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Ted Galen Carpenter

Washington Is Making the Same Blunder Regarding Taiwan That It Did in Ukraine

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Tensions between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are rising sharply over the Taiwan issue. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s stated intention to include a stop in Taipei to meet with Taiwanese officials during her forthcoming trip to East Asia is the latest source of trouble. Pelosi apparently escalated that provocation further by inviting other prominent members of Congress to join her in that stop. Her actions have caused even the staunchly pro-Taiwan Biden administration to quietly press her to change her plans. Conversely, congressional hawks are urging Pelosi not to back down.

The reason for the administration’s caution are readily apparent. Beijing has reacted with unusually intense anger to the prospective visit, with President Xi Jinping warning the United States not to "play with fire" on the Taiwan issue. Pelosi’s visit is the latest – and most serious – in a series of US actions over the past several years that have infuriated PRC leaders. The Biden administration needs to exercise even greater wariness about Pelosi’s venture than it already has. Indeed, Washington needs to back away from its overall hardline policy toward the PRC.

For 4 decades after Washington shifted diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 and passed the Taiwan Relations Act to govern reduced, informal relations with Taiwan, US administrations were careful to limit visits to the island to low-level officials. That restraint diminished dramatically during Donald Trump’s presidency, when Congress authorized and the administration approved meetings by National Security Advisor John Bolton and other Cabinet-level officials with their Taiwanese counterparts. Those trips were part of a new policy of much stronger US diplomatic and military support for Taiwan – a course of action that the Biden administration has continued, despite insisting that the United States still adheres to a "one-China" policy.
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Congress Is Willingly Abdicating Its War Powers Again

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The US Constitution explicitly gives Congress, not the president, the authority to determine if the republic should go to war. Unfortunately, that fundamental point is now little more than a quaint historical footnote. Congress has issued no declarations of war since the early 1940s, when it did so against Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and other Axis powers. Yet the United States has launched more than a dozen significant "presidential wars" since then. Moreover, that pace shows little sign of slowing.

Most analyses of the rise of the imperial presidency since World War II have focused on the executive’s inexorable usurpation of congressional war powers – although a more wide-ranging view. Usurpation indeed has been the dominant factor. When Harry Truman sent more than 200,000 US troops to intervene in the conflict that had erupted on the Korean Peninsula, he showed no inclination whatever to seek a declaration of war from Congress. Indeed, he acted as though getting a resolution from the United Nations Security Council authorizing member states to send forces was more legally relevant than getting any kind of congressional approval. Later presidents likewise ignored Congress and acted entirely on their own alleged authority (Johnson in the Dominican Republic, Reagan in Lebanon and Grenada, Obama in Libya). In one case (Clinton in Kosovo), a president even disregarded the legislative branch’s refusal to give approval for military action. More often, though, White House occupants preferred supportive, "blank check" congressional resolutions (Johnson in Vietnam, the elder Bush in the Persian Gulf, and Bush the younger in Afghanistan and Iraq).

America’s would-be emperors indeed have been bold in expanding US power throughout the international arena and making a mockery of the Constitution in the process. However, another important factor has been persistent sycophantic behavior on the part of Congress. Too often, the legislative branch has willingly – even eagerly – abdicated its constitutional responsibility to decide whether America should go to war. The failure of Congress to halt brazenly unconstitutional presidential wars – starting with the Korean "police action" – has been the most graphic example of such dereliction of duty.
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Washington’s Failed Push For Anti-Russian Global Consensus

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Biden administration officials treat Russia as an international pariah and push the global community to unite behind Washington’s leadership to compel the Kremlin to withdraw its forces from Ukraine. The administration’s strategy has been just partially successful. Criticisms of Russia’s actions are relatively easy to find among foreign leaders, but when it comes to outright condemnations—much less endorsements of NATO’s position that the war was unprovoked and entirely Moscow’s fault—governments around the world demur.

They are even less inclined to sign on to the US-led campaign to impose extraordinarily severe sanctions on Russia. Indeed, outside of NATO and the string-of-pearls US bilateral security alliances in East Asia, the support for sanctions is notable for its absence. That was true even during the first month of the war, and it has become even more pronounced since then.

Hudson Institute scholar Walter Russell Mead provides an apt summary of Washington’s lack of success in broadening the anti-Russia coalition beyond the network of traditional US allies. “The West has never been more closely aligned. It has also rarely been more alone. Allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization plus Australia and Japan are united in revulsion against Vladimir Putin’s war and are cooperating with the most sweeping sanctions since World War II. The rest of the world, not so much.”
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This Time, NATO Better Take Putin’s Ukraine Warnings Seriously

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In one of the great foreign policy blunders of modern times, US and European leaders repeatedly disregarded Vladimir Putin’s warnings that Russia would never tolerate Ukraine becoming a NATO military asset. Because of resistance from the French and German governments (which had as much to do with Ukraine’s chronic corruption as with concerns about Russia’s reaction), the Alliance delayed offering Kyiv a Membership Action Plan – an essential step toward membership. Nevertheless, at the 2008 summit in Bucharest, NATO’s existing members ostentatiously insisted that "someday" Ukraine would join the Alliance, and they repeated that pledge on numerous occasions thereafter.

Worse, Western officials typically insisted that Russia would have nothing to say about the matter. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Secretary General, was especially blunt and arrogant on that score. He summarily rejected Moscow’s demands in late 2021 that NATO provide binding security guarantees to Russia, including a commitment that Ukraine would never be offered membership, and that NATO military forces would not be deployed in that country. Stoltenberg’s response could not have been more uncompromising. "NATO has an open-door policy. This is enshrined in NATO’s founding treaty … The message today to Russia is that it is for Ukraine as a sovereign nation to decide its own path. And for the 30 NATO allies to decide when Ukraine is ready to become a member."

Western officials implicitly assumed that Russia could be intimidated and eventually compelled to accept Ukraine as part of NATO. They dismissed the Kremlin’s increasingly pointed warnings that efforts to make Kyiv an Alliance asset would cross a red line that violated Russia’s security. Their assumption that Moscow would tamely accept a NATO presence inside Russia’s core security zone proved to be spectacularly wrong, and Ukraine is now paying a very high price in treasure and blood for their miscalculation.
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Risking Nuclear War for a Corrupt, Increasingly Repressive Ukraine

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Fortunately, President Biden thus far has rejected the most risky policies that hawks are pushing in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Despite being under intense pressure, he continues to rule out proclaiming a no-fly zone, and he flatly rejects suggestions (including from one close political ally) that he consider sending US troops to Ukraine. However, even the policies the administration has embraced entail an unacceptable risk of entangling the United States in a military confrontation with a nuclear-armed power. The United States and some NATO allies are pouring increasingly sophisticated weapons into Ukraine to bolster that country’s resistance to the invasion. Russia recently reiterated its warning that such shipments are legitimate military targets. In addition to lavishing arms on Ukraine, Washington is sharing key military intelligence with Kyiv. The United States is skirting very close to becoming an outright belligerent in an extremely dangerous war.

It would be imprudent for US leaders to put America at such risk even if Ukraine were the most splendid, pristine democracy in history. It is utterly irresponsible to do so for an appalling corrupt and increasingly authoritarian country. Yet that is an accurate characterization of today’s Ukraine.

The twin problems of corruption and repression were evident well before Russia launched its invasion. Ukraine has long been one of the more corrupt countries in the international system, and that situation did not improve appreciably after the so-called Orange Revolution put pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko in the presidency in January 2005. Corruption charges continuously plagued Yushchenko’s presidency. The optics were not improved by his 19-year-old son’s ostentatious lifestyle, including tooling around the streets of Kyiv in a new BMW sports car worth $120,000. Media accounts proliferated about the apparent financial improprieties involving the president and his family.
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The US Press Again Becomes a Conduit for Pro-War Propaganda

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American journalists have a long, ignoble history of being willing conduits for pro-war propaganda. Usually, that behavior is in service to a military crusade that Washington has launched or wants to initiate. At times, though, such a betrayal of journalistic integrity occurs on behalf of a foreign country that both US political leaders and news media elites have adopted as a favorite cause. We are currently witnessing the latter phenomenon with respect to news coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war.

The dominant media narrative is that the US government (and all Americans) must "stand with Ukraine" in the latter’s resistance to Russian aggression. The identification with Ukraine’s cause is now nearly total, and it is infused with arrogant righteousness. Noticeably missing is any sense, once so powerful in US foreign policy and general discourse, that America’s interests often are – and should be – distinct from the interests and objectives of any foreign country.

The emotionalism and shallowness is most evident with the television coverage of the conflict. American viewers are inundated with images of exploding shells from the invading Russian forces, sights of desperate, tearful refugees (mostly women and children) fleeing the invaders, and shots of other determined Ukrainian civilians arming themselves to defend their country. Television is a visual medium that always tries to evoke emotions among viewers, but that element has become truly over-the-top regarding treatment of the Ukraine war. Providing a deluge of images showing traumatized civilian refugees adds little to anyone’s understanding of the roots of the conflict, its underlying issues, or its likely outcome.
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Hawks Make Little Distinction Between Russia and the Soviet Union

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Foreign policy hawks in the United States habitually equate a noncommunist Russia with the totalitarian Soviet Union. An especially graphic example is a recent article in 19FortyFive by Michael Rubin, a senior fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. The title, "Russia Was a Rogue State Long before Ukraine and Georgia," accurately conveys the extent of Rubin’s Russophobia. Predictably, he blames Moscow entirely for the 2008 Georgia war, even though a European Union investigation concluded that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s forces initiated the fighting. Likewise, he studiously ignores the assistance that the United States and some of its European allies gave demonstrators who unseated Ukraine’s elected, pro-Russian president as a trigger for Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea.

No, according to Rubin, such episodes are indicative of Vladimir Putin’s strategy to "recreate the Soviet Union in all but name." He then condemns the administrations of Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden for insufficient resolve in the face of such malignant, imperial ambitions. However, Rubin asserts that the "real problem is deeper. Russia’s aggression and sense of impunity did not begin with Georgia, but rather with Japan. In the tail end of World War II, Russia seized southern Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands from Japan."

There’s just one problem with his thesis: The seizure of territory from Japan was made by the Soviet Union. There was no independent "Russia" in 1945, and it reflects extreme intellectual laziness to use the terms interchangeably, as Rubin and some other analysts do. During the Soviet era, Russia was just one component of the USSR, albeit the largest one. Moreover, it is incorrect to assume that ethnic Russians always ran the communist state. The longest-tenured Soviet dictator (who ruled for nearly 3 decades) was Joseph Stalin – a Georgian, not a Russian. Nikita Khrushchev, who led the USSR for more than a decade, was ethnically Russian but grew up in Ukraine and was culturally Ukrainian. Indeed, according to his great-granddaughter, Nina Khrushcheva, he was exceptionally fond of Ukraine. It probably was not a coincidence that Khrushchev was the person who made the decision to transfer Crimea, which had been part of Russia since 1782, to Ukraine.
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Some Light Is Being Shed on the Dubious Origins of the Russia Collusion Scandal

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US Attorney and Special Counsel John H Durham’s laborious investigation into the origins of allegations that Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign illegally colluded with Russia’s government finally seems to be bearing fruit. In the latest development, a federal grand jury indicted Igor Danchenko, who was the primary researcher for claims that went into the Steele dossier, a compendium of salacious rumors and reports that Russian intelligence had obtained highly compromising material on Trump, causing him then to conspire with Moscow to help defeat Hillary Clinton and to otherwise serve Russia’s interests.

Danchenko was the second major figure associated with the questionable origins of the "Russiagate" scandal that dominated political debate and news media coverage throughout Trump’s presidency to be indicted. In mid-September, a grand jury indictment was handed down against cybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussmann, for lying to the FBI. Both Sussmann and Danchenko had worked for firms that the Clinton campaign employed to promote the Steele dossier and other Russia collusion allegations. The affiliations of the two men raise new doubts about the sourcing for the Steele dossier and the other "evidence" against Trump

These developments are potentially very significant. The Steele dossier was an important (perhaps even the key) catalyst for the "Crossfire Hurricane" investigation into the Trump campaign that the FBI launched in late summer 2016. It is hard to believe that even the usually rubber stamp Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court would have issued investigative warrants based on what meager justifications the FBI had absent the overblown Steele dossier. Indeed, the FBI had to go to great (and unethical) lengths to perpetuate the investigation once the Steele dossier began to unravel.
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Just Whose Coast Is the Coast Guard Guarding?

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Most Americans likely assume that the mission of the US Coast Guard is to protect the coasts of the United State from maritime threats. Increasingly, though, that is no longer true, as Coast Guard vessels and personnel now routinely operate thousands of miles from the US homeland. Moreover, they frequently are not engaged in "defensive" missions, but are instead part and parcel of Washington’s arrogant force projection around the world.

The traditional missions were not always sensible or achievable ones, to be sure. During the 1920s and early 1930s, Coast Guard cutters were tasked with trying to intercept shipments of liquor trying to reach thirsty consumers in the United States. Not surprisingly, that mission proved to be utterly futile and frustrating. More recently, the Coast Guard (along with other agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration) has pursued a similar quixotic effort to intercept vessels carrying cargoes of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other currently illegal drugs. Indeed, the Coast Guard itself boasts that it is "the nation’s first line of defense" against drug smugglers.

During both prohibition crusades, such efforts have proven more symbolic than substantive. Authorities confiscate only about 10 percent of the targeted contraband, and bootleggers and drug traffickers simply write-off such losses as part of the normal cost of doing business. Attempts to hype successful intercepts do not change that economic reality.
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How the National Security State Manipulates the News Media

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An especially dangerous threat to liberty occurs when members of the press collude with government agencies instead of monitoring and exposing the abuses of those agencies. Unfortunately, collusion is an all-too-common pattern in press coverage of the national security state’s activities. The American people then receive official propaganda disguised as honest reporting and analysis.

The degree of collaboration frequently has reached stunning levels. During the early decades of the Cold War, some journalists even became outright CIA assets. Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein’s January 1977, 25,000-word article in Rolling Stone was an extraordinarily detailed account of cooperation between the CIA and members of the press, and it provided key insights into that relationship. In some cases, the "journalists" were actually full-time CIA employees masquerading as members of the Fourth Estate, but Bernstein also confirmed that some 400 bona fide American journalists had secretly carried out assignments for the ClA during the previous 25 years. He noted that "journalists provided a full range of clandestine services – from simple intelligence gathering to serving as go-betweens with spies in Communist countries. Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs."

A December 26, 1977, investigative report in the New York Times described the scope of the CIA’s global campaign to influence opinion through media manipulation. "In its persistent efforts to shape world opinion, the C.I.A. has been able to call upon" an extensive network "of newspapers, news services, magazines, publishing houses, broadcasting stations and other entities over which it has at various limes had some control.
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