The CSS Blog Network

Ambling Blindly Back into the Mountains: 5 Hard Questions for the Next Phase of Afghanistan

Courtesy of Kenny Cole/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 23 February 2017.

Gen. John Nicholson, who commands the American-led international military force in Afghanistan, recently made headlines when he called for “a few thousand” more troops and a deeper American commitment to the fight in Afghanistan in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month.

This echoes the calls from a number of other analysts, as well as from senior government officials. The recently departed national security advisor, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — who once served as the senior intelligence officer for the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan — seemed to support greater commitment to the region. As they say, personnel is policy: Flynn appointed senior National Security Council staffers who called for engagement in Afghanistan to potentially continue another five to ten years. There’s good reason to think these beliefs might be shared by incoming national security advisor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, given his substantial investment in Afghanistan.

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What’s a NATO Ally Worth: Getting Beyond the Two Percent Benchmark

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This article was originally published by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) on 16 February 2017.

This week Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis delivered some tough love to America’s allies in Europe. Addressing NATO defense ministers, Mattis offered “clarity on the political reality in the United States.” If the allies do not want to see America moderate its commitment to them, he said, “each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense.”

On its face, Mattis’ call for NATO to spend more on defense is hardly new, and his words echo the public warnings given by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and others. This year, however, after President Trump’s repeated questioning of NATO’s value, the allies are listening especially closely. The new administration is right to call for a boost in European defense spending, but the right measure of our allies’ value is in fact much broader. An overweening focus on budget metrics risks distorting, to NATO’s detriment and to America’s, what it means to be a good military ally.

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How the Exclusion of Muslims Could Help Extremists

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This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 3 February 2017.

Within two weeks of taking power, new United States President Donald Trump has signed a number of executive orders that have caused alarm around the world. Perhaps the most controversial of these was an immigration ban that indefinitely suspended the entry and resettlement of Syrian refugees to the US and enacted a 90-day ban on travelers from six Muslim majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. While fears about Muslim immigration are widespread in the US and elsewhere, a significant body of research has failed to find justification for such policies. Indeed, there is strong evidence to suggest that they might make the targeted problem of Islamic extremism much worse.

The Trump administration has justified the move as “preventive” and designed to reduce terror threats facing the US, yet the Cato Institute finds that not a single person (including refugees) from any of the Muslim-majority countries included has been involved in a terrorist attack in the US in the past 40 years. Data provided by the New America Foundation (since 9/11) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2005-2014) has, meanwhile, found that on a 10-year average, 11,737 Americans are likely to be killed from gun violence per year, compared with just two by Muslim jihadi immigrants.

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Donald Trump and the Emergent Dominant Narrative in US Foreign Policy

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This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 4 February 2017.

It is difficult to find experts that approve of President Donald Trump’s emergent foreign policy. Neoconservatives and internationalists complain that, by abandoning the leading role the United States has taken in world affairs since the end of World War Two, he is contributing to the collapse of the liberal world order and the emergence of a more dangerous, Hobbesian alternative. Libertarians and economists worry that he risking a global depression with his protectionist policies. National security hawks argue that his anti-Muslim rhetoric could bolster ISIS; and regional specialists warn that he is wrecking relationships with key partners such as Europe, China, and Mexico.

To a considerable extent, Trump’s detractors are correct. His assessment of the prevailing state of affairs—that a corrupt, globalist political establishment has allowed other countries to take advantage of the US and that the best way to remedy this is to put ‘America First’ by reducing imports and extracting substantial concessions from allies and international institutions—is as simplistic as it is delusional. Whatever one thinks of US foreign policy, a belligerent, neomercantilist, unilateralist approach would be destabilizing overseas and would only exacerbate the problems confronting the country at home.

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The Border Wall: Making Mexican Drug Cartels Great Again

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This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 2 February 2017.

After a campaign of “sending rapists,” “deportation force,” “whip out that Mexican thing again,” and “bad hombres,” the Trump administration has moved from the theatrical to the practical in its first steps to build a new wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. Prior to the inauguration, President Donald Trump’s transition team approached the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Interior Department about a new physical border. In his first week in office, Trump signed an executive order instructing the Department of Homeland Security to repair existing portions of the border fence and to build new sections as authorized by Congress in 2006. Although the new administration is clearly moving to fulfill its campaign promises, the results of a new physical barrier will likely have a counter-intuitive effect: Mexican drug cartels will grow stronger.

Since 2006, when the Mexican government declared war on the drug cartels, the United States has increased its law enforcement, military, and intelligence cooperation with its southern neighbor. With U.S. support, Mexican authorities have been able to kill or capture 33 out of the 37 most dangerous cartel leaders. The recent extradition of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to the United States is a testament to the value of high-level cooperation between the two countries. As a result of these notable successes, several larger cartels have fractured and have descended into in-fighting.

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