Regime Change by Assassination Nation

This Wall Street Journal article discusses the intraparty dispute that has broker out within both the Republican and Democratic parties over the role of “regime change” in US foreign policy.  Against regime change are Republicans Donald Trump, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, joined by Democrat Bernie Sanders.  Hillary Clinton is for regime change, since she oversaw it in Egypt and Libya, although she says she argued for more gradual change in Egypt but was overruled by others in the Obama administration.  Her interventionism is echoed by Marco Rubio.

I am disappointed that the US has become “assassination nation,” beginning perhaps after World War II when the CIA was formed.  But it was relatively rare until the Bush and Obama administrations.  Bush just liked killing Muslims, mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan.  With drones Obama now can kill anybody anywhere, and he often does.  Assassination by drone is probably better than the old fashioned way which often involved many collateral casualties, even in the case of bin Laden.

For me, however, it goes against the standard set by leading men in the old Western movies, who did not shoot their enemies in the back.  Attacking individuals secretly from the sky seems cowardly, even if it may be good for American security.  You can argue that terrorists have no right to any kind of fair treatment, but when the US abandons fairness and justice, it sets a bad example for the rest of the world.



Trump and Visas

As a one-time visa officer, I am appalled at the misinformation about visas.

First, President Obama said the wife of the San Bernardino shooting couple had come to the US under a visa waiver program, when she had come under at fiancée K-1 visa.  That was probably just bad staff work, but for a major address, there should have been better fact checking.  Apparently, the State Department has said it will review the K-1 visa program, although a miniscule number of K visas are issued compared to temporary visas and even other types of immigrant visas.  It is just trying to make Obama look less stupid that he did Sunday night.  State will also review issuance procedures for other types of visas that are more relevant than fiancée visas.

The main problem with all visas is the lack of good intelligence about who is a problem and who is not.  The CIA and FBI can’t know what every person in the world harbors in his heart.  The only absolutely safe thing to do would be to stop issuing any visas and stop allowing any foreigners to enter the US.  There are probably a significant number of Americans who would support such a proposition, despite its disastrous effect on the US economy and the US reputation in the world.  But it would not be prohibited by the Constitution.  No foreigner has a Constitutional right to enter the US.  American citizens do have such a right, but they don’t need a visa, just a passport.

Trump’s proposal stops short of an across the board visa denial and would deny visas only to Muslims for a limited time, until as he said, “we can figure out what is going on.”  There has been outrage among various people, many of whom should know better, saying this is unconstitutional because it discriminates against a religion.  There is no Constitutional protection for visa applicants. By their reasoning, if we denied a visa to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, he would be entitled to appeal the visa denial all the way to the US Supreme Court.  That is ridiculous.  I know Joe Scarborough likes to go the mosque to pray, but he should not be so generous to ISIS terrorists.

Donald Trump’s proposal may not be the best solution to the terrorist threat, but it’s not illegal, and over the years, the US has had many very discriminatory visa programs.  When I was issuing visas, the big concern was the Communist threat; so, we denied visas to Communists. That doesn’t mean that we were engaged in some McCarthy-ite campaign against Americans who had some vague Communist connection.  We just didn’t what people who might foment some kind of trouble once they entered the United States on a visa.  Americans in America have Constitutional protection of free speech, but a Communist living in Moscow does not, although Joe Scarborough thinks he should have.  Joe thinks he has a right to come to America and work to overthrow the US government.  Or that a foreign Muslim has a Constitutional right to come to America and kill people, because he is innocent until proven guilty under the Fifth Amendment.  I don’t agree.  American citizens are protected by the Fifth Amendment; al-Baghdadi is not.

Star Wars and Me

I was pleasantly surprised to find myself quoted in one of the latest “Moments in Diplomatic History” published online by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST).

While working in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) during the Reagan Administration my main responsibility was to work on space arms control issues.  About halfway through my assignment, President Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) called “Star Wars.”  As you can see from the ADST article, the announcement came as a surprise to almost everyone in the foreign affairs and defense community of the government.  It was at least partly inspired by private conversations between Reagan and physicist Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb.

One of my jobs at ACDA was to write an “Arms Control Impact Statement” on space arms control.  Reagan’s Star Wars announcement threw a monkey wrench into that statement, since it proposed violating at least two arms control agreements, the Antiballistic Missile Treaty and the Treaty on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.  What made it even worse was that the statement had to be approved by the Defense Department, which meant Richard Perle, who was Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy.

Perle was opposed to almost any arms control agreement.  I have long believed the urban myth that at Reykjavik, after Reagan and Gorbachev had agreed to mutually eliminate all land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBNs), Perle kept Reagan up all night talking him into rejecting the deal the next day.  This ADST note sheds some light on that issue, which may be mildly favorable to Perle.  It says that in return for eliminating all these missiles, Gorbachev wanted Reagan to drop the SDI program, and Reagan was unwilling to do that, because he liked the SDI program so much.  However, the article also says that after the tentative Reagan-Gorbachev agreement, Richard Perle and General Robert Linhard hauled Reagan into a bathroom and told him “it was an impractical thing to do, especially at a time when the Administration was trying to convince Congress to fund a new generation of land-based missiles, the MX.”  So, maybe there is some truth to the urban myth about Perle.

In any case, Perle was going to make it very difficult to say anything bad about the arms control implications of the SDI.  I think that after a number of tries to get Defense Department clearance, the statement was so watered down that it hardly said anything.

While I was working on this issue at ACDA, I attended the only National Security Council meeting that I ever attended.  It was on SDI, and I went as the back bench support for the main ACDA representative.  I don’t remember exactly what was discussed, but I think NSC deputy Robert McFarlane chaired the meeting, and one of the main speakers was General James Abrahamson, who was famous for being the officer who oversaw the F-16 development program for the Pentagon, one of the most successful aircraft ever developed.  People hoped he could do the same thing for SDI, but even he couldn’t do it.