us to, say, unify Korea under the government of the South to prevent that, I’d fully support our President elect on this.  Of course, to believe that I’d have to be pretty naive.

China’s enabling of Fatty Kim the Third is and has been the primary reason he’s still in power.  Running his entire country as a prison camp of starvation which is the world’s largest exporter of advanced weaponry to terrorist organisations makes it a both a legitimate moral concern and legitimate national security concern for the world.  Despite this, China has consistently done everything they could to support him, or at very least shield him from foreign interference… and as non-interventionist libertarian as I am, there’s an argument to be made that in this case foreign intervention could be justified were it not risking a larger conflict.  I support the goal of pressuring China to shift their posture towards North Korea as a legitimate US policy concern, but I’m skeptical that this is an achievable goal.  I’m not sure what steps could be taken that would be both effective and not be risking a trade war which could collapse the world economy.  Whatever they are I’m sure they would be playing with fire, dangerously, and I don’t trust Trump to lead on this.  The devil, here, is in the delicate details, and Trump has all the finesse of a Bull in a China shop.

–Gary Doan