Deterring Chinese aggression against Taiwan is realistic and must be the commitment of any U.S. leader who refuses to accept American decline. Americans agree that China poses a serious threat to the United States, but there is disagreement about the ways China poses a problem and to what degree we can and should do something about it.
China’s economic coercion, censorship, theft, and pernicious efforts to make America more like China, or at least make Americans of the view that there is nothing wrong with the Chinese Communist way, are meant to help China exert greater influence over U.S. business, trade, speech, religious expression, travel, medicine, etc. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) snuffing out of liberties in Hong Kong and its domestic repression make perfectly clear what the CCP values and what behavior, speech, and thought they reward and punish.
China’s growing influence over U.S. culture, sports, and big business leaders will not simply fizzle out on its own. Stopping Chinese domination will require determined U.S. leadership. To do what, exactly? To untangle our countries’ financial interdependence, to create significant disincentives for Americans to bend to the CCP’s preferences and demands, to reshore critical manufacturing, to revitalize American education in research and technology, and to reassert U.S. sovereignty and promote and defend the American way of life.
So the astute American who appreciates how badly this country needs highly motivated and sustained political leadership to support a renewal in our civic and democratic institutions will also appreciate that this national renewal necessarily includes competing with and at times confronting China.
China has become much more influential in international institutions such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization, in addition to private companies, because of the size of its economy and the strength of its military. China has been amassing a large, precise, and diverse arsenal of missiles and has practiced using them against mockups of U.S. ships and the bases the United States has in the region. China has also built a Navy bigger than ours. It has invested in cutting-edge space and cyberspace technologies.
As China grows in strength militarily and economically, relative to the United States, it grows in its ability to coerce and pressure the United States and our allies. As China scholar Denny Roy summarized in an essay, China’s hegemonic intent is increasingly hard to deny:
Equally obviously, however, Beijing pressures, corrupts and coerces foreign governments to act in support of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) agenda in various ways, including military intimidation, cutting off trade, bribing foreign officials, grey zone activities, harassment in contravention of professional norms, hostage diplomacy, cyberwarfare and collusion with other outlaw governments. The frequent result is Beijing forcing other governments to abandon their preferred course of action – to ‘suffer what they must.’
This brings us to the question of Taiwan. “Unifying” the vibrant democratic and capitalist Taiwanese island to mainland communist China is the CCP’s highest priority. China has been harassing Taiwan incessantly, trying to intimidate and cause to despair its population of 24 million, who have repeatedly voted to remain autonomous and free.
Reasonable and decent people agree that Communist China’s ongoing assault against Taiwan is unjust, and that China is the aggressor against the democratic island that just wants to be left alone. But the first step for the CCP to establish hegemony over Eurasia is to overturn the status quo and to absorb Taiwan — including by military force if necessary.
Adm. Phil Davidson, in his outgoing congressional testimony as head of the Indo-Pacific Command last spring, estimated that China would invade Taiwan in six years. Analysts now refer to this ominous prediction as the “Davidson Window.”
The debate over whether the United States should be concerned over Taiwan’s fate would be more constructive if people knew that successfully deterring Chinese aggression against Taiwan is technically possible. It is. This is not to suggest the steps necessary to deter Chinese aggression are easy; they are not. But the steps are eminently doable, and defeatism is unwarranted.
But whatever we are going to do to deter Chinese aggression must begin now and be sustained over the next several years and then for the foreseeable future. Presumably Chinese leaders have not attempted to forcibly occupy Taiwan up until this point because they are not confident that the cost would be worth the gain.
The job before the United States is to make sure they continue to draw this conclusion. Broadly, this will require the United States to lead a coalition (the Aussies and Japanese are on board) to credibly convince the Chinese that we would prevent China from getting across the 80 miles of ocean to the Taiwan Strait before it could launch a full-scale invasion.
First, arm and cooperate heavily with our allies. This includes Taiwan, whose officials and public opinion polls repeatedly show have the will to fight off CCP invaders. Taiwanese polling data over the past several years emphatically shows a willingness of the people of Taiwan to fight (almost 80 percent in a recent poll) despite CCP disinformation to convey the opposite.
Importantly, a leading Taiwanese analyst noted: “the more supportive the United States appears, the more confident the people are; when the United States is less supportive, the people then lean toward China.” But they need to spend a lot more money on their defense and they must buy the right kinds of weapon systems necessary to pose an asymmetrical threat. We should insist they do so, privately.
There are other good conversations going on now to collaborate with allies for “capacity building,” for example, stockpiling munitions in and with Japan. But Japan should also buy from the United States and field a long-range strike capability. That’s still politically fraught in Japan, but less than it used to be, as Japan stares down the proverbial barrel of a CCP gun.
Good things are happening without the United States, too, but our steady hand in the region is undoubtedly needed. (Japanese warships have cooperated with Taiwanese warships to get Chinese ships to back off Taiwan.) There is also considerable potential for basing Unmanned Aerial Systems in the nearby Japanese and Philippine islands and Guam with relatively small landing strips. Unmanned Aerial Systems with long-range strike missiles could be formidable against transport ships, for example.
Second, the United States must prepare to withstand and then prevail in a Chinese-initiated missile attack. This means working on defenses to limit the damage of an attack and deploy offensive weapons to respond with formidable combat power. This requires hardening U.S. assets with passive and active defenses.
The good news is we can get started on this now if we do not permit bureaucratic inertia to get in the way. We don’t need more government reports to tell us it would be extremely good to put a robust (not impenetrable!) missile defense architecture that includes the full spectrum of already developed missile defense systems on the U.S. territory Guam.
Guam will be critical for any U.S. effort to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific and to prevent China from dominating it. It also means investing in new technologies like hypersonic weapons and defenses and the attendant sensor and tracking architecture. Some of this good work is underway but it needs to move faster. Our testing programs should also move faster and more obviously demonstrate a real-world ability against a Chinese attack. It also means investing in underwater warfare capabilities — submarines, submarines, submarines.
Third, the United States must revitalize and update our nuclear deterrence so it disabuses a potentially dangerous Chinese misunderstanding that it would be wise to use a low-yield nuclear weapon against U.S. forces. Well-meaning idealists might wish that nuclear weapons and their deterrent impact have no role in contemporary geopolitics. But our adversaries do not share that wish. In 2017, China announced its intention to build a “world-class military by the middle of the century.”
To their mind, this clearly means they want to be on the same level as the United States — and Russia (which has far more theater nuclear weapons than the United States) in nuclear weapons. Estimates are that China will at least double its nuclear warhead stockpile in the next decade.
Because the United States has not invested in theater-range nuclear weapons, China has exploited this. As Dr. Christopher Yeaw, who was the chief scientist of Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC)and theDepartment of Energy’s lead official in the development and rollout of the 2018 Trump administration Nuclear Posture Review, has written:
In these wargames, adversary crossing of the nuclear threshold has been deemed by players as quite credible, given the paucity of reciprocal US deterrent capabilities and the minimized collateral damage afforded by such adversarial employment. US players have found response options to be uncomfortably insufficient or even non-credible, largely because of a paucity of sufficient prompt, assured, proportional NSNW capability.
To bolster deterrence in the China context, we should address the paucity and we should be fully modernizing and adapting U.S. nuclear deterrence — not weakening, restricting, or shrinking it.
China has imperialistic ambitions, and it is naïve to insist it is not so. But, like the United States, it also has problems. We should not permit defeatism to reign, thereby surrendering the next century to one where Chinese Communism is the most influential global power.
China’s pandemic-spreading, bullying, coercion, lying, and opacity generally, but especially during the last two years, has seriously harmed its global reputation and galvanized U.S.-led coalitions opposing it. We have ample reason to be encouraged that we can exploit China’s weaknesses while keeping clear eyes to the threat and necessary moves to fight for American preeminence.
The goal for the United States must be to prevent a war with China and to fight for American sovereignty. The goal is to deter aggression that could lead to further escalation. If deterrence fails, we should be prepared to outmaneuver and out-muscle China to cause them to back down.
War is always a tragic outcome — but it is sometimes not the worst outcome. We could simply let the Chinese Communists take democratic Taiwan and the rest of Eurasia while we focus on worthy domestic debates and crises at home; and when we are finished with those domestic fights, we will look up to see that our country is at the mercy of Xi Jinping’s Chinese Communism. It is not a good trade.
We can successfully take on our domestic challenges while deterring CCP domination, and in doing so, preserve and strengthen American security and the American way of life — and we must.
With GOP poised to retake power in 2023, immigration agencies seek writers to draft 'responses to congressional inquiries'
The Biden administration is actively recruiting journalists to provide communications and public relations services on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security as it struggles to contain the illegal immigration crisis on the southern border.
This week, DHS posted three job openings for the position of “writer-editor”—one at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and two in the public affairs office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The timing and job descriptions suggest the Biden administration is already preparing for the onslaught of immigration-related congressional inquiries that will presumably occur if Republicans regain control of the House and Senate in 2023.
CBP, for example, is seeking a writer-editor whose duties will include drafting “responses to congressional inquiries on complex issues related to the enforcement of legislation.” The position, which comes with a generous starting salary of between $89,834 and $116,788, will also involve “presenting information to maximize understanding and minimize controversy among the intended audiences.”
ICE, meanwhile, is looking for two writers whose duties will include “creating talking points” for the senior agency officials who will presumably be called to testify before Congress if Republicans take power. According to the job listing, qualified candidates must have experience “following guidance from the leadership and adhering to the views of the organization’s leadership.” The position, which comes with an even more generous starting salary of between $126,233 and $164,102, requires a “secret” level security clearance and is classified as “high risk,” which refers to its “potential to damage the public’s trust in the Federal Government.”
Despite the Biden administration’s reluctance to address the border crisis, immigration remains a top concern among American voters. According to Gallup, immigration has consistently ranked among the top four issues Americans cite as the “most important problem” facing the country. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden’s top priority—so-called voting rights, or “election reform”—barely registers as a top concern for voters.
Just one in three voters approve of Biden’s handling of immigration, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. Perhaps they are turned off by Vice President Kamala Harris’s egregiously flippant attitude toward the situation. Fiscal year 2021 saw the highest level of migrant apprehensions (1.7 million) at the southern border in U.S. history, but because the Biden administration is already dealing with several significant crises, and because the mainstream media are reluctant to cover the issue for ideological reasons, immigration has largely been absent from the political conversation.
That will presumably change in the increasingly likely event that Republicans are victorious in this year’s midterm elections and take charge of the congressional hearing schedule in 2023. If the DHS job listings are in fact part of an effort to confront that eventuality, it would be a rare display of competence and preparation from an administration that has proven itself hopelessly inept when it comes to solving the problems Americans actually care about.
USAID pressed to disclose what safeguards are in place
Republican lawmakers are pressing the Biden administration to disclose what safeguards are in place to stop U.S. humanitarian aid to Afghanistan from enriching the Taliban, according to a letter sent Friday to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Eleven lawmakers, led by House Foreign Affairs Committee member Rep. Tim Burchett (R., Tenn.), say they “are concerned about the possibility of U.S. taxpayer dollars funding the Taliban’s terrorist regime,” according to the letter, which was obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. They are demanding that USAID, which is in charge of handling aid to Afghanistan, show what steps they have taken to ensure the Taliban cannot intercept these funds.
“Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan will finance Taliban terrorists if it is incompetently distributed,” Burchett told the Free Beacon. “The Biden administration needs to lay out what steps it is taking to prevent this from happening and adding more pain to last summer’s embarrassing withdrawal from the country.”
With more than $300 million slated to flow into Afghanistan this year as part of an effort to keep the country afloat after the Taliban regained control, the Biden administration has been mum about how it is preventing these funds from lining the Taliban’s pockets. The terrorist regime controls the nation’s coffers, meaning that any aid dollars that make their way to the government are at risk of being stolen. With this new infusion, nearly $800 million in aid will have been provided to the war-torn country since October 2020, making the United States Afghanistan’s largest donor.
USAID, in announcing the latest infusion of $308 million earlier this year, said that it is working with the Taliban to ensure aid makes its way to the people. The agency, however, did not detail the safeguards it has put in place.
“The United States continues to urge the Taliban to allow unhindered humanitarian access, safe conditions for humanitarians, independent provision of assistance to all vulnerable people, and freedom of movement for aid workers of all genders,” USAID said in a statement this week.
The Republican lawmakers say these assurances are not good enough. The Treasury Department in September 2021 issued sanctions waivers to permit U.S. transactions with the Taliban, prompting concerns the Taliban is playing a critical role in distributing American aid.
The lawmakers want answers from USAID “in light of the administration’s dealings with the Taliban, and knowing that the Taliban has a history of diverting and profiting from U.S. assistance to Afghanistan,” according to the letter.
The agency must also provide assurances that it will cooperate “with Congress as it conducts its constitutionally authorized oversight into all U.S. foreign assistance to Afghanistan,” according to the letter. The lawmakers are seeking a commitment from the administration to “reassess and pause” U.S. assistance to Afghanistan if it is determined the cash is funding the Taliban.
The American people, the lawmakers write, “deserve to have confidence that their tax dollars are not funding terrorist activities.”
Volunteers receive images and videos every day of Afghans, including children, executed at the hands of the Taliban.
Two months ago, Rambo, the code name for a commander in the Afghan National Army’s Special Operations Command, and seven other commandos were kidnapped by the Taliban. A video of the commandos’ execution was sent to members of Operation North Star, an all-volunteer organization working tirelessly to secure safe haven for thousands of Afghan allies abandoned by the State Department in post-withdrawal Afghanistan.
After watching the video hundreds of times in search of Rambo, volunteers “assumed the worst,” according to Ben Owen, a former U.S. Army infantryman and president of Flanders Fields, a nonprofit that raises funds for evacuation organizations Operation North Star and Task Force Argo.
Two weeks ago, Flanders Fields received a request to acquire a safe house in Afghanistan for an unidentified high-value target. An hour later, Owen received a pixelated photo of a familiar Afghan man being embraced by his family members on the safe house floor. Rambo had escaped Taliban captivity.
Maintaining Rambo’s safety presents constant monetary and logistical struggles for Flanders Fields and Operation North Star. Rambo “is essentially trapped in a meat grinder with his family,” according to a former U.S. Army recon platoon sergeant and Operation North Star volunteer we will call Duke. Rambo had inadequate time to apply for the documents the State Department requires to enter the United States prior to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Applying for the passport the Taliban require to exit Afghanistan would also put Rambo’s life at risk.
The only solution, according to Duke, is for the U.S. government to set up “a surged second wave of evacuations” to a host nation where at-risk Afghans like Rambo can “be further vetted by the State Department.”
Every day, Duke receives images and videos of Afghans, including children, executed by the Taliban. He sends the gruesome files to Amnesty International to document the Taliban’s relentless violence against the 10,000 to 100,000 Coalition Forces allies who remain in Afghanistan. Much of the proof he receives now comes from Rambo, whose “commando brothers [are] being tortured and killed,” Duke says. “It breaks my heart … that [the U.S. government] would leave this man and his family. Nobody at North Star is going to leave him. Never.”
An interpreter, whom we will call Nasir, is one of around 500 people Operation North Star has successfully exfiltrated from Afghanistan. After working with the U.S. Army for 10 years, Nasir was one of 18,800 interpreters mired in the State Department’s Special Immigrant Visa backlogs when Kabul fell.
In early August, he began receiving threats from the Taliban, who said they would take Nasir’s 10- and 13-year-old daughters as wives, “execute his pregnant wife, and cut the baby out of her in front of him before they kill him,” Owen said.
On Aug. 23, Nasir and his family joined the throngs waiting outside Hamid Karzai International Airport, hoping to be evacuated from Afghanistan. The first day, his three-year-old son was nearly killed after being trampled in a stampede incited by Taliban gunfire. The following day, Nasir suffered heatstroke and lost consciousness.
On Aug. 25, hellbent on getting through to the Americans, Owen says Nasir “plowed through Taliban” with his vehicle, which was riddled with bullet holes by the time he arrived at the meet-up point Owen had arranged with American contacts. After a tense handover period, Nasir and his family were brought to a U.S. facility where they remain now until Nasir’s background check and SIV is processed.
Another man’s evacuation story, who we will call Hassan, nearly ended in tragedy when the Operation North Star safe house he shared with a group of six Afghan Christians was raided by the Taliban. As an LGBT activist and gay man, Hassan was in serious danger when the Taliban, which reportedly maintains a kill list of homosexual Afghans, took him into custody. Miraculously, Hassan talked his way to freedom.
During eight weeks of shared hardship in their safe house, the leader of the Christian group became Hassan’s close friend. The group of seven has been evacuated to a third country, where they await the extensive vetting, including biometric identification and a lie detector test, that must occur prior to entry in the United States.
Operation North Star’s manifest includes about 30 dual citizens, and around 2,000 Afghan allies, government personnel, activists, minorities, and policewomen who are stuck in Afghanistan. Around 90 percent of these individuals do not possess the State Department paperwork required to enter the United States. For enemies of the Taliban, awaiting visa processing and vetting in Afghanistan is a dangerous proposition.
Just last week, when Feroza’s interpreter husband was killed by the Taliban, she also lost the chance to use the SIV program he qualified for. Now a widow in a country she cannot escape, Feroza cannot work or receive an education.
“Had the State Department not impeded every effort to evacuate [Feroza’s husband] and his family,” Owen told the Washington Examiner, “he’d still be alive.”
In July, U.S. Navy Lt. Cdr. Doug Ramsdell received a call from his former colleague, an Afghan commando we will call Noor Mohammad, who needed assistance leaving Afghanistan with his imperiled family as the Taliban gained ground in the country. Ramsdell jumped in headfirst to save his colleague, and Operation 620 was born. By mid-August, Noor Mohammad’s family of 10 had become a family of 260.
The Afghans on Ramsdell’s early manifest were Taliban targets, backed by U.S. military personnel willing to vouch for their honorable service to the United States, but none met the criteria to apply for the SIV program, which is limited to interpreters and personnel directly employed “by or on behalf of” the U.S. government. Ramsdell pursued Priority-1, Priority-2, and Humanitarian Parole visas in order to ensure these forgotten allies reach safety.
The day prior to the Aug. 26 bombing at the Kabul airport, Ramsdell directed his group to travel by bus to Mazar-i-Sharif. On their nine-hour overnight journey, the group went through 16 Taliban checkpoints. At a stop outside the city, one bus was robbed under the guise of taxation. Several Afghans were pulled off the bus that followed. Under interrogation, they thanked the Taliban for “sav[ing] [them] from the wicked western philosophy,” Ramsdell said. They were allowed back on the bus.
When plans to fly the group out of Afghanistan did not materialize, Ramsdell located safe houses and optimized security measures. Over the following weeks, the organization continued to grow. Today, 620 Afghans, including teachers, medics, and aircrew chiefs, are putting their faith in Ramsdell’s team to find them safe haven outside their homeland.
Despite constant efforts from Ramsdell’s all-volunteer team to provide for their safety, more than 50 Afghans from Operation 620’s original manifest are missing. Ramsdell says they have been “disappeared” by Taliban hit squads, who have access to biometric data and personnel lists left behind by the U.S.
For a time, the Taliban’s stranglehold on media kept evidence of these reprisals from reaching Western audiences. Finally, last month, Human Rights Watch reported having “credible information on over 100 killings” of former Afghan military, police, and intelligence personnel in four of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces between Aug. 15 and Oct. 31.
Due to shortcomings with the SIV program, a chaotic withdrawal, and a lack of assistance to stranded allies or the aid groups assisting them, Afghan allies stuck in Afghanistan face constant danger with little hope for their future. Evacuation groups working to bring them to safety need millions of dollars to transport Afghans to host countries where they can await visa processing and vetting, and to support and sponsor Afghans as they await humanitarian parole adjudication. They also need assistance from the U.S. government.
As it stands, Operation 620 and Operation North Star spend between $12 and $30 per person every day to provide protection, food, water, and safe houses for at-risk Afghans who are hunted in their home country for their service to the United States. The costs to these groups will likely increase as winter and a devastating food crisis arrive.
At present, both groups are struggling to meet their funding needs. Operation 620 is currently $95,000 in the red. Operation North Star has twice run out of funds, severely affecting their ability to assist those in dire need. Even as funding diminishes, the number of struggling Afghans does not. Owen says he receives “thousands of messages” from Afghan allies in need of aid every day.
HONG KONG (Reuters) – A leading Hong Kong university has dismantled and removed a statue from its campus site that for more than two decades has commemorated pro-democracy protesters killed during China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.
The artwork, of anguished human torsos, is one of the few remaining public memorials in the former British colony to remember the bloody crackdown that is a taboo topic in mainland China, where it cannot be publicly commemorated.
Known as the “Pillar of Shame,” the statue was a key symbol of the wide-ranging freedoms promised to Hong Kong at its 1997 return to Chinese rule, which differentiated the global financial hub from the rest of China.
The city has traditionally held the largest annual vigils in the world to commemorate the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
The Council of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) said in an early Thursday statement it made the decision to remove the statue during a Wednesday meeting, “based on external legal advice and risk assessment for the best interest of the University”.
“The HKU Council has requested that the statue be put in storage, and that the University should continue to seek legal advice on any appropriate follow up action,” it said.
Late on Wednesday night, security guards placed yellow barricades around the eight-metre (26-foot) high, two-tonne copper sculpture.
Two Reuters journalists saw scores of workmen in yellow hard hats enter the statue site, which had been draped on all sides by white plastic sheeting and was being guarded by dozens of security personnel.
Loud noises from power tools and chains emanated from the closed off area for several hours before workmen were seen carrying out the top half of the statue and winching it up on a crane towards a waiting shipping container.
A truck later drove the container away early on Thursday. The site of the statue was covered in white plastic sheets and surrounded by yellow barricades. University staff later placed pots of Poinsettia flowers, a popular Christmas decoration in Hong Kong, around the barricades.
‘MEMORIES WRITTEN WITH BLOOD’
Several months ago, the university had sent a legal letter to the custodians of the statue, a group which organised the annual June 4 vigils and has since disbanded amid a national security investigation, asking for its removal.
A June 4 museum was raided by police during the investigation and shut, and its online version cannot be accessed in Hong Kong.
Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot, who created the statue, said in a statement he was “totally shocked” and that he would “claim compensation for any damage” to his private property.
Galschiot, who values the statue at around $1.4 million, had offered to take it back to Denmark, but said his presence in Hong Kong was necessary for the complex operation to go well and asked for reassurances he would not be prosecuted.
HKU said in its statement that no party had ever obtained approval to display the statue on its campus and that it had the right to take “appropriate actions” any time. It also called the statue “fragile” and said it posed “potential safety issues.”
Tiananmen survivor Wang Dan, who now lives in the United States, condemned the removal in a Facebook post as “an attempt to wipe off history and memories written with blood.”
The campus was quiet early on Thursday, with students on holiday. Some students dropped by the campus overnight after hearing the news.
“The university is a coward to do this at midnight,” said 19-year-old student surnamed Chan. “I feel very disappointed as it’s a symbol of history.”
Another student surnamed Leung said he was “heart-broken” to see the statue “being cut into pieces”.
The removal of the statue is the latest step targeting people or organisations affiliated with the sensitive June 4, 1989, date and events to mark it.
Authorities have been clamping down in Hong Kong under a China-imposed national security law that human rights activists say is being used to suppress civil society, jail democracy campaigners and curb basic freedoms.
Authorities say the law has restored order and stability after massive street protests in 2019. They insist freedom of speech and other rights remain intact and that prosecutions are not political.
China has never provided a full account of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Officials gave a death toll of about 300, but rights groups and witnesses say thousands may have been killed.
“What the Communist Party wants is for all of us to just forget about this (Tiananmen). It’s very unfortunate,” John Burns, a political scientist at the university for over 40 years who had called for the statue to remain, told Reuters.
“They would like it globally to be forgotten.”
(Additional reporting by Sara Cheng, Alun John, Eduardo Baptista and Marius Zaharia; Writing by James Pomfret and Marius Zaharia; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Michael Perry)
Bipartisan coalition presses Biden admin to hold terror groups accountable
The Biden administration is ignoring a congressional mandate to impose sanctions on the Iranian-backed terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah for their use of human shields in combat, according to a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers.
Congress passed legislation in 2018 that requires the U.S. government to sanction every individual involved in the use of human shields, in which women and children are placed in harm’s way during combat to maximize casualties. Hamas and Hezbollah routinely employ this tactic during skirmishes with Israel to make it appear as if the Jewish state is killing innocent civilians.
“Despite overwhelming evidence, the Biden administration has yet to impose sanctions—as required by law—on the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah for their barbaric use of human shields,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.) told the Washington Free Beacon. “These sanctions are long overdue and will send a strong signal that the United States will not tolerate the use of human shields.”
Gallagher and a coalition of 22 lawmakers from both parties wrote to the Biden administration earlier this week to demand that it enforce the Shields Act, which mandated sanctions be applied on Hamas and Hezbollah for their use of civilians in combat, according to a copy of the letter obtained exclusively by the Free Beacon. While former president Donald Trump laid the groundwork for the law to be implemented in 2019, the Biden administration has yet to issue any sanctions on the terror groups or their leaders.
“While the U.S. government has taken other strong measures to combat Hamas and Hezbollah in recent years, it has yet to sanction Hamas and Hezbollah leaders for their use of human shields,” the lawmakers wrote in a Dec. 20 letter to the Treasury and State Departments, which are tasked with implementing the law. “Imposing such sanctions would make clear the U.S. government does not tolerate the use of human shields and would encourage like-minded countries to take similar measures against this war crime. It would also augment the Biden administration’s efforts to undermine Hamas and weaken Hezbollah.”
During the 11-day conflict in May between Israel and Hamas, the terror group used human shields. Hamas, for instance, placed stockpiles of weapons in apartment buildings and installed a military headquarters next to a kindergarten, according to information published by the Israel Defense Forces. Rocket launchers were also found positioned in a school courtyard and near civilian structures.
“Each rocket launched at Israeli civilians from a site amongst Gaza civilians was thus a double war crime, violating the law of armed conflict prohibition on targeting civilians as well as the prohibition on using civilians as human shields,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.
In one of the most glaring examples of Hamas’s use of human shields, it situated a military command post in an apartment building that housed journalists from the Associated Press and other outlets. Israel destroyed that complex after warning civilians to evacuate. The strike sparked outrage in headlines across the globe, forcing Israel to produce evidence proving that Hamas had taken over the building.
Yahya Sinwar, a Hamas leader based in the Gaza Strip who has close ties to Iran, said in May 2018 that the terror group has an expressed policy of using Palestinian civilians as human shields.
Hamas “decided to turn that which is most dear to us—the bodies of our women and children—into … a dam to prevent the racing of many Arabs towards the normalization of ties with the plundering entity,” Sinwar said.
“Imposing Shields Act sanctions on Sinwar and other relevant Hamas leaders would be an important step toward countering the extensive use of human shields against the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.
Orde Kittrie, a former State Department official and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, described the congressional letter as a “positive step forward” in combating Hamas’s and Hezbollah’s use of human shields.
“The extensive use of human shields by Hamas and Hezbollah in recent years is well documented,” Kittrie said. “Imposing sanctions would make clear the U.S. government does not tolerate the use of human shields and would encourage our NATO and other allies to take similar measures against this war crime.”
Homeland Security announcement comes amid record surge in illegal immigration
Nearly a year after President Joe Biden suspended development of the southern border wall, his administration announced Monday it will close gaps left open by the halt in construction.
The Department of Homeland Security said it will focus on gaps in the border in its Tucson, El Paso, and Yuma sectors—regions that have seen record levels of illegal immigration this year. DHS said it will also add “missing gates” and connect “power to gates that are already hung but are currently inoperable.” Border Patrol agents use the so-called emergency rescue gates to save migrants stranded in irrigation canals.
Biden in January suspended construction of the southern border wall, started under former president Donald Trump, leaving hundreds of miles of border construction incomplete. In the months since, U.S. authorities apprehended more than 1.7 million migrants at the border, according to Customs and Border Protection, the highest single-year count on record.
Among other efforts to address problems stemming from the halt in border construction, DHS said it will tackle soil erosion and flooding near unfinished projects.
The initiatives are expected to begin next year, CBP officials told CBS News. In the agency’s statement, DHS called on Congress to cancel funds it allocated for border wall construction during the Trump administration.
“The administration continues to call on Congress to cancel remaining border wall funding and instead fund smarter border security measures that are proven to be more effective at improving safety and security at the border,” the agency said.
In the period since President Joe Biden marked his hundredth day in office, his popularity as president has tumbled about thirteen points from the mid–50 percent range to the low 40s. The most precipitous drop occurred in late summer 2021, around the time of the Afghanistan debacle. Although it is easy to explain why Biden continues to lose the trust of a majority of Americans, at year’s end he retains the support of a significant minority who still endorse his basic worldview and think that casting further aspersions on Donald Trump will somehow deflect attention from Biden’s own record.
Going into 2022, that deflection will not work. Biden is likely to lose his precarious control over both the Senate and the House unless he can confront and correct his hapless record of misguided priorities. Start with his self-inflicted Afghan meltdown and its repercussions. Before September 1, 2021, there was no reason for the United States to cut and run in Afghanistan. The heavy losses were in the past. Troop levels were low (around 2,500). Casualties were even lower: zero. A coordinated strategy was in place for the Afghans to take the military lead. Biden was consumed by his desire to score political points by pulling out before the symbolic date of September 11, 2021, even though the Taliban were not holed up in their winter caves but were still active in the field. When Biden cut off supplies and logistics, the Afghan army folded. Now, after the Taliban takeover, the risk of starvation, religious intolerance, and subordination and degradation of women are the order of the day.
Biden might describe this debacle as a “success” but it is turning out to be the opening round of a further array of setbacks in other areas. No ally can trust him fully. No foreign aggressor need fear that a strategic Biden pulled out of Afghanistan to save scarce military assets for use in other dangerous theaters. If anything, more resources must now be devoted to the Middle East as Iran, Russia, and Turkey—all with severe problems of internal stability—regard Biden as an easy mark to be toyed with rather than a serious adversary to be avoided. And so, look forward to further Russian incursions in Ukraine and intensified activities in remote places like Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey, where US Secretary of State Antony Blinken finds it difficult to tell friend from foe. China’s aggressive intentions toward Taiwan are also fueled in part by Biden’s squeamish attitude.
Given these hostile developments, some expansion of military forces, especially naval and air, seems to be imperative, but Biden is more concerned with long-term climate change and a dangerous flirtation with woke politics in the military. The Defense Department’s bold words on our national preparedness are belied by the 1.6 percent budget increase, a below-inflation increase, which is likely to cause systematic programmatic delays that go hand-in-hand with increased tensions across multiple theaters.
Similarly, Biden’s energy policy reflects systematic presidential overreach, starting with his opening day executive order that unilaterally revoked the permit for the long-overdue Keystone XL pipeline. That decision was an open affront to our Canadian allies, who are far less likely to put their trust in the United States going forward. But more important, it was the first step in the president’s concerted plan to slow-walk the continued development of US fossil fuel sources, relying on the vain hope that increased production of wind and solar will somehow offset those hefty losses. But when the shortages start to set in and the gas prices go up, Biden engages in a “grand” strategic gesture to release some fifty million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum reserve, which will cover less than three days of domestic supply. At the same time, he issues his marching orders to the FTC to investigate the oil companies for alleged price fixing, only to find oil prices dropping shortly thereafter.
Biden’s initial energy blunders have led to further adverse consequences. His appeal to OPEC and others to increase the output of crude oil to offset shortages in the domestic production have fallen on deaf ears. Worse, Biden might well adopt suggestions from Senator Elizabeth Warren to ban or cut back on foreign exports, which could only make matters worse, in part, by slowing down the replacement of dirtier coal with cleaner natural gas. Any export ban would also lead to a decline in domestic production overall, idling refining capacity. These two factors in combination could lead to job and revenue losses, as dirtier foreign energy displaces cleaner domestic production. Biden’s first priority should be to unleash, not stifle, domestic activity.
Nonetheless, Biden has doubled down on his anti-fossil-fuel policies. His misnamed Build Back Better (BBB) program contains a long list of taxes, fees, and regulations that are intended to stifle the production of fossil fuels, which compounds the energy market distortions created by offering a dizzying array of subsidies for solar and wind. These latter sources are not the pollution-free solutions that they are often advertised to be, including, for example, the deforestation in the Philippines in order to mine the larger quantities of nickel needed by solar power systems. Yet Biden is strangely unaware of the downside to alternative energy sources and thus has plunged forward with his recent “Executive Order on Catalyzing Clean Energy Industries and Jobs Through Federal Sustainability.” His program targets zero-emissions programs for electricity generation, automobile fleets, and physical plants. His order does not make the slightest effort to put a cost estimate to the program or to make the elementary calculation on whether a higher rate of return can be achieved through greater efficiency in fossil-fuel production. His program purports to set federal policy for “a carbon-pollution-free electricity sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050,” which both sidesteps Congress on the one side and seeks to bind future presidents and future Congresses on the other. Ironically, Biden thinks he can achieve savings “through use of full lifecycle cost methodologies”—the case with nickel could easily point against wind and solar.
Furthermore, although the particular impact of this program on the overall economy is unclear at best, nothing in his executive decree addresses the level of inflation, which reached 6.8 percent in November 2021. The Democratic faithful, such as John Cassidy of the New Yorker, spin a happy tale that the crux of the difficulty lies in a combination of supply chain problems and the COVID pandemic, so that when these quiet down, inflation can subside to its former 2 percent level. But Biden is not wise to pin too much hope on this theory, which rids his administration of responsibility even as it battles its own ill-conceived COVID policies, including the increasingly unpopular vaccine mandates being clobbered in the courts. Rather, the large increases in money supply, spurred by government spending and the purchase activities of the Federal Reserve, are key parts of the inflation story.
The biggest inflationary threat comes from the combination of taxation, public expenditures, and regulations associated with “Build Back Better.” At this point, it looks as though that new bill will not make it past the Senate, which Biden should regard as a blessing in disguise. He can then campaign on the platform that our current economic woes were intensified by the failure of the Senate to engage in much-needed public investment, while breathing a sigh of relief that matters did not get any worse.
But they can. A quick look at trade policy suggests how matters can unravel with another round of government meddling. The strongest rap against Donald Trump was the constant fear that his meddling in international markets could lead to trade wars and dangerous protectionism. But now the Biden administration has moved into a protectionist stance, including gratuitous spats with Canada (yet again) over a proposed tariff increase on Canadian softwood lumber, which will only slow down growth in the domestic construction industry. Biden has lost sight of the central principle of trade policy, which is never to arrange tariffs for concentrated domestic industries; the high costs will hurt consumers and export markets that depend on the use of cheaper inputs to remain competitive in markets.
It is therefore no surprise that Biden finds voters pessimistic about both his limited leadership capabilities on the one hand, and his economic policies on the other. Candidate Biden ran on bold promises that helped get him elected. But President Biden has fallen short. Almost a year remains for him to set his house in order in time for the congressional elections, but he shows little inclination to become more moderate, rendering it all the more likely that on the day of reckoning he will have little personal esteem or political support.
GOP lawmakers want full accounting of failed vetting efforts
More than four months after the Biden administration airlifted nearly 75,000 Afghans out of the war-torn country, it still does not know the identity or backgrounds of many who have since been resettled in the United States, according to three senators who received classified briefings on the situation.
“During a nonpublic briefing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, it was made clear that not all security and vetting measures have been taken to ensure the safety of our homeland,” Sens. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), Josh Hawley (R., Mo.), and Rick Scott (R., Fla.) disclosed in a letter sent Thursday to the Department of Homeland Security. The lawmakers are ordering the Biden administration to account for its failed vetting efforts and to “address the lack of transparency regarding this evacuation and resettlement operation.” Congress, the lawmakers disclose, still does not have basic information about who the refugees are or if they were qualified to be brought into the country.
“It is beyond unacceptable that several months after President Biden’s disastrous and deadly withdrawal we still do not have a full account of all the Americans who are still trapped in Afghanistan or a full account of the Afghans who were evacuated to the U.S.,” the lawmakers write, according to a copy of the letter obtained exclusively by the Washington Free Beacon.
In the months since the Biden administration airlifted Afghans out of the country, it has obstructed congressional investigations into the bungled evacuation effort. Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted to Congress in September that most refugees were not vetted prior to arriving stateside. Internal emails show that those helming the evacuation effort were ordered to fill flights to “excess” with unvetted Afghans. More than 12,000 Afghan refugees, and potentially more, arrived without a visa or basic identification, the Free Beacon first reported in October.
With the administration hoping to turn the page on its chaotic exit from Afghanistan, Johnson—ranking member of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations—and his colleagues say that they will not back down from their oversight efforts.
“We are still concerned about your agencies’ ability to fully vet these individuals if they do not have any identification documents and cannot prove who they claim to be,” the letter to DHS states.
The lawmakers also expressed concern that the hasty evacuation of these Afghans was undertaken as hundreds of Americans were trapped in the country with no way to get back home. The Biden administration announced in October around 300 Americans were still stuck in the country but has not made any updates since.
Before the end of the year, the lawmakers demand the Biden administration disclose to lawmakers how many Afghan refugees cannot be identified and the steps being taken to ensure these individuals are not violent criminals or affiliated with terrorist organizations. They also want to know if the Biden administration created new identity documents for those who arrived without any paperwork.
The lawmakers also call on the administration to disclose if any of the Afghan refugees have been connected to terrorism or other crimes, as well as if they were interviewed in person by U.S. personnel prior to being resettled. Reports indicate that some of those airlifted to America were complicit in child trafficking and sex crimes.
In light of these reports, the senators want to know how many refugees have been arrested by U.S. law enforcement and are slated to be deported from the country. This includes details about whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained any of these Afghans over national security concerns.
DHS must also “provide the number of these Afghan nationals and other foreign nationals that have been resettled in each state so far,” according to the senators’ information request.
In October, a few weeks after Lebanon’s politicians had formed a new government, the Biden administration sent Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland to Lebanon to showcase U.S. support for the new Hezbollah-led government. In Beirut, Nuland announced $67 million in additional funds for the Lebanese Armed Forces, and briefed Lebanese leaders on other administration initiatives to bolster the Lebanese system.
That this was a government formed by Hezbollah and its allies was of little consequence to the administration’s decision. In fact, the United States, along with France, the two western countries most directly involved in Lebanese affairs, have made clear their policy rests on investing in and stabilizing the Hezbollah-controlled status quo.
The Lebanese government formation process began a year earlier, when, following the August 2020 Beirut port explosion, French president Emmanuel Macron presented his initiative to the Lebanese. Macron was straightforward about who he considered his principal interlocutor in Beirut. During his visit to Lebanon, Macron met with Hezbollah officials, and, according to a French press report, he offered to partner with them in Lebanon. “I want to work with you to change Lebanon,” he proposed to a Hezbollah member of parliament.
Macron wasn’t subtle about his aims. When he returned to Beirut in September 2020, he was accompanied by the chairman and chief executive officer of the French container shipping giant CMA CGM Group, which is vying, among other things, to operate the container terminal at the Beirut port. Earlier this year it acquired the license to operate the container terminal at the port of Tripoli. The ministry that overseas Lebanon’s ports, Public Works and Transportation, is held, not coincidentally, by Hezbollah. In November, the Hezbollah minister Ali Hamieh, who holds French citizenship — also arguably no coincidence — launched an international tender for the management, maintenance and operation of the Beirut port container terminal. France reportedly also has expressed interest in the electric sector and public transportation.
With an eye on European leadership, France has been making a power play in the eastern Mediterranean, deploying frigates and participating in naval exercises in support of Greece — with whom it signed a defense pact — and in opposition to Turkey. Lebanon is tangential to this play, but the country hosts relevant French holdings. In 2018, a consortium led by French energy giant Total signed an agreement with Lebanon to explore for oil and gas in two of its ten offshore blocks. While the exploration in one of the blocks turned up dry, drilling in the second block in the waters off of south Lebanon, near the border with Israel, is yet to begin. On this end, Paris is getting an assist from a parallel American initiative.
The Biden administration is pushing to revive stalled maritime border demarcation talks between Israel and Lebanon. The talks were set in motion in the final months of the Trump administration, with the misguided belief that Lebanon’s economic duress, and the promise of revenue from potential offshore gas, would quickly lead to a deal. Predictably, the talks came to a halt as the Lebanese expanded their demands by several hundred kilometers to lay claim to Israeli fields and territorial waters. The Biden administration’s point man for the initiative, Senior Advisor for Global Energy Security Amos Hochstein, who also visited Beirut in October, has made telling comments about the assumptions underpinning the policy.
As was the case with the State Department under the previous administration, the basic premise behind the US mediation effort continues to be entirely about finding ways to inject funds into the Lebanese system. In an interview, Hochstein pitched the Biden administration’s fantastical vision to the Lebanese: reach a speedy agreement and by 2025, Lebanon would be “joining the rest of the Eastern Mediterranean in selling gas into the global market, and you become a global exporter of a product.”
The fact that the Lebanese government, indeed the entire political order, is run by Hezbollah, does not temper the administration’s vision. At one point, Hochstein’s interviewer had to interject with a reminder that Hezbollah is under US sanctions. Seemingly caught off guard, Hochstein replied that he saw “Lebanon as a country,” and didn’t “think of Hezbollah as Lebanon.” That is, whereas the French have done away with all pretense, reaching out directly to Hezbollah to secure their interests, the US continues to pretend that Hezbollah and the Lebanese “state” are two different things.
Naturally, any potential future revenues from offshore gas, assuming whatever is found is commercially viable, would be available to Hezbollah. What’s more, Hochstein spoke openly of the fact that the initial investments “international European and American companies,” would make in Lebanon would be in “southern Lebanon.” That is, in Hezbollah’s heartland.
The Biden administration would like to see more than just energy companies invest in the Hezbollah-run order in Lebanon. The Biden team, in tandem with Macron, has been pressing Saudi Arabia to do just that. Even after the kingdom publicly declared it wanted nothing to do with Lebanon, Hochstein still reiterated the administration’s call for the Gulf states to give “political and financial support.”
In particular, the Biden administration wants the Saudis to fund the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and other security agencies. In that desperate effort’s most bizarre moment, the administration and the Macron government had the US and French ambassadors in Lebanon travel to Riyadh last July to plead with the kingdom to resume funding to Beirut.
The LAF represents the flip side of the administration’s fictional take on Lebanon. The false distinction between Hezbollah and so-called “state institutions” serves as cover for injecting funds to stabilize the Hezbollah-run order. The Saudis recognize this as an American fantasy and have brushed off these requests, in the recognition that they would only be propping up an Iranian satrapy.
The Biden administration, on the other hand, has doubled-down on finding what it has euphemistically dubbed “creative ways” to underwrite the Hezbollah-run order. Since rushing some $60 million in cash to the LAF command in June, the administration has been preoccupied with mining for more money, including reprogramming funds appropriated years earlier, in order to subsidize more LAF expenditures and underwrite the salaries of LAF personnel. It is looking to do the same with other security agencies — all on the US taxpayer’s dime.
Although the administration has justified this wholesale welfare program by saying the LAF is unable to pay for maintenance, fuel, food, or medicine, the US continues to send more expensive military equipment to the LAF. In November, the US ambassador to Lebanon chaperoned the LAF commander around Washington, DC, as he met with members of Congress and Defense and State Department officials, in order to secure more funding. One idea the administration is discussing involves the creation of a fund, totaling some $86 million a year, to directly supplement LAF salaries with a monthly stipend. The fund would be managed by the United Nations, thereby allowing the administration and other potential donors to bypass domestic laws that impede directly supplementing salaries of foreign troops.
In addition to managing Lebanon’s security sector, the administration decided to take on Lebanon’s chronically dysfunctional energy sector as well. The solution it settled on is to wheel Egyptian gas and Jordanian surplus electricity to Lebanon through Syria. In the process, the administration has circumvented sanctions on the Syrian regime, and has opened the door for Arab re-engagement with Bashar Assad. Moreover, when Hezbollah announced it would bring in Iranian shipments of fuel to Lebanon, the administration welcomed it.
That the Biden administration is propping up the Hezbollah-run order in Beirut, and even providing relief for Iran’s Syrian ally, is a feature, not an anomaly, of their “Lebanon policy.” It’s not only that this posture is a logical corollary of its policy of realignment with Iran, which is built on recognizing Iranian spheres of influence in the region. It’s also that the nature of Lebanon inevitably leads to this endpoint. Structurally, the Lebanese system draws in foreign western powers to underwrite its Hezbollah-dominated political order in an accommodation with the regional power, Iran, which runs the order through its local representative. The bottom line is constant: perpetual investment.
Both France and the US have signed on to this accommodation with Iran, but they approach it differently. Whereas the French are open about the need for partnership with the Iranians in Lebanon, they are cynical enough to have others pay for it. Hence, they are content to see the US securing their Lebanese holdings. The Biden administration, meanwhile, prefers to dissimulate. It doubles down on a policy of underwriting a Hezbollah-dominated system while hiding behind the fiction of a distinct “Lebanese state.” And thus, the US is simply pouring its own citizens’ money into maintaining Iranian real estate under Hezbollah management.
A failure of American nerve
“Democracy needs champions,” President Biden said on December 9 as he called to order his summit of democracies. It sure does. Yet Biden has a funny way of championing it.
Less than a year into his term, the number of global democracies has already decreased by one. Two others are under threat of invasion and extinction. What happened in Afghanistan, and what might happen to Ukraine and Taiwan, is a reminder that democracies do not vanish because of a failure to pass a partisan agenda or win an election. They die when the rule of law collapses. And that can happen in two ways. A polity can descend into anarchy. Or an adversarial force can replace a democratic state’s monopoly on violence with its own.
Both threats are serious. The risk of internal decay was manifest in the riots of 2020 and the storming of Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021. The moment demands that both Republicans and Democrats recommit to the rule of law, to constitutional deliberation and procedure, to empirical evidence, and to civil peace. But domestic challenges should not blind us to external dangers.
Otto von Bismarck once joked that the United States is blessed to be bordered on two sides by allies and on the other two sides by fish. Not every democracy is as lucky. The fate of freedom elsewhere is tenuous. For the last 80 years, American power and American security guarantees have sustained and expanded the ranks of democratic nations. The tinier and more fragile the state, the more hazardous its neighborhood, the more it depends on American aid and American strength. Remove America from the equation, and the jackals take its place.
That is what happened when America cut off aid to South Vietnam in 1975. It is what happened only a few months ago when President Biden overruled his national security team and the generals on the ground and withdrew U.S. forces from Afghanistan with no plan for the evacuation of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents as the Taliban advanced. Was the democratically elected government of Afghanistan flawed and corrupt? Yes. Was its control limited to the major cities? You bet. Did it nevertheless provide countless Afghans (population of Kabul: four million) a measure of freedom, security, and opportunity in which they could pursue their destinies in peace? Incontrovertibly.
And it’s gone. Because Biden lacked the will to sustain a relatively low deployment of U.S. troops to aid Afghan forces. America’s weary democracy endures. Afghanistan’s does not. And the man who condemned Afghanistan to misery—and who incidentally also had no problem abandoning South Vietnam to one-party Communist rule—now says the contest between authoritarianism and liberal democracy will define the twenty-first century. What he says is right. But what he does is wrong. Terribly wrong.
Consider Ukraine. It too is a democracy—and it too must be worried about Biden’s resolve. For the second time this year, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has built up his forces across Ukraine’s eastern border. A Russian invasion is a real, if unlikely, possibility. Putin is not “securing his border,” as if Ukrainians were entering Russia illegally looking for work. There isn’t any. Nor does Putin “feel threatened” by NATO. He’s the one making the threats. He’s the one who annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014. He’s the one raising the prospect of a major military operation against an independent state. It’s funny how many of America’s most famous “nationalists” don’t seem to be bothered by imperialism, so long as the imperialists speak Russian.
President Biden is vocal in defense of Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence. But he is also playing into Putin’s strategy of “reflexive control.” Biden agreed to a video teleconference with Putin that had one upshot: elevating the autocrat’s status. Biden warns of sanctions, an end to pipeline construction, and reinforcement of NATO allies in Eastern Europe. The trouble is that the measures would happen only if Putin invades. At this point Biden has done nothing concrete, has established no facts on the ground, to dissuade Putin from his present course. On the contrary: According to the AP, Biden wants Ukraine to recognize the “autonomy” of Russian-backed separatist zones. According to Bloomberg, he wants NATO members to negotiate with Russia over the future of the alliance.
Biden wants to avert war by naming potential reprisals. This is like telling your kid to behave or else you will send him to his room. Chances are he won’t listen. Why? Because he’s heard the same thing many times before without lasting consequences.
“I will look you in the eye and tell you, as President Biden looked President Putin in the eye and told him today, that things we did not do in 2014 we are prepared to do now,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said to the White House press corps on Pearl Harbor Day. Let’s hope so. Whatever President Obama did seven years ago—and he didn’t do much—had no discernible effect on Putin. Why then should Putin be worried about Obama’s former vice president—especially since Biden currently opposes sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, hasn’t yet retaliated against Russian-backed cyberattacks, and is going out of his way to address Putin’s phony grievances?
Deterrence doesn’t run on promissory notes. Deterrence raises the cost of hostile action in the here and now. Which is why Biden’s video conference was a mistake, and why his preemptively ruling out U.S. boots on the ground was too. No one wants or expects the commitment of U.S. forces in the case of Russo-Ukrainian war—but no one should tell Putin he doesn’t have to worry about that possibility either. Deterrence is about keeping Putin on his toes: by calling for real increases in the defense budget, by reinforcing the Baltic states sooner rather than later, by selling drones and other lethal materiel to Ukraine, by pledging construction of additional liquefied natural gas facilities in Poland, Ukraine, and Latvia.
What’s happening in Ukraine today is the result of what happened in Afghanistan over the summer. And what might happen in Taiwan in the coming years depends on what happens in Ukraine now. The failure of American nerve in Afghanistan caught the attention of authoritarians everywhere (including in Iran). They watched as America bolted and a democracy collapsed. They saw that democracies don’t live or die on talk. Democracies live or die upon their willingness to use force to defend their way of life. And that willingness, in turn, depends on the leadership and support and resolve of the world’s oldest, richest, and most powerful constitutional democracy.
This isn’t theory—ask the Afghans. Democracies perish when America bugs out.
The announcement of the boycott came as the administration lobbied Congress to weaken a bill regarding the forced labor of Uyghurs.
The Biden administration announced it will hold a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, meaning U.S. athletes will still attend and compete, but the U.S. government won’t send any officials. The Chinese government vowed to retaliate.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration made the decision due to China’s ongoing human rights violations. Activists and human rights organizations have been calling to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics since 2015. The Chinese government’s recent forced “disappearance” and “reappearance” of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has only energized the boycotting Beijing Winter Olympics movement. The Biden administration’s announcement is a welcome step.
But the announcement took place at the same time the administration faced criticism of its lobbying Congress to weaken a bill regarding the forced labor of Uyghurs. Those two contradictory actions raise questions about whether the administration is committed to standing up to China and upholding universal values such as human rights.
Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, aiming to “ensure that goods tainted with the forced labor of Uyghurs, and others, in the Xinjiang” do not enter the U.S. market. In July, the U.S. Senate passed its version of a similar bill co-sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. But House Democrats stalled the bill until it passed Wednesday 428-1, as the Biden administration asked Democrats to slow and water down the bill.
Two key players led the Biden administration’s lobbying efforts. One is the administration’s climate czar John Kerry, who reportedly lobbied against the bill out of the fear it would dissuade Beijing’s cooperation on climate change. Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., criticized Kerry on social media.
Another key player is Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. According to the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin, “Sherman’s specific criticism relates to a part of the bill that would require a presumption that all products coming from Xinjiang are tainted by forced labor unless the importer can prove otherwise.” Big corporations such as Apple have been lobbying against the same provision since last year. It is not a coincidence that the Biden administration and big corporations’ interests are aligned.
Frustrated by House Democrats’ inaction, Rubio reintroduced the Uyghur forced labor bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate Democrats used a procedural excuse to block the vote on Rubio’s amendment. Rubio tweeted, “The Biden Administration is actively working to stop the passage of an anti-slavery bill targeting # China’s genocide. That is why they don’t want my amendment on this to get on the defense bill.”
Why did the Biden administration act as if the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) atrocities against Uyghur Muslims is reason to hold a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, but not to support a bill that will prevent goods tainted with forced Uyghur laborers’ blood, sweat, and tears from entering the U.S. market?
Since day one, the Biden administration’s China policy has been full of contradictions like these. On the one hand, it continued some of former President Donald Trump’s tough approaches on China, including expanding the Trump-era blacklist of Chinese companies that Americans companies should not invest in.
The Biden administration also deepened the U.S. partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom by establishing the AUKUS. This alliance will begin with helping Australia develop nuclear-powered submarines as a counterweight to China’s naval expansion in the Asia Pacific.
On the other hand, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced plans to bring American executives to China and further deepen Sino-U.S. economic ties as if everything is fine. The Biden administration also repeatedly capitulated to the CCP’s hostage diplomacy.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) set free China telecom giant Huawei’s senior executive Meng Wanzhou, although Meng admitted she was guilty of some of DOJ’s charges. In return, China released two Canadian hostages it had detained since 2018.
Days before president Biden and Chinese leader Xi Xinping’s virtual summit, the Biden administration sent back to China seven Chinese nationals who were found guilty and served prison terms in the United States. In return, China permitted one U.S. citizen it illegally detained and never formally charged to return to the United States.
During Biden and Xi’s highly anticipated virtual summit, Biden didn’t even bring up important topics such as how the CCP has obstructed an international investigation of the origins of Covid-19.
The Biden administration’s messages on Taiwan are especially confusing. During a CNN town hall, President Biden said that the United States was committed to defending Taiwan if it came under attack from China. The next day the White House clarified that the president wasn’t announcing any policy on Taiwan. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, warned: “Words are important, and we can’t be careless in how we talk about an issue that is so vital to U.S. interests and the security of the Indo-Pacific.”
It seems that after being on the job for almost a year, the Biden administration still doesn’t have a coherent China policy. The mixed signals the administration sent are problematic for three reasons.
First, they do not inspire confidence in the American people that the administration has the competency to protect them and American interests. Consequently, people may not want to lend the administration the popular support it needs to make difficult choices when confronting China.
Second, when the United States needs its allies to establish a united front to stand up to China and uphold universal values, few will follow the U.S. lead because of a lack of confidence that the Biden administration has the political will to see it through.
Third, the CCP may take the Biden administration’s mixed signals as a sign of weakness and be encouraged to take risky actions, such as invading Taiwan sooner rather than later. China’s invasion of Taiwan will not only threaten regional peace but also jeopardize the survival of the liberal democratic world order.
The great power struggle between the United States and China is the most consequential event in our lifetime. Ambiguity in policies and mixed signals could lead to disastrous consequences. The Biden administration needs to show clarity, commitment, and coherence in its China policy.
China’s military “will heavily attack U.S. troops who come to Taiwan’s rescue” if a war between China and Taiwan breaks out, a possibility that is increasingly likely as the Communist regime readies its war machine on Taiwan’s borders.
The latest threat to attack the United States during any standoff between China and Taiwan was issued Thursday in the Global Times, an official Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece that prints the regime’s propaganda. “It is credible that the [People’s Liberation Army] will heavily attack U.S. troops who come to Taiwan’s rescue,” the paper wrote. “Such credibility is increasingly overwhelming the deterrence that U.S. troops may have.”
China’s latest threat to escalate tensions with Taiwan comes on the heels of remarks by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who said the United States is prepared to counter an attempt by China to forcefully seize Taiwan and bring it back into the Communist country’s orbit. The long-simmering standoff comes as the Biden administration confronts Russian attempts to invade Ukraine, a situation that could also prompt U.S. intervention.
China has been threatening to take Taiwan since the Biden administration took office, leading the United States to bolster the island’s defense and warn the CCP against escalation. Thursday’s Global Times editorial marks one of the first times in recent memory that China has actually threatened to attack U.S. troops who might come to Taiwan’s aid.
“If Washington supports the Taiwan authority’s path of seeking secession and encourages the Taiwan authority to rely on it, then reunification by force will definitely happen. The more the U.S. and the island of Taiwan collude, the sooner reunification by force will come,” the propaganda outlet wrote.
Sullivan on Tuesday said in response to questions from reporters that the United States is out to ensure a forceful Chinese takeover of Taiwan “never happens.” The Global Times in its editorial responded directly, saying China will not back down from its reunification effort.
“Mr. Sullivan, please be advised to sort out your mind carefully and think about what bargaining chips you do have in your hands to intimidate the Chinese mainland which is determined to achieve national reunification and has various strategic tools to resist blackmail,” the paper wrote. “You will find your hands empty. Therefore, don’t have a big mouth, Mr. Sullivan, otherwise you will only create more embarrassment for your country.”
Unfortunately, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Biden officials keep erecting roadblocks.
Biden administration officials took to their new posts earlier this year with the pledge that they are “putting human rights back at the center of U.S. foreign policy.” An ongoing congressional fight puts the lie to that promise.
According to a new report by Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin, deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman expressed the administration’s desire to water down and slow-walk legislation addressing Uyghur forced labor during a call with Senator Jeff Merkley, a cosponsor of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.
At issue was a core component of that bill — a provision that presumes any goods imported from the Xinjiang region were produced using forced labor, unless companies prove otherwise. This makes sense, considering that the tangled multinational supply chains with roots in Xinjiang regularly source materials produced with slave labor; it’s difficult to confirm which products are untainted and therefore in violation of U.S. law. But according to Rogin’s account, Sherman said the administration wanted “a more targeted and deliberative approach” and warned against a unilateral U.S. effort to address the problem.
Translation: Sherman wanted to significantly weaken the legislation. Despite lawyerly White House denials, the administration is clearly lobbying against the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act — and it is doing so in a way that, as Rogin points out, lines up with the position of major corporations who also oppose the legislation.
Just as important, Sherman’s involvement indicates that the push against the initiative is more than the work of John Kerry, desperate to make cooperation with China on climate the top priority of the U.S., human rights be damned.
All of this makes it easier to understand a rank display of political gamesmanship that played out on Capitol Hill this week just ahead of Rogin’s scoop.
Senate Democrats blocked Senator Marco Rubio’s latest attempt to insert the Uyghur forced-labor legislation into the annual defense-authorization package. The Senate actually passed the Uyghur bill unanimously in July, but the House still hasn’t put it to a vote. Frustrated by the House’s delay, Rubio initially tried to get it into the defense bill a week before Thanksgiving but was blocked. He was stymied for the second time this week.
Senate majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi hid behind a procedural excuse, arguing that measures with a bearing on appropriations must begin in the House. But this was a smokescreen. For one, the legislation would have an “insignificant” impact on revenues and spending, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And if Pelosi had actually wanted to advance the act, she could have done so easily at any point since July.
Pelosi relented Thursday when she met with Representative Jim McGovern, an author of the House’s version of the forced-labor bill. Rubio had hinted that a House vote on the Uyghur legislation could get him to drop his objections to moving the NDAA process along. Just after his meeting with Pelosi, McGovern announced that his bill would indeed receive a vote in the House — a victory for Rubio.
But the act is still far from the finish line. Even if the House adopts McGovern’s bill, that would only begin a new process around that measure (which differs from the Senate version), and there would be many points at which the administration or corporate interests could continue to block or attempt to gut it.
In a hard-hitting floor speech Thursday coming to Rubio’s defense amid attacks by Schumer and Pelosi, Senator Mitt Romney pointed to a green motivation for opposition to the act: “Democrats want cheap batteries for their so-called Build Back Better agenda, and nearly 80 percent of the rare earths, including other materials like lithium and cobalt and the like that are used to make these batteries, come from China.”
Meanwhile, companies with sizable supply-chain footprints in Xinjiang will remain dug in against the bill. About a year ago, the New York Times reported that Apple, Nike, and Coke lobbied against key components of the legislation.
More broadly, following last month’s virtual summit between Biden and Xi Jinping, the White House will be focused on keeping dialogue with the party on track and free of stumbling blocks.
An effort to disentangle corporate American from an ongoing atrocity shouldn’t be consider an inconvenience to be dispensed with, though. If the U.S. is going to prevail in the geopolitical competition with China, it will require an effort on all fronts, not just involving a robust defense budget, strong alliances, and pushback against Chinese espionage and industrial theft, but a willingness to shine a light on the CCP’s grotesque human-rights abuses.
Rubio has been right to be relentless on this, and he should keep it up.
Critics accuse admin of 'delivering a dressed-up Chanukah present to the regime'
The Biden administration quietly waived sanctions on Iran to allow the hardline regime to sell electricity to Iraq, according to a non-public notification obtained by the Washington Free Beacon that was provided to Congress just as nuclear talks between the United States and Tehran resumed this week.
The timing of the waiver notification—which was signed Nov. 19 but not transmitted to Congress until Nov. 29, the day nuclear negotiations resumed—has prompted accusations the Biden administration is offering concessions to Tehran to generate goodwill as talks aimed at securing a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal restart following a months-long standoff.
During the several-month pause, Tehran increased its nuclear program, including the enrichment of uranium and installation of advanced nuclear centrifuges. One senior congressional source familiar with the matter said the delay in transmitting the waiver to Congress indicates the administration is sensitive to the optics of waving sanctions just as negotiations resume.
Richard Goldberg, the former director for countering Iranian weapons of mass destruction on Trump’s White House National Security Council, told the Washington Free Beacon that the latest electricity waiver amounts to a “dressed-up Chanukah present to” Iran.
“This is just another unfortunate example of projecting weakness and deference at a time when the U.S. needs to build leverage and project strength,” said Goldberg, who is now a senior adviser to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank. “If the waiver was going to be renewed for Iraq relations, it should have been messaged and announced well before arrival in Vienna. It just screams desperation.”
Iran insists the United States unwind all economic sanctions that were imposed by the Trump administration, a demand the Biden administration says it is willing to make good on. The E3—Germany, the United Kingdom, and France—said on Friday, however, that Iran’s demands are “not serious,” according to reports. “Iran is backtracking on almost all of the difficult compromises reached in months of tough negotiations and is demanding substantial changes to the text,” E3 diplomats were quoted as saying in Axios.
The sanctions waiver gives Iran another 120 days to sell electricity to Iraq without facing penalties, an arrangement that has generated income for the hardline regime. The Trump administration had limited the waiver’s time frame in an effort to wind down these sales, but the Biden administration renewed it for the maximum period of 120 days.
The State Department says it attempted to “deliver the classified portion on Tuesday and Wednesday, November 23 and 24, but due to the closure of congressional offices in connection to the Thanksgiving holiday were not able to identify appropriate recipients.” Due to this delay, Congress did not receive the information until Monday.
The State Department maintains in the waiver that Iranian electricity sales to Iraq remain “in the national security interest of the United States.” Iraq’s failure to reduce its reliance on Iranian electricity necessitated the United States to waive sanctions to enable these sales, according to the waiver.
“In light of the considerations detailed in the classified annex to this report, the secretary determined this waiver is in the national security interest of the United States, and vital to the national security of the United States, with respect to Iraq, and certifies that this jurisdiction faced exceptional circumstances preventing it from significantly reducing its purchases of petroleum and petroleum products from Iran,” according to the waiver, which is signed by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. “Iraq continues to be a critical partner in the region, and its continued concrete political and economic cooperation is expected as a result of this waiver.”
A State Department spokesman, speaking only on background, confirmed the waiver was issued and said that it is meant to help ensure Iraq can generate energy. The spokesman would not comment on the timing of the waiver, or if it was part of an effort to ease nuclear negotiations with Iran.
“The secretary has renewed the sanctions waiver for Iraq to engage in financial transactions related to the import of electricity from Iran,” the spokesman said. “The waiver ensures that Iraq is able to meet its short-term energy needs while it takes steps to reduce its dependence on Iranian energy imports.” The waiver was granted “at the secretary [of state’s] discretion.”
As the first week of talks come to a close, Iran and the United States appear to be at an impasse.
Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Twitter on Friday that “a good deal is within reach if the West shows goodwill.” This includes the removal of all sanctions and other measures aimed at keeping Iran from completing construction on a functional nuclear weapon.
Iran is enriching uranium, the key component in an atomic bomb, to levels surpassing 20 percent purity, which is barred under the current terms of the nuclear accord. Reports this week indicate that Iran is taking steps to enrich uranium to 90 percent purity, which is weapons-grade fuel.
United Against Nuclear Iran, a watchdog group, said on Friday that Tehran is committing nuclear extortion as the West entertains its demands at the negotiating table in Vienna.
“The Biden administration has asserted that the U.S. will not allow Iran to use this round of talks as cover to accelerate its nuclear program. Iran is showing, however, that it needs no pretext to continue on its path to a nuclear weapons capability. It is speeding in that direction today,” UANI CEO Mark D. Wallace, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement. “The leaders of the international community choose not to see what is plainly evident. The JCPOA—in recognizing Iran’s right to enrich uranium—provided the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism with the option to resort to the nuclear extortion it is carrying out now.”