Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

A few random thoughts on whether SD should accept Syrian refugees

November 18, 2015 3 comments
Evening traffic on Champs-Elysees in front of Arc de Triomphe (Paris, France) - © Can Stock Photo Inc. / samotrebizan

Evening traffic on Champs-Elysees in front of Arc de Triomphe (Paris, France) – © Can Stock Photo Inc. / samotrebizan

Syrian refugees are an obvious big topic right now due to the terrorist attacks in France. For the most part in South Dakota I’ve seen the issue split on party lines. Republican politicians in SD have spoken out against allowing Syrian refugees into South Dakota. Democrat politicians have actually been pretty quite, but I’ve seen Democrat groups within the state speak in favor of allowing refugees. And of course the Republican Governor has not joined the majority of Governor’s around the country that have decided they don’t want Syrian refugees.  In this post I won’t look in-depth into the issue or try to provide a solution. Instead I will just add a few random thoughts to the debate.

First, I have a pretty libertarian view of immigration as a whole. For the most part I believe in open borders and believe fixing the broken immigration system should be a top priority of Congress. Additionally I generally believe taking in refugees from war-torn countries is morally the right thing to do. Notice I used the word “generally” in the previous sentence. The situation we are currently in is much more complicated than the two big parties are making it out to be.

The reason I am hesitant in this situation is because of the massive potential security risk allowing these particular refugees would create. I am coming at this from the point of view of someone who HAS been through overseas deployments and knows first-hand some issues that were had with groups similar to ISIS purposely infiltrating refugee camps in order to punish those very refugees. Now granted, the situations I personally know of were targeted directly at punishing refugees that were seen as traitors. But it is not hard to imagine the same processes used could be used to get further through the refugee program in order to punish countries that are taking in refugees. To me this isn’t a debate over whose statistics are better or who feels they have the higher moral ground. Instead I am looking at past experiences and believe that as a country the United States should proceed very cautiously.

Another thing to consider is how well the Obama administration will screen the refugees brought into the United States. Normally I would say taking in refugees is a good thing. But the current administration has proven even more efficient than his predecessor (GW Bush) at killing people in the Mid East, especially civilians. Believe it or not I tend to think that having family and friends killed by an unmanned drone tends to piss people off and make them hate America. If Obama keeps his war-hawk ways going and aims full-force at Syria it can be expected that some of those refugees will also start to gain resentment towards the US as their friends and family are killed. Is it possible at that point to screen out people who will get pissed off in the future because the United States continues to kill their countrymen in what could end up being a thirty-year war? I can’t imagine anyone coming up with a screening system that could account for such factors.

Finally I want to touch on whether the governors should accept refugees into the State. Yes, as many Democrats have pointed out, immigration is a Federal issue. In reality it is unlikely the States can stop refugees from being placed in their states. But that doesn’t mean the states simply need to sit back and take refugees without a fight. One thing state governors can do is publicly support or reject refugees. Now that a majority of the states have governors opposing refugees it might be time for the Obama administration to sit back and come up with a better strategy. If Obama were to simply roll ahead with his plan without acknowledging what the majority of the states want I fear bad backlash in Congress. Right now there is a Republican majority in Congress. I can foresee legislation coming that will further erode the broken immigration system just so Congress can keep a tighter reign on what the Obama administration is doing. That would be bad and would distract Congress from actually working on an immigration solution that works.

I think I’ll end this post here. Like I said at the beginning of this post I am pretty much an open borders type of person. Yet at the same time I have reservations about letting Syrian refugees in under the current immigration system and especially under the current executive administration (GW would have been equally as bad). This is a tough one to be sure. My heart says to allow the refugees, while my head says keep them out. Perhaps in the future politics of the two big parties will mature to a point where they can realize issues such as this are not as simple as their talking points make it seem.

So should SD accept refugees? That is a damn good question…

PS. My deployments happened under the “peacetime” President Clinton. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

Independent Senate candidate Gordon Howie says to close the borders now

July 11, 2014 6 comments

Over at American Clarion there is a press release posted coming from Independent SD Senate candidate Gordon Howie. I’ve been hoping to do a post on Howie for some time now since I really want to make sure Independent candidates get more attention. The press release is Howie asking for the borders to be closed before any immigration reform talk can begin. I’m going to have to disagree with Mr Howie on this one.

This from the press release:

Howie said that proposals to deal with illegal immigrants must come AFTER the border is secure.

“Anything short of a secure border is completely unacceptable,” Howie said. “We have a crisis of major proportions, and all this President wants to do is ‘talk about it’. We obviously have many secondary problems to deal with, but first we have to stop the flood of illegal immigrants into our country.”

Howie’s statement is pretty standard for a lot of conservatives in this state (and country). But it is a stance I happen to disagree with. The current flood of immigrants into the country is not the problem; rather it is a symptom of a larger problem. The larger problem is a broken immigration system. We could create a full military demilitarized zone (DMZ) along the Mexican border and continue to have the same problem. Such an approach would do nothing but waste taxpayer dollars and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. I suppose it would make the war hawks happy though…

Mr Howie does have a point when he says the President wants to do little more than talk. Obama had made immigration reform a campaign promise during both election cycles. The problem is Obama does not have any political power left to truly do anything with immigration. Had he done immigration reform Year 1 (as he originally promised) he might have been able to make some headway. But after pouring all of his political clout in the Affordable Care Act he really had nothing left for immigration reform. Constant scandals haven’t helped the situation.

For that reason it is unlikely that any true immigration reform will happen until at least after the 2016 Presidential election. Until that time there will continue to be immigration crisis after immigration crisis. And yes, politicians such as Howie will blame lack of border security for causing this issue. Well, that’s his right as a candidate. But as a voter I prefer to look at root causes of problems.

There are two good sources to learn more about the immigration system and border control. First there is this infographic from Reason published a couple of years ago. I would urge anyone that wants to understand the immigration process to try to using this flowchart and see how long it would take a person to immigrate legally to the US. You might have to click twice in order to see the whole graphic.

Immigration Infographic-Flowchart on Reason website. Click twice to see the whole chart.

A second good source comes from the Penn & Teller show Bullshit. Watch this episode below for a different view on immigration. The episode is old, but the information contained remains relevant. It is particularly interesting to see how building the wall along the Mexican border has been a great source of jobs for illegal immigrants. Fair warning: if you are offended by swear words and crude jokes this might not be the show for you. The episode has been cut down into three parts.

SD Ag Summit Part 2: The push for TPP by Under Secretary Scuse

July 8, 2014 2 comments
FFAS Under Secretary Scuse speaking in Deadwood. Photo by Ken Santema.

FFAS Under Secretary Scuse speaking in Deadwood. Photo by Ken Santema.

This is part 2 in a series of posts coming out of the Governors Agricultural Summit in Deadwood, South Dakota. In part 1 I had a few thoughts about Ag Secretary Lentch’s State of Aagricure Address. In this post I had planned to provide a few thoughts on the Farm Bill Update session of the Summit. But a topic was mentioned during the session that changed my mind. The guest speaker for this session was Michael Scuse, the Under Secretary  for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, US Department of Agriculture (that title was almost long enough to be its own blog post). It should be noted that Scuse has a long history of working in the agricultural or economic development fields.

Really there is only topic I want to go into from his presentation: the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). For anyone that wants to see Scuse’s whole presentation the video of his presentation can be viewed here (about 35 minutes long).  Scuse talk about TPP and the Transatlantic Trade Agreement (TAFTA, aka US-EU FTA) at about the 28 minute mark. The reference to TPP was short, which is troubling because it would have dramatic impacts upon the United States. I haven’t researched TAFTA too much yet, but I fear many of the problem with TPP likely exist with TAFTA. CATO had a good, bad, and the ugly post on TAFTA a couple of years ago.

I first wrote about TPP this spring in reaction to the SD Legislature passing a concurrent resolution promoting TPP. I still feel TPP is bad. In that post I pointed out TPP would put serious freedom of speech, privacy rights, and due process restrictions on all member states (including the United States). This would essentially be a way to curtail the rights of US Citizens through means of a trade agreement. In addition the whole process used for TPP is completely secret. All we know about TPP so far is from leaked documents. That is no way for an open government to behave.

A little over a month ago I did a second post on TPP. That post focused on preventing Congresswoman Noem and President Obama from fastracking TPP. Here are just three of the points I made in that post that I think are worth repeating about TPP:

  • TPP is NOT just a trade agreement, at least not in the traditional sense. TPP also includes provisions on regulations and laws that must be adhered to by countries joining the agreement. That would mean the US would have to abide by the regulations set forth, even though they have never been vetted in public or debated in Congress.
  • TPP has 29 chapters included in it. Most of those chapters have nothing to do with ‘trade’.
  • The scope and scale of TPP is unprecedented. Even if there is good portions of TPP, I cannot understand anyone that would support such a massive agreement (it would be a “sign it to see whats in it” type of action by Congress).

It is troubling that Scuse would promote an agreement such as TPP. Such a move makes it appear that his love of farm subsidies outweighs the civic rights of American citizens. But I’m glad he mentioned it in his presentation. It allows more people to learn about TPP and possibly prevent Congress from getting the United States into another large piece of legislation without actually reading it….

PS. Here is an infographic I found about TPP from It highlights some of the IP problems with TPP:

TPP infographic provided by

TPP infographic provided by

Don’t let Congresswoman Noem and President Obama push through TPP

April 30, 2014 6 comments

tpp-fast-track-1A month ago I posted about the South Dakota Legislature passing a resolution endorsing the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). I took special note of that non-binding resolution because I knew TPP would be coming up as a topic in DC later this year; and that time has now arrived. Last week the Obama administration made a four day trip in Asia and several members of Congress (including SD Rep Noem) also made a trip to Asia for over a week. Both trips involved the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Since returning from that trip it is expected that there will be a big push to pass TPP in the United States. That push needs to be stopped!

TPP is a large topic, so I won’t try to summarize it here. My previous post looked at some of the transparency and copyright issues I have with TPP. I would suggest everyone read this summary of TPP provided by Lydia Depillis at the Washing Post for a good primer. Here are some key points from her summary:

  • The Obama administration hopes to use TPP as a means to create China as our trade partner of focus, and get us out of the Middle East.
  • TPP is NOT just a trade agreement, at least not in the traditional sense. TPP also includes provisions on regulations and laws that must be adhered to by countries joining the agreement. That would mean the US would have to abide by the regulations set forth, even though they have never been vetted in public or debated in Congress.
  • TPP has 29 chapters included in it. Most of those chapters have nothing to do with ‘trade’.
  • The only things we know about TPP is from anonymous sources. Since everything being done with TPP is behind closed doors we don’t even know everything that has been included in it.
  • The scope and scale of TPP is unprecedented. Even if there is good portions of TPP, I cannot understand anyone that would support such a massive agreement (it would be a “sign it to see whats in it” type of action by Congress).

In January of this year the Obama administration had tried to ‘fastrack’ TPP. Fastracking is an ability that had previously been given to Presidents to promote trade ability. It basically allowed the administration to negotiate treaties and then send it to Congress for an Yes or No vote. That method is preferred by Presidents because it prevents individual parts of the treaty from being removed or otherwise amended. Congress failed to extend that right to the President in 2007 (during the Bush years). Obama in particular has been pushing for a fastrack approach because he knows there are parts of TPP that would never make it through Congress unamended. If the agreement is amended by Congress at all it would have to go before the other members of TPP for ratification. It is unlikely the other countries would agree to any changes we make.

It is expected that Obama will push hard once again to fastract TPP now that he is back from Asia. It is imperative Obama is not allowed to do so. Currently it doesn’t look like there is enough support in DC for the fastrack, but that doesn’t mean the Obama administration can’t find a way to make it happen.

But what about Noem’s involvement in all of this?

As I noted above there was a delegation of Congressmen that also made an Asia trip last week. Amongst those was South Dakota’s lone Representative Kristi Noem. She apparently went as an advocate of the agricultural industry. This week she gave the a speech on the House floor summarizing her trip to Asia. Here is a video of this speech:

It is quite apparent from her speech that she is promoting TPP. She went on to mention the many trade benefits to South Dakota and the United States for the agricultural industry. She believes South Dakota in particular could increase our exports to Asia dramatically under the deal. Noem makes the case that China wants USDA beef (will we see a “Where’s the beef” commercial in China?) But she also says she will not support TPP unless it eliminates trade barriers to agriculture.

There is a problem with Noems objections to TPP being based solely upon agricultural trade barriers. It gives the impression that she doesn’t understand many of the other non-agricultural parts of TPP that are bad. Yes, she was likely included in the delegation because she represents an agricultural state and she is good at following Majority Leader Cantor’s orders. But there is so much more to TPP than just agricultural trade (remember there are 29 chapters included in TPP, agriculture would be one small part of just one chapter). Even though she is the chosen agricultural ‘expert’ doesn’t mean she should only be considering that when looking at TPP. Her inability to look beyond her subject of expertise is disheartening to say the least.

Luckily TPP is unlikely to be fastracked by the Obama administration. But I don’t think ‘unlikely’ gives enough comfort to those that would oppose TPP. I could foresee situations where Rep Cantor would agree to push TPP through Congress (Republicans have traditionally supported the fastrack approach) and that good loyal Congressmen such as Noem would fall in line to pass it. To make sure that doesn’t happen it is time for constituents to let their Congressional delegation know TPP is NOT wanted by the United States. For those of us living in South Dakota I believe it is important to let Kristi Noem know there is more wrong with TPP than her subject of ‘expertise’. We need to let Congress know that we don’t want our country to be regulated to international treaties that have no transparency or accountability to We the People of the United States.

Senator Tim Johnson taking on the Iran war hawks

January 7, 2014 4 comments
Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota

Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota

Today I find reason to support Democrat South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson. According to Politico Senator Johnson will not help any Senate bill that would place sanctions on Iran while diplomatic talks are going on. This from the Politico article:

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) said on Monday evening that the only way a sanctions bill from Iran hawks will be considered while diplomatic talks continue is by skipping his committee of jurisdiction and taking it straight to the Senate floor.

While Johnson has a sanctions bill ready to go in case ongoing nuclear talks with Iran falter, he is keeping it on the backburner. And the chairman warned of the ramifications if the House or the Senate decides to pass its own sanctions bill, even if that legislation includes a negotiating window.

“That makes a great deal of difference. The secretary of state has told us that it would collapse if they do the sanctions, even if it’s tentative,” Johnson said.

I’ve been watching the Iran situation intently for quite some time. Back when the House voted 400-20 on the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013 I posted that sanctions are not the best path forward. Not only are sanction ineffective; they end up hurting the people of the country sanctions are being placed upon and actually increase the power of the very leaders we are trying to hurt. Instead of trying to isolate the youth of Iran we should be embracing them and try to bring western culture into their country. That would do more to change the political climate in Iran than any sanction. As I said in November the people of Iran simply don’t understand why they are being punished with sanctions. We need to come up with a solution that includes the people of Iran, instead of causing more misery upon them.

Now, I don’t think Senator Johnson is opposed to sanctions as a rule. This is because he has a bill ready to go with sanctions if diplomatic talks fail. Yet I can still support this move from Senator Johnson. Even if he is doing it for the wrong reasons, at least he is trying to restrain the US government from making yet another foreign intervention mistake (if only temporarily).

DC Republicans should be embracing the Iran Nuclear Deal

November 25, 2013 1 comment
Iran by Fran Hogan

Iran by Fran Hogan

This past weekend a deal was struck between Iran and six countries over the future of Iran’s nuclear program. The deal is far from perfect, but I believe it is as close as can be diplomatically expected. According to BBC the key bullet-points of this deal include:

  • Iran will stop enriching uranium beyond 5%, and “neutralise” its stockpile of uranium enriched beyond this point

  • Iran will give greater access to inspectors including daily access at the Natanz and Fordo nuclear sites

  • There will be no further development of the Arak plant which it is believed could produce plutonium

  • In return, there will be no new nuclear-related sanctions for six months if Iran sticks by the accord

  • Iran will also receive sanctions relief worth about $7bn (£4.3bn) on sectors including precious metals

It is the ability to enrich uranium beyond 5% that is being contested by DC Republicans. Even though the Arak plant is being stopped there may be more nuclear infrastructure to worry about in Iran. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) released a statement that included this:

“This agreement will not ‘freeze’ Iran’s nuclear program and won’t require the regime to suspend all enrichment as required by multiple UN Security Council resolutions. By allowing the Iranian regime to retain a sizable nuclear infrastructure, this agreement makes a nuclear Iran more likely. There is now an even more urgent need for Congress to increase sanctions until Iran completely abandons its enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.

The problem with Rubio’s statement is he wants the nuclear program to be frozen. That is not likely or even a reasonable expectation. Iran has invested a lot of resources in its nuclear infrastructure and it would be hard to imagine them suddenly giving that up and find alternative power sources any time soon. Yes, leaving the infrastructure in place does lead to a risk of Iran getting nuclear weapons, but that doesn’t mean a possibility of future nuclear weapons from Iran should be our top diplomatic concern.

The top diplomatic concern should be the people of Iran. This also from Rubio’s press release:

“This agreement is a blow to our allies in the region who are already concerned about America’s commitment to their security and it sends the wrong message to the Iranian people, who continue to suffer under the repressive rule of their leaders who have only their own self-preservation in mind.

I’ve seen many DC Republicans today make similar statements (many of whom I support on other issues). The problem is this statement hinges upon the belief that Iranian people understand why they are suffering. The average Iranian citizen watches the state-run television, reads the state-run newspapers, or browses the state-censored internet and thus believe the economic problems in Iran are all caused by the United States. Sanctions placed upon Iran have not made the leaders of the country suffer one bit. Rather the sanctions have made the average Iranian suffer in an economy that has been devastated. If anything continued sanctions will make it easier for the current Iranian administration to keep their total power over the people.

There is one thing missing from Rubio’s press release. What is the real reason DC Republicans are fighting against this Iran nuclear deal? Over at the Reason blog there is a post from Matthew Feeney that points to this quote from Fred Kaplan (Slate):

The Iranian nuclear deal struck Saturday night is a triumph. It contains nothing that any American, Israeli, or Arab skeptic could reasonably protest. Had George W. Bush negotiated this deal, Republicans would be hailing his diplomatic prowess, and rightly so.

Yep, this is a simple case of DC partisanship overriding critical thinking. To be fair if this had been a GW Bush negotiated deal the Democrats would likely be making the same arguments against it as the Republicans are now. Some things in DC never seem to change…

Categories: Foreign Policy Tags: ,

HR 850 shows there are 400 war-hawks in the House of Representatives

August 1, 2013 1 comment
Iran by Fran Hogan

Iran by Fran Hogan

Yesterday the House of Representatives voted on HR850: Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013. It passed with bipartisan support of 400-20. I watched part of the “debate” on the bill. It was very war-hawkish. At core is the question about what the US should do with Iran becoming closer to getting nuclear capabilities that can lead to nuclear weaponization. This bill was created, and passed, as a way to impose increased sanctions upon Iran. 

That will show Iran! Right?

This is a case where those of us who are anti-war and anti-interventionist just can’t understand why sanctions “must” be taken. First the assumption is made that sanctions will change the behavior of an “enemy government”. However foreign countries have no reason to believe that the US will ever drop sanctions. Look at Iraq as an example of this. Last year Jason Ditz wrote a post about the subject. Here is part of what he has to say:

In 1990, the United Nations imposed a massive array of sanctions on Iraq because Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The result was hundreds of thousands of civilians, by even the most conservative estimates, getting killed, and Madeline Albright getting her moment of infamy when she insisted the deaths of children was “worth it.”

In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, conquered the country, and installed a puppet regime. In 2006 the puppet regime captured and executed Saddam Hussein.

Today, portions of those anti-Iraq sanctions are STILL in place, and 5% of Iraq’s annual oil and gas sales to this day (Iraq is now the #2 producer on the planet) go to Kuwait as “reparations” for a war that was over 20+ years ago. With Iraq and Kuwait arguing over the positioning of a key port on the Persian Gulf, it is unlikely Kuwait will ever sign off on them.

This behavior is the norm for the US. Once sanctions start it is very near to impossible to get sanctions dropped. Removing sanctions is something that Congress appears to be against. Imposing sanctions wins political points by making it look like the government is “doing something”. But there appears to be little or no reason for Congress to ever remove sanctions. Even sanctions such those that have lasted over 50 years (think Cuba) are kept. I think by this time it could be said that sanctions did not have the intended effect.

But it is not for these reasons that I am truly against sanctions. I am against sanctions because they never hurt the “evil regimes” they are aimed at. Instead sanctions typically hurt the economy that average citizen in the target country relies upon. In this case the increased sanctions can be used by the Iranian regime to nurture an anti-American culture within the country. This is the younger generation of Iranians that no longer wants to be cut off from the western world. However the more sanctions we tighten upon the country, the more likely it is this generation will turn against us. 

But if we don’t impose sanctions does that mean we should do nothing? No! I would say we should do the opposite of imposing sanctions. We should increase trade with Iran. Along with importing their goods (yes, including oil) we should foster exports to Iran. Specifically we should try to export as many cultural goods as possible. It is not the current older generations that are going to change Iran. It is the younger generation that will be more open to western ways and our culture that will create change in Iran. That is unless we keep increasing sanctions that develop anti-western attitudes in the younger generations.

Unfortunately it is unlikely the US foreign policy will change any time soon. DC is full of war hawks that are willing to destroy the lives of millions of people just so they can “look tough” in regards to “evil regimes”. Going after increased sanctions each time there is a new diplomatic scare with Iran will do nothing but increase the chance of war in the future. I personally would like to believe we could find better means of dealing with foreign countries that don’t involve destroying the lives of millions.

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