Author: briansquared

The need for NATO

Last Friday the Leader of the Free World, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, met Donald Trump. The meeting did not go well. Merkel brought some German CEO’s with her to talk to President Trump on his level about trade between the two countries.  Instead, President Trump hit Chancellor Merkel up for money for NATO dues… Now we find out that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is missing the first NATO summit of foreign ministers so he can hang out with his buddy Vladimir Putin. Either President Trump doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about the institutions that have kept the United States and our allies safe since World War 2. I think it’s time for a little history lesson.

About every 100 years there is an international conflict that shakes up the hegemonic order of nation-states. Usually this is achieved through military conflict. The last major hegemonic shakeup was the end of World War 2. Prior to the war, England and their overseas empire was the strongest country in the world. Germany tried to challenge this world order twice and lost. At the end of the war the British Empire was overextended and the United States was the strongest military and economic country remaining. I think this was the first time the new world order changed without a military conflict between the two nations.

The United States was not the sole superpower very long. The Soviet Union began challenging us militarily, economically, and ideologically. What developed was two worlds: one, a group of democratic, capitalistic nation-states protected by the United States. Two, a group of communist, authoritarian countries protected by the Soviet Union. The United States protected their allies in many ways. Our allies France and England were given permanent seats on the United Nations with full veto power. The United Nations was chartered after World War 2 as a place to air international disagreements, and the three Democratic nations argued with the two Communist countries, the Soviet Union and China, for decades.

The United States also formed NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) to protect our allies. President Trump thinks NATO is irrelevant but he doesn’t get it. With our allies under the protection of the United States, it means our allies don’t have to develop nuclear weapons of their own. Less nuclear weapons on the planet means terrorists are less likely to steal components to develop a nuclear bomb. We only have one planet. There are already more than enough nuclear weapons in existence to destroy Earth many times over.

NATO keeps the United States and our allies safe militarily. Free trade unites our allies economically. The United Nations, when functioning properly, uses international diplomacy to air grievances without resorting to violence. The United States created all of these institutions after World War 2, when we were on top of the New World Order, to make our country stronger. 70 years later, the institutions still serve us well.

The Soviet Union challenged us anyway but ultimately collapsed because our institutions were stronger than their institutions. The Soviet Union shrank back to Russia and former Soviet nation-states like the Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia, and Estonia joined NATO in the 1990’s. At that point the United States became responsible for their protection. Russia, naturally, has always been threatened by NATO expansion.  That is why Vladimir Putin keeps provoking these countries. He wants to restore the former Soviet Union. To do this Putin must weaken or dismantle NATO. But Russian hacking of our election goes beyond reclaiming their former territories. It’s a declaration of war. Now, more than ever, we need NATO.

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Observatorytower updates

The Observatorytower is a new blog dedicated to public policy discussions.  The focus is on foreign and national policy at the federal level.  Here are some updates to the first stories published on the Observatorytower blog.

The first military intelligence mission of the Trump Administration in Yemen resulted in the loss of Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens’ life.  White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer called the mission a success because of the intelligence that was gathered, but Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, disputed this assessment.  Senator McCain pointed out that any loss of life can not be viewed as a success, causing Spicer to accuse McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war, of being unpatriotic and owing the Owens family an apology.  This war of words has not been resolved, rather the war of words has intensified.  Chief Owens’ father has called for an investigation into the raid that led to his son’s death.

In an update about election reform suggestions, one idea on the list has been proposed for ratification by the United States Senate.  After the 2016 election resulted in the popular vote winner losing for the second time in sixteen years, the integrity of our electoral process has been questioned.  As a result, outgoing Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA.) introduced legislation abolishing the electoral college.  The Electoral College disenfranchises voters in large states and gives too much power to the small states when electing a new President.

Stay tuned for future posts on the Observatorytower blog that will examine the institutions that have kept our country safe since the end of World War 2, including NATO, the United Nations, and free trade agreements.

Election Reform

It was clear long before 2016 that our country needs election reform.  Our federal elections are too long, too expensive, and focus on the wrong issues.  The following is a list of policies to be debated or adopted to get better candidates running for public office.

  1. Make Election Day a national holiday.  This is a no brainer.  We should celebrate the one thing that unites us all-that we are Americans- and give the country a day off to celebrate. It also gives citizens all day to vote in person if they don’t want to vote by mail.  Hopefully this increases voter turnout.
  2. Give Americans the choice to vote by mail or in person.  The key is to have a paper ballot trail in every state to review if the results are suspect.  Voting by mail is cheaper and has a paper trail, but there’s nothing more patriotic than showing up in person and voting with your neighbors.
  3. Abolish the Electoral College. It is undemocratic.  The Electoral College favors the small states too much and the electors don’t do their job protecting democracy.  The positive is the most popular candidate always wins.  The negative is without the Electoral College we could find ourselves with three or more parties and no presidential candidates will receive a majority of votes.  This creates a lack of a mandate for governing.  This also requires a constitutional amendment.
  4. Congressional Term Limits.  I believe most representatives have good intentions when entering politics.  I also think the cost of running for re-election is so high that it causes our leaders to compromise their values to hold onto that office.  So I propose 5 term limits for the U.S. House (10 years total) and 2 terms in the U.S. Senate (12 years total).  Requires a constitutional amendment.
  5. Shorten the campaign season.  Campaigns are long and expensive.  Begin the primaries in June and wrap them up by the end of July.  The political conventions would be held in August, and the debates in September and October.  Six months of campaigning is less expensive and less draining than the year and half of campaigning we have now.
  6. Free media coverage and limited campaign costs.  Free mailing for general election candidates, and free but equal advertising time on local television.  Public policy debates will air on television channels or they will be fined/and or have their license revoked.
  7. Revoke Citizens United.  This Supreme Court decision determined that campaign contributions equal free speech and therefore we cannot have transparency or limits about who is donating money to politicians.  At the very least we need disclosure so we know our leaders aren’t compromised.
  8. Reduce horse race coverage.  The corporate media spends too much time on the “horse race” coverage of presidential candidates and not enough on their policy positions.  Unfortunately, campaign coverage gets higher ratings than stories about public policy.  I don’t believe in restricting the press, but I think their priorities are misguided.

I think these ideas are a good beginning for a debate on improving our election system.

Words Matter

President Trump and Senator John McCain (R, Arizona) have never been friends.  This week the two renewed their feud over the characterization of the military operation in Yemen on January 29, resulting in the death of Chief Special Warfare Operator Willliam “Ryan” Owens.  Owens was the first military life lost under the Trump Administration.

Initially, White House press spokesman Sean Spicer praised the results of the military operation as a “successful raid” due to the intelligence information gathered, calling it a “huge success.”

Senator John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, disputed the White House’s claim and called the mission a “failure.” According to Politico.com, Senator McCain said “Every military operation has objectives.  And while many of the objectives in the Yemen raid were met, I would not describe any operation that results in the loss of American life a success.”  http://www.politico.com/story/2017/02/yemen-raid-success-sean-spicer-234804

The story should have ended there, but the Trump Administration pushed back on Senator McCain Tuesday. Spicer said in his press briefing “I think anybody who undermines the success of that (raid) owes an apology and (does) a disservice to the life of Chief Owens.” http://www.politico.com/story/2017/02/yemen-raid-success-sean-spicer-234804

After hearing the White House’s statements, Senator McCain, a former Vietnamese Prisoner of War, responded with a war story that claimed the moral high ground once and for all.  “Many years ago when I was imprisoned in North Vietnam there was an attempt to rescue POW’s.  Unfortunately, the prison had been evacuated but the brave men who took- risked their lives in an effort to rescue us prisoners of war were genuine American heroes.  Because the mission failed did not in any way diminish their courage and willingness to help their fellow Americans who were held captive.  Mr. Spicer should know that story.”  http://www.politico.com/story/2017/02/yemen-raid-success-sean-spicer-234804

On the surface, this is a story about words.  It’s really a story about perception.  The Trump Administration suffered a military setback, resulting in the loss of an American life.  Rather than focus on the details of the mission, the Trump Administration wrapped themselves in the American patriotism of Chief Owens.  To dispute the success of the mission was to dispute the sacrifice Chief Owens made for his country.

One sentence from Senator McCain sums this war of words up: “Because the mission failed did not in any way diminish their courage and willingness to help their fellow Americans who were held captive.”  http://www.politico.com/story/2017/02/yemen-raid-success-sean-spicer-234804  Americans can disagree with the characterization of a “successful” military mission without being unpatriotic.  Senator McCain proved words still matter.