Let the Afghan People Come

“The fundamentals of the war have remained unchanged since nearly the beginning. The Taliban insurgency can and will outlast the U.S. occupation and the U.S.-backed regime in Kabul is too corrupt and weak to establish itself as a sovereign.

“The fact that we have failed to defeat the Taliban or to effectively establish a new government after almost 20 years of trying strongly suggests it is an unachievable mission and, far from a reason to stay longer, is in fact a compelling reason to leave as soon as possible.”

“policymakers have to come to grips with the fact they don’t have many policy tools to effectively manipulate the treatment of Afghans in Afghanistan. Human rights protections have improved for many Afghans during the U.S. occupation, including respect for women’s rights. But even after nearly two decades of efforts on the ground, the United Nations still ranks Afghanistan 153rd out of 160 countries for gender equality. In a 2017 index, Afghanistan tied with Syria for the worst place in the world to be a woman.
If U.S. policymakers are serious about adopting policies that can protect Afghans under threat, they should welcome Afghans to American shores. The first step is to restart the refugee program that was effectively cancelled by President Donald Trump. Biden said he wants to welcome 125,000 refugees, but he hasn’t taken the first step—authorizing an additional 62,500 this year—even though the presidential determination is sitting on his desk waiting for his signature. Biden could permit entry to 40,000 Afghans a year if he wanted to.

A second step would be to allow Americans to privately sponsor refugees at their own expense. Such a program could be modeled on America’s experience with private sponsorship for Jews fleeing the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War and on how Canada runs its very successful system today. The Biden administration could start the pilot program and enlist veteran groups who have been at the forefront of arguing for their Afghan comrades to find refuge in America.

That leads us to the Special Immigration Visa (SIV) program for Afghans who were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government. These folks risked their lives to help American forces and the Taliban will show them no mercy if it takes over. But the SIV is mired in bureaucracy, preventing many deserving applicants from coming here. Biden should give the SIV program a kick in the pants to immediately welcome the roughly 17,000 Afghan employees of the U.S. and their roughly 50,000 family members.

The U.S. could also help European and Asian countries settle Afghan refugees within their borders. Many Afghan refugees want to go to Europe where their family members are living and nothing is stopping the Biden administration from working with the Europeans to facilitate such a humanitarian migration.

Unfortunately, the government probably won’t organize itself in time to help Afghans in these ways. The last, desperate option that the Biden administration will have to consider is paroling Afghan refugees into the United States. Under presidential authority, Biden could fly refugees directly from Afghanistan or surrounding countries to the island of Guam and process them there for entry to the U.S. They could immediately start working and building new lives for themselves.

This is what the United States did for many Kurds during the 1990s after the U.S. government asked them to rebel against Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq and then abandoned them to be slaughtered by the Iraqi government.

Biden’s parole authority is the same that President Gerald Ford had when he decided to process about 111,000 Vietnamese refugees fleeing the Communist takeover of South Vietnam in 1975. At the time, a young senator named Joe Biden said, “The United States has no obligation to evacuate one, or 100,001, South Vietnamese.” The success of the Vietnamese in the United States should have changed Biden’s mind in the intervening decades.

Simply put, the United States has lost the war in Afghanistan. By pushing past the May 1 withdrawal date, Biden is merely delaying the inevitable. Afghanistan and its people are unlikely to be much better off by maintaining a small military presence there for a few months longer. Offering refuge to Afghans fleeing abuse would be a constructive human rights policy. Extending a lost war won’t be.”

Biden Cuts Support for Saudi War in Yemen, But It Should Only Be the First Step

“The Biden administration’s decision to pull the United States out of Yemen’s six-year-long civil war was a highly prudent act. But it’s merely a first step. Washington’s Middle East policy must be anchored in restraint and humbleness. This simply won’t happen until U.S. policy makers realign the U.S.-Saudi Arabia relationship with the realities of the world today—not on how the world looked during the Cold War.”

US ratchets up pressure on Myanmar’s military after its bloodiest weekend since the coup

“The Biden administration is stepping up its actions to punish Myanmar’s ruling military junta in the wake of a bloody weekend targeting civilians protesting against the February military coup.

On Saturday, the military commemorated Armed Forces Day by killing about 140 people — including six children — in 44 cities and towns amid nationwide peaceful protests, according to local reports and activists. One of the children, 11-year-old Aye Myat Thu, was buried with her drawings and toys as her family mourned beside her.

Thousands of people also fled into neighboring Thailand to escape the violence.

It’s the largest number of people killed in a single day since the military ousted the country’s democratic government in a February 1 coup. Some 500 people have been killed in total since the military seized control.

Pressure from the international community on Myanmar’s military to relinquish control has been growing, with the United Nations special rapporteur for the country recently calling the junta’s campaign “mass murder.””

“On Monday, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced that the Biden administration would “suspend all US trade engagement” with Myanmar that occurs under a 2013 bilateral trade agreement. That won’t stop all $1.4 billion in trade between the two countries, but it will curb the trade relationship, namely by ending US support for initiatives that helped Myanmar integrate back into the world economy.

That may not seem like much, but experts on Myanmar’s conflict like Cornell University’s Darin Self say the move “will sting” because “cutting off trade is meaningful.””

It’s Better to Deal with China and Russia in Tandem

“We think that would be a mistake. Divorcing policy toward one country from policy toward the other not only distorts policy toward each country, it also leaves neglected, or perhaps unrecognized, the overarching challenge of the escalating strategic rivalry between the United States and the world’s two other most formidable military powers, whose polices are increasingly aligned.”

“As is increasingly true, Russia and China coordinate key elements of their policies toward the United States. This they do when, for example, they both support third countries hostile to the United States, conduct military exercises designed to deal with U.S. contingencies, and oppose norms undergirding the U.S.-backed liberal international order. Their cooperation complicates the U.S. response to either of them separately. Similarly, continued tensions with Russia and growing tensions with China fuel greater collaboration between the two. As they draw closer economically, technologically, militarily and diplomatically, and their cooperation in each of these spheres crosses new thresholds, their combined weight in East Asia and across Central Eurasia swells the challenge far beyond that posed by either alone.”

“Success requires subtlety and patience. A crude U.S. strategy designed to pull Russia away from China or drive wedges between them has no chance of success and would almost surely have the opposite effect. The two countries’ political systems, the character of their leaders, the complementarities between their economies, and the parallels in their foreign policy agendas create a natural basis for what they describe as a “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination.” But there are reasons—including historical grievances and strategic calculations—for the two to think twice about a wholesale alignment, and a nuanced U.S. policy designed to exploit this reality would minimize the risk that a “strategic partnership” will congeal into a hostile anti-U.S. alliance. Restored diplomatic engagement with Russia and a recalibrated sanctions regime crafted to resolve conflicts and not merely punish are first steps in creating strategic options for Russia beyond China.”

“the United States should eschew policies that could transform current tensions with China into a full-blown cold war. Here U.S.-Chinese interactions will obviously prove decisive. But improved relations with Russia could help reduce the risks. While Russia benefits from a certain degree of tension in U.S.-Chinese relations, in a cold war it would be under pressure to choose sides and thus sacrifice its strategic autonomy, a core element of national identity. Russian leaders will be loath to do so. Russia might have little direct influence over Chinese conduct, but improving U.S.-Russian ties and removing the incentives for Russian-Chinese strategic alignment would complicate Beijing’s calculus and could lead to less aggressive Chinese policies.”

“The approach to trilateralism should be diverse. Some issues may be better addressed through coordinated parallel bilateral discussions, such as areas of economic friction or some aspects of military competition. Some in trilateral formats, such as the threat of terrorism or the challenge of managing Afghanistan-like regional disorder. Others in multilateral forums, such as the six-party effort to deal with a nuclear North Korea or the P-5’s attention to nuclear risk reduction.”

Biden’s stated rationale for extending America’s war in Afghanistan is weak

“President Joe Biden all but said during his first formal press conference on Thursday that the United States would likely extend its 20-year military campaign in Afghanistan for at least a few more months beyond the May 1 withdrawal deadline set by the Trump administration’s agreement with the Taliban.

That’s his prerogative, of course. But some experts and advocates of withdrawing say his stated reason for keeping US troops in harm’s way for a while longer — that in terms of sheer logistics, it would be hard to pull the remaining 3,500 US troops out the country by that date — is weak.”

“The choice facing Biden was always a tough one: Abide by the Trump-era agreement and leave by May 1 — risking the Taliban’s hostile takeover of the country as soon as the US departs and the reversal of progress on women’s and children’s rights that would inevitably follow; or violate the agreement and stay in order to pressure the Taliban to strike a peace deal with the Afghan government, risking more dead American service members in the meantime.

Neither is a great option, which may explain why Biden seems to have chosen a sort of muddled middle path: withdraw, but likely later this year — and make it look less like a strategic decision about the US’s role in the country’s peace process going forward and more like merely a function of logistical realities on the ground.”

“while there are legitimate logistical challenges to pulling out US troops by that tight deadline, some experts I spoke to aren’t convinced that’s what’s really driving Biden’s foot-dragging.

Most analysts and even top congressional Democrats acknowledge that, at this point, the US can’t withdraw from Afghanistan safely by May 1, even if Biden were to order that today.

The main problem isn’t removing the service members themselves, but rather all of their equipment, from the landlocked country. America and its allies could leave things like vehicles and guns behind as part of a hurried exit, but then the Taliban or other terrorist groups could use them for their purposes.

“It takes a while to do [this] methodically and well,” said Jonathan Schroden, an expert on the war at the CNA think tank in Arlington, Virginia.

But some experts and advocates for withdrawal cite two reasons for why Biden’s rationale rings hollow.

First, the timing: “If what he wanted was the fastest possible out, that could have been the order in January,” said Andrew Watkins, the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Afghanistan

Simply put, the administration is surely aware of how long a safe withdrawal takes. Biden, then, effectively made the decision to keep troops in the country beyond the deadline by not making a decision until he’d passed the point where that was possible.

Second, some say that despite its harsh rhetoric demanding “all foreign troops…withdraw on the specific date,” the Taliban probably wouldn’t consider it a violation of the agreement and start targeting American troops even if the US hadn’t gotten every last person or piece of equipment out of the country by May 1, as long as Biden had announced his order to withdraw and it was genuinely underway.”

“Put together, experts say Biden’s case to the nation for why the US should remain in Afghanistan a little longer doesn’t hold up. Biden’s true intention, they divine, is that the president and his team believe their long-shot push for a diplomatic solution to the 20-year war requires prolonging America’s military presence.”

“So why didn’t Biden just say that during the press conference?

Some experts said the US may still be working to agree to an extension with the Taliban, and openly stating America will remain beyond May 1 to keep the insurgents at the table wouldn’t play well until there’s an understanding. Plus, citing logistical concerns might draw less backlash from the American public than extending the military presence in search of an unlikely peace deal.”

Why the New START Extension Could Be the End of Arms Control as We Know It

“With the five-year extension of New START, the United States and Russia got a reprieve to come up with new ways to manage their strategic competition. They should use this time to engage in a no-holds-barred dialogue about their differences and to think boldly and creatively beyond the established framework that is bound to run into the insurmountable twin obstacles of political headwinds and conceptual obsolescence.”

Why North Korea is ramping up missile tests again

“Why is North Korea suddenly testing all these missiles?

Experts are split. One potential reason is that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants to slowly ratchet up pressure on Biden and get his attention.

“North Korea usually begins its new military threats-cum-psychological warfare cycle through graduated escalation,” Sung-Yoon Lee, an expert on Pyongyang’s politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, told me.”

“the North Korean leader wants the tests to bother Biden so much that the US engages in some kind of diplomacy with North Korea to stop the launches. Once at the negotiating table, Pyongyang would seek an end to US sanctions on the country before agreeing to dismantle (at least some parts of) its nuclear program, while Washington would push for the opposite — North Korea first verifiably dismantling at least some parts of its nuclear program before the US lifts any sanctions.

That broad standoff has plagued US-North Korean relations for decades, but it’s particularly irksome to Kim right now. The sanctions hurt his country’s economy, which the dictator has promised to improve, and are especially biting during the Covid-19 pandemic. His new round of testing, then, is a message to the White House: End the sanctions, or America’s relations with North Korea are about to get a lot more tense.”

“The other potential explanation experts gave me for the recent tests has less to do with the US and more to do with simply improving North Korea’s military capabilities.

“These launches are not a cry for attention, nor are they a cry for help with North Korea’s broken economy. Such launches are a sign of North Korea’s clear determination to continue advancing its ballistic-missile programs as part of making good on the ambitious plans for North Korea’s weapons programs,” said Markus Garlauskas, the US national intelligence officer for North Korea from 2014 to 2020.

Getting stronger militarily, after all, was a promise Kim made to top North Korean officials and his people during a January meeting. “If these [launches] go unchecked by the international community, this is likely to lead to launches of bigger and more capable systems, including those capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads,” added Garlauskas, who is now at the Atlantic Council think tank in DC.

Whatever the reason, though, it’s important to note that Kim could have chosen to be even more aggressive than he has been.”

To Counter China’s Rise, the U.S. Should Focus on Xi

“Because of the scale of China’s economy and its military, the speed of its technological advancement and its radically different worldview from that of the United States, China’s rise now profoundly impacts every major U.S. national interest. This is a structural challenge that, to some extent, has been gradually emerging over the last two decades. The rise to power of Xi has greatly accentuated this challenge and accelerated its timetable.

At home, Xi has returned China to classical Marxism-Leninism and fostered a quasi-Maoist personality cult, pursuing the systematic elimination of his political opponents. China’s market reforms have stalled and its private sector is now under increasingly direct forms of party control. Xi has also used ethnonationalism to unite his country against any challenges to his authority, internal or external. His treatment of recalcitrant ethnic minorities within China borders on genocide. Xi’s China increasingly resembles a new form of authoritarian police state. And in a fundamental departure from his risk-averse post-Mao predecessors, Xi has demonstrated that he intends to project China’s authoritarian system, coercive foreign policy and military presence well beyond his country’s own borders to the world at large.

China under Xi, unlike under previous leaders Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, is no longer a status quo power. It has become what the international-relations world calls a revisionist power, a state bent on changing the world around it. For the United States, its allies and the US-led liberal international order, this represents a fundamental shift. Xi is no longer just a problem for U.S. primacy. He now presents a serious challenge to the whole of the democratic world.”

“while the Trump administration did well to sound the alarm on China, its efforts at implementation have been chaotic and at times contradictory. At root, the issue is that “strategic competition” is a declaration of doctrinal attitude, not a comprehensive strategy that has been put into practice.

The uncomfortable truth is that China has long had an integrated internal strategy for handling the United States, and so far its strategy has largely worked. By contrast, the United States, which once articulated and then operationalized a clear, unified strategy to deal with the challenge of the Soviet Union, in the form of George Kennan’s strategy of containment, so far has none in relation to China. This has been a dereliction of national responsibility.

Washington’s difficulty in developing an effective China strategy lies in the absence of a clearly understood strategic objective. At present, objectives articulated by various officials range from inducing Chinese economic reform through a limited trade war to full-blown regime change that focuses on overthrowing the Communist Party. So what should this objective be—and what understanding of China is it based on?”

“a strategy that focuses more narrowly on Xi, rather than the CCP as a whole, presents a more achievable objective—and also points to policies that serve to weaken rather than embolden his autocratic leadership in the process.”

“The political reality is that the CCP is significantly divided on Xi’s leadership and his vast ambitions. Senior party members have been greatly troubled by Xi’s policy direction and angered by his endless demands for absolute loyalty. They fear for their own lives and the future livelihoods of their families. There are countless examples that point to this deep and abiding skepticism towards Xi. Of particular importance in this mix are the reports unearthed by international media of the wealth amassed by Xi’s family and members of his political inner circle, despite the vigor with which Xi has conducted the anti-corruption campaign. It is simply unsophisticated strategy to treat the entire Communist Party as a single monolithic target when such internal fault lines should be clear to the analyst’s eye—and in the intelligent policy maker’s pen.

Any strategy that focuses on the party rather than on Xi himself also ignores the fact that China, under all five of its post-Mao leaders prior to Xi, was able to work with the United States. Under them, China aimed to join the existing international order, not to remake it in China’s own image. That suggests the mission for America’s China strategy should be to see China return to its pre-2013 path—i.e., the pre-Xi strategic status quo. There were, of course, many challenges to U.S. interests during Hu Jintao’s second term, but they were manageable and did not represent a fundamental violation of the liberal international order.”

” It might be helpful to keep in mind one overriding political objective: To cause China’s elite leadership to conclude that it is in the country’s best interests to operate as a status-quo power again. This means that the party needs to see a clearer route to success by staying within the existing US-led liberal international order than by building a rival order; and it should clearly be in the party’s best interests, if it wishes to remain in power at home, not to attempt to expand China’s borders or export its political model beyond China’s shores. In other words, China can become a different type of global great power than that envisaged by Xi.”

“A successful U.S. strategy must be based on its existing strengths, which means the four fundamental pillars of American power: the power of the nation’s military; the status of the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency and mainstay of the international financial system; global technological leadership, given that technology has become the major determinant of future national power; and the values of individual freedom, fairness and the rule of law for which the nation continues to stand, despite its recent political divisions and difficulties.

This last point is important. Any effective U.S. China strategy will be anchored in both national values and national interests. This is what has long distinguished the nation from China in the eyes of the world. The defense of universal liberal values and the liberal international order, as well as the maintenance of U.S. global power, must be the twin pillars of America’s global call to arms.

U.S. strategy must also be fully coordinated with major allies. This has nothing to do with making allies feel good; it’s because the United States now needs them to win.”