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Hezbollah’s Military Drills Undermine Lebanon’s State Authority

The National Interest - Sun, 28/05/2023 - 00:00

In the days leading up to May 25, the twenty-third anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon, Hezbollah engaged in a series of highly-visible wargames. The demonstration of force included hundreds of fighters with live ammunition and sophisticated weaponry typically used by national armies. Except it was not the Lebanese Armed Forces that carried out the drills but a mere political party with an armed wing. For many in Lebanon, the events constituted a blatant disregard for state authority and international law. The question of what to do about Hezbollah’s weapons is consistently being put on the back burner out of fear of internal unrest. Hezbollah claims it needs its weapons to defend Lebanon from Israel. Yet others say this is nonsense and that the group wants to keep its arms to maintain its impunity from state rule.

This debate has gone on for decades and, indeed, it is nowhere near being resolved. Supporters of Hezbollah cite Israel’s eviction in 2000 as a sign of the Shia group’s justification to keep its guns. One person from the south told The National Interest, “I don’t remember the Lebanese army fighting Israel. Only Hezbollah.” Others remember Hezbollah’s action on May 7, 2008, when the group seized half of Beirut in defiance of the government’s attempt to subdue its telecommunication network, and point to it as an example of why the group cannot be trusted.

Domestic response to Hezbollah’s actions

The politicians and members of various political parties that oppose Hezbollah and advocate for state sovereignty have denounced the military drills. The caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, acknowledged that these maneuvers challenge the government’s role in defending Lebanon, but followed up by stating that the situation is too complicated for the state to act alone. The Lebanese government “rejects any act that infringes on the state’s authority and sovereignty, but the issue of Hezbollah’s arms requires a comprehensive national consensus,” Mikati said.

Some have further questioned the motive and the timing behind Hezbollah’s drills. Najat Saliba, an independent member of parliament, inquired why Hezbollah would display force now if Lebanon and Israel agreed last year not to use violence as part of a negotiated maritime deal. “I would like to ask Hezbollah if this drilling is in line or conflicting with the deal they signed for the maritime border. Didn’t they sign an agreement that they won’t use force? If so, why are they showing off their forces inside Lebanon?” Although it was not a peace agreement, Lebanon and Israel signed a maritime accord in 2022 that was mediated by the Biden administration. Thus, some are interpreting these exercises as Hezbollah’s way of reminding its domestic opponents who wields the real power in Lebanon.

Michel Moawad, a presidential candidate with the highest number of votes in parliament, is regarded as both a reformist and a strong opponent of Hezbollah. Moawad condemned the wargames and expressed that they only make Lebanon’s crisis harder to recover from.

“How can Lebanon get out of the tunnel of collapse, rebuild the state, institutions, and economy, and implement the required reforms while Hezbollah continues with the logic of subjugating the state and violating the constitution and laws of the Lebanese Republic?” Hezbollah regards Moawad as too confrontational and “anti-resistance” because he stands against their strategic goals, even if just symbolically.

However, Moawad is not alone in his thinking. Ashraf Rifi, a retired general of internal security, said he and others from the opposition bloc will continue to support Moawad for president. “We will only elect a president who looks like us and Moawad so far fits that description.” Rifi is a member of parliament who represents the North II list, which is aligned with the Lebanese Forces (LF) party. Like Moawad and Rifi, the LF also has condemned Hezbollah’s moves in the south, while its leaders have said that Hezbollah is an anachronism.

“The days of militias are over,” declared LF party member and former minister Richard Kouyoumjian. “We have a national army with the responsibility of defending the country.” Indeed, it was the era of militias that destroyed Lebanon through the 1970s and 1980s until the signing of the Taif Agreement in 1989. All sides’ militias then relinquished their weapons, and the gradual rebuilding of the Lebanese Armed Forces began. All except for Hezbollah, which was allowed (or tolerated) to continue on as a resistance movement against Israel in the south. But once the Israeli army left, Hezbollah made itself the master of the region and “protector” of the Shia community.

The security situation in the south

The south is where Hezbollah draws its base of internal support, which means that the region must be addressed if the “Hezbollah question” is going to be resolved. One source spoke to TNI about the security situation in the south today: “The south is stable and will be like this for a long time. Unless we face a prompt miscalculation from any side. No one has an interest or is ready to change the rules there. It is not appropriate for any party to have military forces, for many reasons. But Lebanon is in a hostile situation with Israel and has the right to defend its territory, including by resistance, especially when this resistance is legal and legitimate according to the ministerial statements for decades and United Nations Charter.”

It is true that for many in the south, Hezbollah has served their interests by defending them against Israel, whether they were a Hezbollah supporter or not. Like on so many fronts, the Lebanese state must earn the trust of its people of all sects and serve them equally.

What is required now is for a new leader to put the question of Hezbollah’s arms on the table for discussion. This is why Parliament needs to resume its role by becoming the legal representation of the people’s will and electing a new president. But when that will happen is anybody’s guess.

Adnan Nasser is an independent foreign policy analyst and journalist with a focus on Middle East affairs. Follow him on Twitter @Adnansoutlook29.

Image: Gabriele Pedrini /

Vucic Supporters Rally in Belgrade

Foreign Policy - Sat, 27/05/2023 - 01:00
The rally was overshadowed by violence in Kosovo and Vucic’s response to it.

Kissinger at 100: A Stalwart in Realpolitik More Relevant than Ever

The National Interest - Sat, 27/05/2023 - 00:00

Today—May 27, 2023—marks the 100th birthday of Henry A. Kissinger, one of America’s most influential and famous foreign policy minds (and Honorary Chairman of The National Interest). In commemoration of this date, The National Interest will be rerunning some of our best content on Kissinger throughout the day.

It is likewise worth spending a moment contemplating Kissinger himself on this occasion, for in the annals of American diplomatic history, few figures command such awe, inspire such debate, or embody such complexity.

A refugee from Nazi Germany, Kissinger’s life and career embody a particularly American tradition: triumphing over adversity, working service to a new homeland, and relentless intellectual engagement with the challenges of one’s era. Rising from relative obscurity to the zenith of American power, his trajectory embodied the promise of the American Dream, even as his approach to international relations was grounded in a deeply pragmatic and realist worldview.

Kissinger’s approach to foreign policy—realpolitik—is defined by a clear-eyed understanding of the world as it is, rather than as we might wish it to be. Power, balance, negotiation—these were his instruments. He sought not to reshape the world in America’s image, but to manage it, to balance its forces, and thus secure the national interest. This approach won him both admirers and detractors. To his supporters, this sort of pragmatism is a breath of fresh air in a world full of ideological crusades. To his critics, his approach is a chilling dismissal of human rights, if not worse.

But Kissinger’s accomplishments as Secretary of State and National Security Advisor speak for him. He laid the groundwork for détente with the Soviet Union, pursued a policy of engagement with China that profoundly reshaped the global order, and sought a lasting peace in the Middle East with the historic shuttle diplomacy after the Yom Kippur War. His negotiation of the Paris Peace Accords, for all their imperfections, helped bring an end to U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

As we commemorate this milestone, it is worth reflecting on the challenges that lie ahead. The lessons of Kissinger’s realpolitik—both its successes and its failures—remain profoundly relevant. A devoted student of history, Kissinger emphasizes the necessity of a stable world—one where great powers must be balanced, where economic forces shape diplomacy, and where statesmen must be able—as Kissinger himself wrote so eloquently in his doctoral dissertation—“to contemplate an abyss, not with the detachment of a scientist, but as a challenge to overcome—or perish in the process.”

Contemporary policymakers must take heed, lest the apocalyptic century of a hundred years ago repeat itself. As U.S. preponderance fades and a multipolar order takes its place, America will need leaders capable of guiding her through this new age. Kissinger’s legacy is a timely reminder that the conduct of foreign policy is a delicate balancing act, one that requires both wisdom and will, as well as an understanding of the world as it is, even as we labor to make it as it ought to be.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Kissinger.

Carlos Roa is the Executive Editor of The National Interest.

Image: Shutterstock.

What in the World?

Foreign Policy - Fri, 26/05/2023 - 22:21
Test yourself on the week of May 20: Russia captures a Ukrainian city, Thailand forms a governing coalition, and Sudan’s cease-fire holds—for now.

Homophobia Is Part of Putin’s War Plan

Foreign Policy - Fri, 26/05/2023 - 20:41
Why anti-gay propaganda has been part of Russia’s strategy against Ukraine from the start.

How to Talk About China Without Talking About China

Foreign Policy - Fri, 26/05/2023 - 18:59
Team Biden’s split-screen messaging on China at home versus abroad may pay off.

Non-alignés, pour quoi faire ?

Le Monde Diplomatique - Fri, 26/05/2023 - 18:16
Le sommet des pays non alignés à Djakarta était le premier de « l'après-guerre froide ». Il s'agissait donc de redéfinir les objectifs d'une organisation qui, désormais, rassemble cent dix membres, depuis la récente admission du Myanmar (ancienne Birmanie), des Philippines, de Brunei et de (...) / - 1992/11

The Last Big Weapon on Ukraine’s Wish List

Foreign Policy - Fri, 26/05/2023 - 18:01
Lawmakers want Biden to send long-range ATACMS sooner rather than later.

How Chile’s Politics Are Shaping the Global Energy Transition

Foreign Policy - Fri, 26/05/2023 - 15:53
Chile’s rightward lurch is an opportunity to expand the supply of lithium, a critical battery resource.

Guatemala’s Anti-Corruption Star Dims

Foreign Policy - Fri, 26/05/2023 - 14:00
Once a laboratory for U.S.- and U.N.-backed anti-corruption efforts, the country is now backsliding.

Sudan and the New Age of Conflict

Foreign Affairs - Fri, 26/05/2023 - 06:00
the outbreak of fighting in Sudan should also give world leaders pause: it threatens to be the latest in a wave of devastating wars in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia

A Nuclear Collision Course in South Asia

Foreign Affairs - Fri, 26/05/2023 - 06:00
The budding arms race among China, India, and Pakistan.

The U.S. and South Korea Hold Largest-Ever Live-Fire Drills

Foreign Policy - Fri, 26/05/2023 - 01:00
The exercises seek to deter North Korea and maintain “peace through overwhelming strength.”

Why Turkey’s Erdogan Will Win

The National Interest - Fri, 26/05/2023 - 00:00

The Washington Post didn’t dub the Turkish presidential election as “2023’s most crucial election in the world“ for no reason. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cleverly taken advantage of waning U.S. global influence by pursuing an ever-autonomous foreign policy that promotes his country’s interest, which has often contravened with that of the United States. Erdogan, by a series of military incursions, successfully undermined the American project of establishing Kurdish autonomy in Syria, which Ankara deemed a matter of national security. Citing Washington’s apathy for Turkey’s security, Erdogan, despite relentless U.S. objections, went ahead and acquired the Russian S-400 air defense systems. In the energy-rich Eastern Mediterranean, he adopted the concept of “Mavi Vatan” (the Blue Homeland), which draws Turkey’s maritime borders from the land-based perspective, as opposed to Greece’s interpretation based on its 3,000 or so islands. This has prompted Ankara to sign a maritime deal with Libya, which has allowed Ankara to effectively control the marine resources, cutting off Greece’s maritime access from the Greek Cypriots.

However, Erdogan’s opponent Kemal Kilicdaroglu is known to be determined to roll back Erdogan’s perceived foreign policy gains. He considers the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the U.S. proxy in Syria, as “Patriots trying to save their homeland.” He has occasionally questioned Turkey’s North Africa policy asking, “What is Turkey doing in Libya?” Finally, he criticized Erdogan’s decision to buy the S-400 saying, “Who would attack Turkey? Why did we buy them?”

Kilicdaroglu’s high hopes of winning on May 14 turned out to be futile. He lagged about 4 percent behind Erdogan’s 49.5 percent, which prompted a runoff to occur on May 28. With Erdogan being the favorite in the second round, its worth asking why Kilicdaroglu is likely going to be the loser despite Turkey’s economic hardships and refugee problems—issues that have plagued Erdogan’s campaign.

The “Anybody but Erdogan” Coalition

Being the head of the largest opposition party, Kilicdaroglu embarked on the impossible task of assembling a coalition of parties, the Nation Alliance (NA), that have in the past been located on the exact opposite of the ideological spectrum from Kilicdaroglu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP).

The CHP, with its leftist, secular, pro-Western, and progressive views, has had to strike a coalition with the right-wing, nationalist Good Party (iP), the Islamist Felicity Party, as well as Deva, and Future Parties, whose leaders are former Erdogan cadres who turned against him. The decision by the NA to nominate Kilicdaroglu took so many meetings it calls into question whether the coalition would even be capable of forming a government. Moreover, Meral Aksener, the head of iP—the second-largest party in the NA—walked away from the meeting in an apparent show of anger immediately after Kilicdaroglu was declared the presidential nominee. She is known to have supported Ekrem Imamoglu, the mayor of Istanbul, to be Erdogan’s opponent. In a sensational manner that was interpreted as having been coerced by “foreign influences,” she later returned to the Nation Alliance.

What is worse for Kilicdaroglu is that he felt compelled to receive the de facto support of the Green Left Party (GLP), which professes that it is the political wing of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), the terrorist organization that is responsible for the death of more than 40,000 Turks and Kurds. The move to appeal to GLP’s voters, which has historically stood around 10 percent of the population, alienated the anti-PKK constituents of the NA who are mainly the CHP Kemalists (leftist nationalists) as well as the iP nationalists, who instead voted for the ultra-nationalist Sinan Ogan. Ironically, Ogan later announced that he would support Erdogan since the latter eliminated the PKK terrorism in Turkey. Kilicdaroglu was further hurt by his reluctance to denounce the repeated overt support from the PKK’s upper echelon, known in Turkey as “Kandil,” the mountain between Iran and Iraq where those PKK leaders are believed to reside.

To the NA voters’ dismay, the three smallest members of their coalition—the Felicity Party, the Deva, and the Memleket—received only around 1 percent of the combined votes but grabbed a whopping 33 seats out of the CHP’s 167, dragging the CHP’s numbers lower than what they were in the 2018 parliamentary elections. Kilicdaroglu is now regarded as a terrible accountant, harkening back to the 1990s when Turkey’s social security administration went bankrupt under his leadership.

In short, the “anybody but Erdogan” coalition under Kilicdaroglu can be likened to a mechanic trying to build a car using completely incompatible parts. Yes, he built a car, but it didn’t start.

Kilicdaroglu Is No Match for Erdogan

Before his nomination, Kilicdaroglu was regarded by many in the Nation Alliance as incompetent; someone who is prone to faux pas. He has referred to Turkey’s provinces as “countries” with which Turkey should engage in trade. He couldn’t recite the first two lines of the Turkish National Anthem. He proposed assigning an assistant to 50,000 local authorities (muhtar) to reduce unemployment. He made an official announcement that he is an Alevi, a minority Shiite sect—perhaps an unwise declaration to make, given Turkey’s overwhelming Sunni identity. More famously, he has lost eleven times against Erdogan in the last thirteen years and yet insists on remaining the head of the CHP despite criticism to the contrary. So bad is his reputation that anti-Erdogan celebrities, as well as young voters, staged “Please Kilicdaroglu. Don’t become a candidate” rallies. One man’s tattoo, “K.K. Don’t become a candidate,” went viral.

On the other hand, Erdogan’s supporters have repeatedly emphasized Erdogan’s charisma and qualities—aspects that make him a world-class leader who has dealt with principals such as Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, and Joe Biden.

This contrast impacted undecided voters’ views. Kilicdaroglu has given the impression of being an unconditionally pro-Western politician who is ready to fulfill everything Europe and the United States dictate. This doesn’t bode well with nationalist constituents who believe Washington and Brussels are the cause of Turkey’s problems, particularly regarding PKK terrorism.

The Disaster of the Century: The Twin Earthquakes

Having repeatedly lost to Erdogan, the opposition argued that “a major disaster or a war” would weaken him, precipitating a political regime change moment. Their wish came true when, in February, two major 7.6- and 7.4-magnitude earthquakes struck south-central Anatolia, leaving more than 50,000 dead and causing monumental havoc in eleven provinces. The calamity gave the opposition a chance to undermine Erdogan’s legacy and defeat him in the election.

The first round of elections proved otherwise. In all but one of the eleven earthquake-stricken provinces, Erdogan came out overwhelmingly on top. It turns out that the citizens in the earthquake zone have been convinced that only Erdogan can address the situation by providing financial assistance, rebuilding the cities, and compensating them for their losses. Opposition CHP supporters reacted to Erdogan’s overwhelming victory in the earthquake zone by openly displaying their regret that they had even helped victims. The mayor of the city of Tekirdag (a CHP member) went so far as to evict the quake victims from their temporary residences because they were from Kahraman Maras, where Erdogan received more than 60 percent of the votes. This created a public uproar, further jeopardizing the opposition’s election chances in the runoff.

Erdogan Has Already Won the Parliamentary Majority

The May 14 election gave Erdogan and his political coalition a clear majority (323/600) in the Turkish parliament. This makes a hypothetical Kilicdaroglu victory on May 28 less meaningful for the opposition as he would thus become a lame-duck president, discouraging NA supporters from going to polls. The Kurdish supporters of the Green Left Party are particularly prone to skipping the election day as their party has dropped from receiving 11 percent to 8 percent of the votes since the 2018 elections. Aware of this situation, the PKK’s upper echelon has repeatedly and publicly encouraged their supporters to go to the polls, further drawing the ire of Turkish nationalists.

What Now?

Despite the country’s ongoing economic crisis, the majority of Turkish citizens have considered Kilicdaroglu’s courtship with the Green Left Party to be an existential threat to the republic, as the party is widely seen as the political extension of the PKK. This perhaps is the most significant reason why Kilicdaroglu lagged about 5 percent behind Erdogan in the first leg of the elections and will likely cost him the presidency. Kilicdaroglu’s attempts to appeal to the supporters of Fethullah Gulen, who was behind Turkey’s 2016 coup attempt, only further hurt Kilicdaroglu’s chances.

Assembling five right-wing parties under the leftist CHP’s leadership to oust Erdogan was a daunting task and gave constituents the impression that the resulting dysfunctional coalition government would cost the country its relative stability—particularly given the already contentious climate among the coalition members.

The first round of election results jolted the Turkish opposition, and herald a major defeat in the runoff. An Erdogan victory will have serious repercussions not just for the Turkish opposition, but also likely lead to a more assertive foreign policy.

Ali Demirdas, Ph.D. in political science from the University of South Carolina, Fulbright scholar, professor of international affairs at the College of Charleston (2011–2018). You can follow him on Twitter @AliDemirdasPhD.

Image: Shutterstock.

What Helen Andrews Gets Wrong About Communism

The National Interest - Fri, 26/05/2023 - 00:00

Helen Andrews is having a lively time defending foreign authoritarians. In 2017, she waxed nostalgic for Ian Smith’s Rhodesia, denouncing the white liberals who were “slavering to hoist barricades from the word ‘go.’” In 2021 she directed her fervor toward a “benevolent autocrat”—Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, prime minister of Portugal. Now, in a review of the historian Katja Hoyer’s controversial new book, East Germany, Beyond the Wall: A History of East Germany in Compact, Andrews holds up for our inspection her latest object of fascination, Erich Honecker’s German Democratic Republic.

Andrews, an astute and agile polemicist, makes it clear that her object isn’t so much to praise East Germany as to hold it up as a viable alternative to imperialistic Western liberalism. Andrews, you could say, is anti-anti-East Germany. Not for her meaningless shibboleths about democracy and freedom and liberty.

Instead, she faithfully exhumes ancient Western leftwing defenses of the East bloc to prettify its record. For a start, she suggests that East Germany was a victim of Western perfidy, assigning culpability for the regime’s woeful inability to produce a decent amount of consumer goods to West Germany’s denial of diplomatic recognition to it. The truth is that East Germany relied on hundreds of millions in loans from Bonn to survive, not to mention its unsavory practice of selling dissidents and other hostages to West Germany for cash on the barrel. One East German friend remarked to me that he knew the demise of the regime was looming in the 1980s when it even sold cobblestones from roads to the West.

Anyway, the true economic problem wasn’t that the West was interfering with an otherwise sound East German economy. It was communism. The Soviet model, which relied on the collectivization of agriculture and industrial state planning, was an unmitigated disaster. Whether it was Poland or Albania, communism created the very immiseration of the workers that Marx blamed on capitalism.

Indeed, as someone who visited East Germany a number of times and participated in a seminar at the Humboldt University in East Berlin for a few weeks, I can only marvel at Andrews’ insouciance about what it was actually like to live in real existing socialism. There were no books, other than classic German novels, to read. There was little fresh food. There were few automobiles—the waiting list for a Trabant or Wartburg was almost twenty years. What did exist was an omnipresent state security service, coupled with a border zone several kilometers deep and filled with landmines, guard dogs, and automatic shooting devices. East Germany, in other words, was a national prison.

Yet Andrews asserts that the pervasive surveillance was “an annoyance at most for the average person.” How does she know? The fact is that East Germans were terrified to talk to each other in public even on the subway or the tram. The most that Andrews can concede is that “human rights is the soundest basis for condemning East Germany. Surely, we need no greater proof than the fact that they had to build a wall to keep people in.”

Andrews states that we can “afford to be magnanimous in evaluating our former enemies.” Why? There is nothing to evaluate about East Germany’s conduct and everything to expose about its terrible crimes, including conducting anti-Semitic purge trials in the early 1950s, as the historian Jeffrey Herf has copiously documented. Would she espouse this lofty stance toward Nazism? Hitler, after all, built roadways, restored order, and got the economy humming again. She goes on to declare that “some people” want East Germany back. Yes, they do. Just as some people in West Germany wanted Nazism back after World War II.

The truth is that Andrews doesn’t really appear to be very much interested in the plight of East Germany. It serves as a prop for her wider assault on liberal triumphalism about victory in the Cold War. She states that the “strength of modern liberalism lies in its ability to dismiss all alternatives, past and present, left and right, as unthinkable.” This notion, that totalitarianism might represent a possible utopian future, truly is the triumph of hope over experience. The French historian Francois Furet called totalitarianism’s demise the end of an illusion. For Andrews, however, it seems to remain a vibrant one.

Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of The National Interest.

Image: Karolis Kavolelis/Shutterstock.

Washington is Suffering from Policy Capture, Not Groupthink, on China

The National Interest - Fri, 26/05/2023 - 00:00

The latest common sense on China is that Washington is in the throes of groupthink—a phenomenon when a group ignores opposing views and contradictory evidence, pressing on to a course of action despite ideological blinders. Supporters and critics of America’s China policy agree groupthink is leading to poor strategy, whether by under or overestimating the China challenge. As renowned journalist Fareed Zakaria put it, “China is a serious strategic competitor, the most significant great-power challenger the United States has faced in many decades. That is all the more reason for Washington to shape a rational and considered foreign policy toward it.” Yet across the Pacific, with Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power, some observers worry Beijing might be suffering from groupthink of its own. The Chinese, these observers fear, have converged on the view that Washington is out to halt China’s rise while it still can. If both sides persist in holding these views, a dangerous spiral downward in relations can likely lead to conflict.

However, not all of Washington is suffering from groupthink on the China issue. Irving Janis’ original description of the term fits poorly with the current situation, as it applies to small-group decisionmaking settings—not sprawling marketplaces of ideas like Washington DC foreign policy debates. There is plenty of robust discussions and different thinking on China in American national security circles. The question, then, is why do more hawkish voices dominate and how can they be balanced out?

The China Paradigm Shift

Groupthink comes about as a result of needing to maintain group coherence. As anyone who has ever been in a sufficiently large meeting knows, groupthink occurs when no one opposes the direction of a discussion or agreement because doing so seems worse than any sub-optimal decision the meeting might reach—including not reaching any agreement at all.

Yet in practice, maintaining the U.S. foreign policy community’s coherence is the opposite of what America’s security experts hope to achieve as they participate in a lively ongoing debate on U.S.-China policy.

Reverting complex processes to psychological diagnoses like groupthink is commonplace—think of cognitive bias or negative stereotyping. Though these labels have a scientific ring, they also serve to shift attention away from often politically-charged social realities towards a supposedly de-personalized collective mindset. Blaming mere groupthink, in other words, obscures the messier processes behind the paradigmatic change in how Washington views Beijing since 2016, which marked the end of the “engagement” era.

This shift in predominant views of China—from potential partner to rival, and increasingly toward the de facto enemy—is better described as an exercise in “policy capture” by anti-engagers. Those arguing for a reinvigoration of engagement and the careful management of America’s competition with China are, at most, politely tolerated, and are certainly not in positions of authority. The individuals who are in power have concluded Washington and Beijing are locked in a decades-long ideological conflict.

To be fair, it was inevitable that Washington’s approach to China would move away from the rose-tinted views encapsulated in the pro-engagement approach. A resurgent China was never likely to accept U.S. predominance in East Asia, was bound to crack down on freedoms in Hong Kong, amplify threats toward Taiwan, and convert its massive economic gains into military might. Concern with developments in China was gaining strength during Barack Obama’s second term. Yet it was with the Trump administration that engagement critics’ ideas were translated into policy—from the trade war to the China Initiative, which was aimed at reshaping bureaucratic priorities across the government. Far from pursuing a reversal, the Biden administration instead stayed the course and drew on expertise in Washington with views very similar to those who had worked for Trump.

America’s current China policy is, in effect, a number of bureaucratic processes set in motion by the Trump national security team and continued by the succeeding administration. At the executive level, the National Security Council has modified America’s strategy, outlining a new competitive approach in May 2020 which was echoed in last year’s National Security Strategy. Defense Department planning for an era of great power competition predates Trump, and China is now firmly America’s “pacing challenge”—driving procurement and force posture decisionmaking. With their victory in last year’s midterm elections, House Republicans have firmly targeted pushing a more robust government approach toward China.

Re-Centering the China Debate

Yet the notion that this shift toward a more hawkish approach constitutes bipartisan groupthink in Washington foreign policymaking ignores those China experts—think tankers, former diplomats, and business people—who have raised concerns about this new direction. Pro-business voices, like former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, have questioned the logic of decoupling. Misdiagnosing the contemporary China debate as groupthink rather than policy capture matters because it leads to inappropriate solutions. Moreover, experts have voiced concern over whether the demise of engagement has left the United States with a dangerous lack of the bilateral connections with China needed for crisis management.

The remedy to groupthink beyond foreign policy is “thinking outside the box.” Companies use specifically-designated “devil’s advocates” in meetings. The U.S. military has a well-established tradition of “red teaming”—tasking specific groups with challenging assumptions and evidence to combat groupthink. But applying this is difficult in Washington—whereas groupthink can come about unintentionally, policy capture is very much intentional. Asking the same individuals who are purposely pushing for a harder line on China outside-of-the-box thinking will not necessarily lead to a change.

Not all of America’s foreign policy elite is of the same mind on China—not just on the facts of the CCP’s actions and intentions but what Washington should do in response, what America’s interests are, and what policies best serve it. Many fear that competition has too easily slipped into confrontation, and that a return toward a managed form of great power competition would be wise. The administration should listen to other voices pushed aside, since these voices present different understandings of America’s interests, which remain firmly against conflict.

David M. McCourt is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Davis. He is working on a book tentatively titled The End of Engagement: America’s China and Russia Watchers and U.S. Strategy Since the Cold War.

Image: Shutterstock.

Which “Refugees” Are We Welcoming?

The National Interest - Fri, 26/05/2023 - 00:00

The process for selecting refugees to be resettled in the United States has long seemed arbitrary and unfair. For the most part, refugees were randomly picked by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to come here, while others in similar circumstances were left behind.

One couldn’t have expected that the selection process would get even more arbitrary.

Who is Welcoming Whom?

The Welcome Corps, a new program introduced by the Biden administration in January 2023, hands over the control of part of the resettlement process to refugee advocates in the United States (whether private individuals or organizations) and allows them to select their own refugees and future American citizens. Per U.S. immigration law, resettled refugees are required to apply for a green card one year after arrival and can apply for citizenship four years later (not five, as the five-year count for refugees starts on the day of arrival).

The Welcome Corps will not replace but instead complement the traditional resettlement process led by UNHCR and resettlement agencies—with the latter being religious or community-based organizations contracted by the Department of State to provide services to refugees once they’re here. As underlined by the Biden administration, this UN refugee agency with “the international mandate to provide protection to refugees worldwide, has historically referred the vast majority of [resettlement] cases to the United States.” This will not be the case under the Welcome Corps.

Under the new program, private individuals in the United States (backed by various non-governmental organizations) will take on the primary responsibility of selecting candidates for resettlement and then providing them with initial support once here. In fact, private sponsors do not even need to identify particular candidates for resettlement—the “Welcome Corps team” (i.e., non-profit organizations, including the above-mentioned resettlement agencies) will be in charge of matching sponsors with people to be resettled.

In effect, the Biden administration is handing the control of refugee selection and admission of future U.S. citizens to, not just a number of private individuals (including freshly arrived refugees), but to a powerful machine of non-profit organizations and philanthropists advocating for an increase in the number of refugees resettled here.

Here’s where it gets more puzzling: those picked for refugee resettlement under the Welcome Corps do not even need to be refugees according to the UNHCR’s Refugee Status Determination, let alone that subset of refugees determined by the UN to be in “need of resettlement.” This was confirmed at a USCIS Refugee Processing Quarterly Engagement last March.

The UNHCR refugee selection and resettlement referral process is far from perfect, but it does fall under an internationally recognized system. While the UNHCR touts resettlement as a “critical lifeline” for some, it acknowledges that it is not the best option for most refugees; of the 21.3 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, it says only two million are in need of resettlement in 2023. And out of those two million, only a small proportion of refugees will end up being resettled, whether in the United States or other countries.

So if not based on the UNHCR’s designation, on what grounds are resettlement referrals by private sponsors and/or non-profits under the Welcome Corps made?

The Biden administration assures us that the Welcome Corps “will ultimately be a key part of the U.S. refugee resettlement system, providing a life-saving lifeline to vulnerable people in need of resettlement.” But, if private sponsors (and the organizations behind them) are not choosing “refugees in need of resettlement,” whom are they “saving”? Who exactly are they bringing here? Could they be simply choosing people based on friend/family ties? And how fair is this process to refugees who genuinely are in desperate need of this supposedly “critical lifeline” given their own circumstances?

Under the new program not only American citizens but also green card holders (likely including those with conditional two-year green cards) can act as private sponsors. This means that newly resettled refugees—who, as noted, are required to apply for a green card one year after arrival—can now decide who gets to follow them here and who gets a chance to become American. Not only that, but other newcomers who made it here in recent years and were granted green cards can now start sponsoring their friends, neighbors, and family members as “refugees.”

What’s more, those chosen for resettlement under the Welcome Corps receive preferential treatment; it can take “regular” refugees years to be resettled, while those who are privately sponsored are expected to make it in just “1-2 months” after their application has been approved.

The random selection of those who do not necessarily “need saving” but are nonetheless welcomed here is becoming a trend under the Biden administration—and this is without even referring to the border crisis. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken introduced the Welcome Corps as a program intended to “build on the extraordinary response of the American people over the past year in welcoming our Afghan allies, Ukrainians displaced by war… and others fleeing violence and oppression.”

Not-so-United for Ukraine

On the topic of Ukraine, there is another program called “Uniting for Ukraine.” It is a streamlined process put in place by the Biden administration to offer Ukrainian nationals, who fled their country following the 2022 Russian invasion, a chance to come to the United States straight from Europe under humanitarian parole, provided U.S.-based supporters agree to support them financially during their stay here. More than 125,000 Ukrainian nationals and their family members have been admitted under this process. And even though they were not formally admitted as “refugees,” they will be treated as “refugees” (as per H.R. 7691) and receive taxpayer-funded refugee resettlement benefits upon arrival.

On the first anniversary of this program, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas stated the following: “One year ago today, the United States Department of Homeland Security launched the groundbreaking and life-saving process known as Uniting for Ukraine.”

But how is it “life-saving”?

Ukrainians admitted to the United States are generally not fleeing a country of war but are coming from European countries in which they sought refuge and where they were granted “temporary protection”—which entails a residence permit, access to employment, housing, social welfare, medical treatment, education, etc. Actually, this “American welcome” could very well be a poisoned gift to many of those who are leaving Europe and its numerous protection benefits; stories of Ukrainians ending up homeless in the United States after their sponsors bailed on them have made headlines. The director of Catholic Charities told the New York Times that it was common for people to sign up as sponsors under Uniting for Ukraine “thinking, ‘I’m doing a good deed,’ but then really not following it up with anything.”

This program could very well be providing Ukrainian nationals with a pathway to the United States in order to pursue different opportunities than those offered by welcoming European countries; it could also simply be a means for reuniting with family or friends, or simply a way to access the American dream. But, for the most part, the program does not offer a “life-saving” way out of Ukraine’s war zones.

Abandoning Afghan Allies?

And consider the Afghan crisis. Despite the ongoing narrative, most of those who were evacuated following the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2021 were not American “allies”—i.e., Afghan nationals who risked their lives to help U.S. forces in Afghanistan. In fact, amid the chaos and the urgency, most had nothing to do with the U.S. government or any of its contractors; which means they were not Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders or applicants. (SIVs are for Afghan interpreters or “allies”—i.e., those who worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government and who faced a serious threat as a result of that employment.) Nor were the evacuees formally granted refugee status; hence, the use of parole as the entry ticket to the United States.

Those Afghan parolees can now sponsor their family members as “refugees” into the United States, following the launch of the Afghan Family Reunification Program designed by the Biden administration in January 2023. This is important because, unlike parolees whose status is in theory temporary, refugees are granted permanent resettlement. As such, why allow family reunification for Afghan parolees, since parole is meant to grant temporary protection only? And why give family members of parolees refugee status just because their relatives happened to be the ones who succeeded in boarding U.S. planes out of Afghanistan in the summer of 2021? What’s more, those who were randomly evacuated and ineligible for SIVs or asylum protection, but are able to sponsor relatives as refugees can, at some point, become green card holders or U.S. citizens via those very family members who were allowed to join them as refugees.

Furthermore, there are millions of Afghans who did not assist U.S. forces but who could nonetheless end up wanting to leave their country, fearful of Taliban rule. Should we “save” or “welcome” all of them as well? Is every Afghan wishing to leave his or her Taliban-governed country a potential refugee to be resettled in the United States?

Those Left Behind

So, if we are now welcoming non-refugees as “refugees”—if we are admitting Afghans who are not our “allies” but just those who managed to get on those planes; if we are letting in Ukrainians who are not fleeing a country of war but are instead choosing to leave European countries and the many benefits available to them there—who exactly are we “saving?” And, who by the same token, are we leaving behind?

Dr. Nayla Rush is a Senior Researcher at the Center for Immigration Studies, focusing on refugee and asylum policy.

Image: Shutterstock.

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