Category Archives: Foreign Policy

What the Immigration and Gun Control Debates Have in Common

President Trump is poised to issue a new executive order on immigration this week. It’s likely to be less sweeping than the initial ban so it has a better chance at passing legal muster. It will be implemented in the name of national security, but it will likely be based on the same dubious premise as before–that the people being barred, who are mostly Muslim, pose a significant threat to Americans, even if the evidence does not support this.

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Civility and Hypocrisy in the Age of Trump

As Democrats and NeverTrumpers of all stripes stand up against President Trump’s executive order on immigration, one reaction has been quite common: “Where were you when President Obama did [insert cruel/illegal/destructive foreign policy decision here]?”

The question is a good one, but it’s not as good as you might think.

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Obama Finally Spares a Whistleblower

On Tuesday, President Obama decided to commute the sentence of whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s remaining prison sentence. Although rumors of the decision had been circulating for weeks, it was a very surprising change of heart for an administration that has earned a reputation for zealously prosecuting whistleblowers.

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Reject the Binary in US Foreign Policy

On Twitter over the weekend, Donald Trump issued a series of tweets on Russia that were a cause for both relief and frustration:

Of course, he is right that it is important for the US to have a good relationship with Russia. Amidst all the hysteria over alleged Russian hacking, it’s a very good sign that the President-elect still seems to be holding firm on his plans to improve relations.

The problem is that the improvement only needs to go so far. The goal is trade and peace with Russia, not an overt alliance. Trump’s suggestion, here and previously, that the US and Russia should work together is an ominous one.

The worst case scenario is a new and expanded War on Terror with Russia as a partner. This would be useless as far as counterterrorism is concerned, since the War on Terror itself has proven to be one of the most effective recruitment tools for jihadists. And it would require the US getting in bed with yet another repressive government–and one that happens to have its own reputation for using heavy-handed tactics against predominantly Muslim populations.  Few things would be more useful for fulfilling the extremist narrative of a modern-day crusade against Islam.

The risk of a US-Russian alliance exists, in large part, because of US politicians’ unwillingness to pursue relations outside the bounds of “either with us or against us.”

It’s high time for some imagination here. There is a third way between alliance and animosity. That third way is simply peace. And it should be the goal with Russia and everyone else.

Obama’s Legacy: Symbolism Over Substance

President Obama’s decision not to veto the recent UN resolution on Israeli settlements generated significant outrage on both sides of the aisle. Lost in the furor, however, was the simple fact that the resolution did not actually do anything. It was just another symbolic gesture without substance.

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Rex Tillerson and Russia: Conflict or Confluence of Interest?

Politics breeds bad incentives.

While not everyone may agree with that statement, we all routinely witness its unhappy results. Economic policies are passed that benefit a small minority of business interests while raising prices for all consumers. Government officials are often allowed to break even the most serious laws with impunity. And on the most important issue of war and peace, politicians have started wars on false pretenses, even after being elected on an antiwar platform.

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Common Ground Between Progressives and Libertarians after Trump’s Election

The US election is finally over. And if we’re going to be honest with ourselves, some of the worst outcomes appear to have been averted. I don’t mean Hillary Clinton; I mean everything else. So first, let’s be grateful for some of the awful things that did not happen:

  • The election results are not being contested by either candidate. Clinton hasn’t given an official concession speech yet, but according to Donald Trump, she did call him personally to concede.
  • On a related note, there probably won’t be a recount. The margin of victory was large enough that the losing candidate couldn’t seriously push for a recount and extend uncertainty through the weeks to come.
  • Neither Russia nor the Democratic Party were blamed for rigging the results
  • Bonus: We didn’t further escalate tensions with Russia to distract from an unsuccessful campaign
  • No major terrorist attacks, despite ISIS’s calls for violence
  • The winning candidate didn’t rub salt in the wound with the acceptance speech. Instead of inciting further division, Trump’s acceptance speech focused on unity in the same way a conventional candidate would.

Seen in the context of some even worse scenarios, last night’s election outcome isn’t quite so bad. (Personally, I had my own bar for success set at “Just don’t nuke Russia”, so we passed with flying colors in my book.)

Now, the most important question is what comes next. For libertarians, that means emphasizing common ground with progressives.

An Olive Branch to Progressives

Progressives and libertarians are going to be natural allies against the Trump Administration. The basis for this alliance is intuitive. Principled libertarians have been opposed to the expansion of executive power all along, and Democrats and progressives are now acutely aware of the risks posed by an all-powerful President, even if they weren’t concerned previously.

Many people are about to find religion when it comes to the US Constitution, and libertarians should welcome them into the fold.

The scope of potential collaboration is extensive, but these three areas should be the top priority.

Stopping Intervention in Syria

In the general election, Donald Trump advocated a slightly less terrible approach to Syria than Hillary Clinton. Where she advocated a no-fly zone that would require bombing Syrian government troops (and the Russians that are embedded with them) and would likely lead to regime change, Trump usually* favored collaborating with Russia to defeat the terrorists and rebels. Thus, the choice voters had on Syria was, essentially, whether to intervene against the various terrorist groups (and the few remaining moderates in their midst), or intervene against the Syrian government (and de facto, on the side of said terrorist groups).

It was a depressing set of choices, to be sure. But with Donald Trump’s election, there’s an opening to push for complete nonintervention in Syria. Some folks on the left had acquiesced to Clinton’s version of Syria intervention on the grounds that they would actually be saving civilians from the Russian and Syrian bombardment. That premise was always dubious (and refuted by Clinton herself, privately). Now, it’s also irrelevant. Trump is far more likely to continue push a collaboration with Russia against the terrorist groups. And since Syria’s and Russia’s prosecution of the war is viewed understandably as brutal and inappropriate, it follows that progressives will not support it. Indeed, newly skeptical of Trump’s recklessness as commander-in-chief, progressives are likely to be much more open to opposing intervention altogether, as many did at the end of Bush’s term. This is also the correct position for libertarians.

There is no need to settle for the less awful intervention in Syria; Trump’s election creates an opening to halt the Syria intervention entirely.

*Trump occasionally paid lip-service to a no-fly zone during the campaign. But when his running mate tried to offer a Syria policy that included attacking Assad, Trump rejected it. Thus, his nominal support for a no-fly zone appears to be rooted in ignorance about what it actually entails.

The Drug War

Donald Trump made immigration a central theme of his campaign. And in making his critique of immigration, he would often emphasize drugs as one of the maladies of America’s porous southern border. This, combined with Trump’s common refrain of “law and order” are ominous signs for the Drug War under President Trump.

On the plus side, this is an issue where the Tenth Amendment has been used to great effect. This election alone, four more states voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use, bringing the total to eight states. This means eight states have restored their citizens’ rights to use marijuana, even though it is still illegal at the federal level; in essence, the states are openly defying federal rules and challenging the Feds to actually enforce them. Fortunately, the federal government has dedicated insufficient resources to do so and harassment of marijuana sellers in these legalized states has been limited.

Libertarians and progressives can continue working together to push legalization in even more states. This expands freedom directly in these states, and it is also likely to alleviate much of the drug flow across the border. After all, if it were legal to grow and produce in the US, there would be no incentive to try to smuggle marijuana across the US border, with all the risk that entails. In turn, this could reduce the perceived harm caused by illegal immigration and encourage Trump to pursue less draconian measures to address it.

Additionally, pushing marijuana legalization has the ancillary benefit of further normalizing the use of the Tenth Amendment to effectively fight an unconstitutional federal law. Since Trump is likely to pursue many more such laws, this may prove to be an invaluable tactic.

Immigration and Deportation

Deporting all or most illegal immigrants is a signature campaign issue for Trump. He has dithered on exactly who is on his list for deportations, but it is likely to be an increase over the present.

Whatever level of deportations Trump ultimately decides to push for, libertarians should be opposing the policy at each step. And this is another issue where the Tenth Amendment strategy is likely to be essential.

Here, it’s unlikely that there will be a legislative solution on a federal level that blocks widespread deportations. That would require some form of compromise and a Republican Party that controls both the legislative and executive branches probably won’t be terribly interested in making deals.

State-level legislation probably cannot directly challenge the legality of any deportation plan. But it can make the policy nearly impossible to carry out by prohibiting state-level law enforcement from assisting the federal government with deportations. The reason is that the federal government’s own resources are woefully inadequate for the task. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, for example, has around 20,000 employees total, who would be potentially be charged with rounding up and processing 11 million people in the most extreme case. That can’t really be done, which is why states can sabotage a deportation policy by simply refusing to help. In the process, they would be following in the honorable tradition of northern US states that refused to comply to the Fugitive Slave Acts in the 1800s prior to the abolition of slavery.


The outcome of the US election is not ideal. If you’ve been following the election cycle at all, you knew that was a foregone conclusion, regardless of who won on Tuesday.

Today, many progressives are understandably horrified by the prospect of President Trump, and libertarians will be their natural allies in the effort to finally rein in executive power. As a result, Trump’s election is not a tragedy; it’s an opportunity.