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Liberals Discover the Dangers of a Powerful Supreme Court

October 16, 2018 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Who knew? Leftists have discovered to their horror that judicial
government might not be good for them. Turning power over to judges
might be a bad idea. Jurists can work for the other side. They can
impose hostile values. They can undermine democracy. Someone needs
to do something!

Slate recently hosted a debate among analysts over what
to do about the looming threat posed by the horrid angry partisan
Brett Kavanaugh. Having dominated the court for decades and relied
on it to impose policy outcomes without popular support, they
appear shell-shocked.

For instance, Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern
warned
that the newly confirmed Kavanaugh “will become part of
a five-justice-conservative block that will swiftly roll back
decades of progressive jurisprudence.” Alas, there is little
evidence that any such reversal is likely, or likely to be swift
— remember Chief Justice John Roberts’ determination to
uphold Obamacare on grounds that even the left didn’t take
seriously, that the program was a tax. Nevertheless, the imagined
progressive golden age inaugurated by enlightened lawyers is going
a-glimmering.

Given the fact that it has taken a half dozen GOP presidents
decades to create a seemingly “conservative” majority, which has
its own divisions over such issues as executive power and civil
liberties, liberals shouldn’t whine. They have long enjoyed the
benefits of an activist judiciary which only slowed down in recent
years. It seems only fair for democratic change to eventually
transform the court.

What most concerns Stern, however, is that the high court will
do what it has always done, toss out measures which violate the
Constitution: “[A]s soon as Kavanaugh takes the oath, he will
plunge the Supreme Court into a legitimacy crisis that could weaken
its power over the long term. This crisis will become particularly
acute if Democrats retake Congress and the presidency but find
their reforms stymied by a reactionary judiciary. The broad
consensus over the court’s authority to interpret the Constitution
will crumble.”

All of a sudden,
government by judiciary isn’t working for them.

Yet the justices have been doing the same for years against more
conservative governments. Courts have overturned policies involving
welfare, criminal penalties, abortion, contraception, prison
conditions, education, housing, zoning, employment, gay marriage,
and much more. Stern acknowledged that because of Justices Sandra
Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, even the Republican-dominated
high court for years “handed the left a stream of victories.” For
many on the right, the judiciary long ago became illegitimate.
There were efforts to impeach liberal Chief Justice Earl Warren.
Right-leaning politicians proposed stripping the courts of
jurisdiction over controverted issues. And activists made the
membership of the Supreme Court a political issue.

But now, looking into …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Ignore the Chancellor, We Don’t Need Chequers to End Austerity

October 16, 2018 in Economics

By Ryan Bourne

Ryan Bourne

I generally presume cynicism in politicians’
arguments.

But Philip Hammond implying a Chequers-style
relationship with the EU is needed to “end austerity”
was shocking in its brazenness.

Ahead of the October Budget, the chancellor has echoed Theresa
May
in suggesting that looser government spending is just
around the corner. Their calculation seems to be that voters truly
desire ending fiscal constraint.

Conveniently from a political perspective, Hammond has said that
the close EU relationship the government desires is crucial to
delivering this higher spending.

A successful negotiated Brexit deal, he said, would lead to
stronger growth forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility
(OBR), allowing the government to achieve its fiscal targets while
spending more in the coming five years.

Britain’s long-term
fiscal challenge remains daunting. Minor changes to long-term
growth brought about by differences between Chequers and a
Canada-plus agreement do little to change that.

Avoiding the spectre of a no-deal Brexit would furthermore allow
the chancellor to release the “fiscal buffer” he had
built up for a no-deal scenario. With a stronger growth outlook and
no need to budget for contingencies, Hammond says that there would
be a supposed double spending dividend from a Chequers-style
deal.

First off, any decision to “end austerity” —
meaning consolidation of the public finances — would be
arbitrary in its timing.

Net borrowing adjusted for the economic cycle has fallen
substantially since 2010, but it still stands at around two per
cent of GDP — a level which would probably keep the
debt-to-GDP ratio constant given economic growth, but would
certainly not see debt fall back towards its historic norms.

UK government debt is still extraordinarily high. In the event
of another major recession, it would jump to truly unprecedented
levels for peacetime.

Worse, the longer-term public finance challenge associated with
an ageing population looms just around the corner. On unchanged
policies, the OBR forecasts that public sector net debt will rocket
from around 85 per cent of GDP today to 380 per cent over the next
50 years.

This is unsustainable, and so won’t happen. Instead, the
demands on healthcare and pension spending associated with changing
demographics will require some combination of higher taxes or cuts
to the spending baseline.

Any claim by politicians today that austerity is over is
therefore either dishonest or misinformed.

What then of Hammond’s two “dividends”?

Once a deal is agreed, the UK should indeed see some bounce-back
growth, as uncertainty is lifted and businesses begin making new
investments in the knowledge of the new arrangements. But this
rebound growth from more certainty would be temporary.

Though it might improve near-term growth forecasts, it would not
represent a structural improvement in …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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America Must Realize It Has No Say in Syria's Future

October 12, 2018 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Damascus is large and busy, as befits Syria’s capital. The city
hosts the nation’s elite and is filled with government buildings
and security forces. President Bashar al-Assad’s image adorns
virtually every street. There is no doubt who is in charge.

But drive just a few minutes, and you enter a neighborhood only
recently recovered after bitter fighting. Wrecked buildings stand
as silent sentinels amid a sea of rubble. The carnage of seven
years of horrid civil war reached even Damascus.

At long last, the conflict is winding down. Assad has won, and
Washington has lost. However, the war’s impact will linger for
years, perhaps decades. I just spent a week in the war-ravaged
state (at my organization’s expense). America’s approach has been a
disastrous failure.

Like Lebanon decades ago, the Syria conflict was an unusually
complicated civil war. The fighting was brutal all around, with
multiple warring forces to blame for an estimated half-million
deaths. Indeed, past casualty breakdowns, admittedly of unknown
accuracy, reported more combat than civilian deaths and more
government than insurgent deaths.

The reality on the ground
is that there is no good reason for a continued U.S. military
presence.

Assad survived because he had—and still has—serious,
even fervent support. He receives strong backing from his fellow
Alawites, a minority sect and Shia offshoot. They commonly display
pictures of him and speak of his humanitarian virtues. Other
religious minorities, such as Christians, also tend to support his
government. They saw the U.S.-inspired revolution in Iraq and
didn’t like the ending. After all, even an American occupation
didn’t prevent sectarian cleansing and slaughter, and many of the
survivors fled to Syria.

Moreover, there is some broader acquiescence if not support for
the regime. The military has sustained itself, despite suffering
significant casualties, which required employing conscription
beyond minority communities. Posters picturing dead soldiers adorn
signs and buildings in the communities I visited. Far from hiding
its losses, the regime appears to use them to forge a common
identity. Assad’s backers cannot be wished aside, as Washington
seemed to do. Furthermore, since defeat would have guaranteed their
destruction, they fought ferociously.

The United States is mistakenly fixated on Assad. Of course, he
was no friend of America, but if he lost, someone else would win.
Washington should have focused on the “compared to
what” question. Was American involvement likely to lead to a
better result? The Iraq debacle demonstrated how America could make
the situation far worse.

The Assad government is a dictatorship, but it is authoritarian,
not totalitarian, and secular, not religious. Syrian society is
striking—it looks and feels remarkably modern. There are
religious conservatives, of course, but the Assads, father and …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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America's Disastrous Occupation of Afghanistan Turns 17

October 11, 2018 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

America has now passed the 17-year mark in Afghanistan. U.S.
troops have been fighting there for longer than the Revolutionary
War, Civil War, World War I, and World War II combined. Yet
Washington is further away than ever from anything that might pass
for victory.

More than 2,300 American military personnel and 3,500
contractors have died in Afghanistan. The latest death occurred
last week—Specialist James A. Slape from Morehead City, North
Carolina. Another 1,100 allied soldiers have been killed, almost
half of them from the United Kingdom. More than 20,000 Americans
have been wounded. The direct financial cost has amounted to $2
trillion, with another $45 billion budgeted for this year.

And for what?

After so many years of senseless combat, Erik Prince’s proposal
to turn the conflict over to contractors almost sounds reasonable.
His lobbying efforts in Kabul have not been notably successful, but
some day American personnel will come home. And then Washington’s
friends in Afghanistan will find themselves on their own.

And the Taliban are in
their strongest position in just that many years.

Seventeen years ago the Bush administration was forced to act.
After the 9/11 attacks, it was imperative to disrupt if not destroy
al-Qaeda and punish the Taliban regime for hosting terrorist
training camps. Washington quickly succeeded: al-Qaeda was degraded
and dispersed, the Taliban was overthrown and punished. Washington
should have left as quickly as it came. But the Bush administration
had other hopes: to create a friendly, liberal, democratic state in
Central Asia.

If there was ever a chance to establish a stable regime in
Kabul, it was right after the Taliban’s ouster. However, the
Bush administration immediately turned to Iraq, which had nothing
to do with 9/11. That shift allowed for a Taliban revival. Even
after twice increasing force levels—which peaked at 110,000
U.S. and 30,000 allied troops in 2011—the Obama
administration was only able to limit the insurgency’s reach.
Around that time I twice visited Afghanistan, and found that
private, off-the-record opinions of allied military personnel,
civilian contractors, and Afghan officials were uniformly
pessimistic.

Most saw the operation as a staying action at best. Since then
allied troop levels have fallen precipitously, but the large Afghan
security forces are an inadequate substitute. Afghan officials
figure that as many as a third of soldiers and police are
“ghosts,” existing only for payroll purposes. Attrition
rates and desertions are soaring. Reported Anthony Cordesman of the
Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Afghan National
Security Forces “performance will probably worsen due to a
combination of Taliban operations, ANSF combat casualties,
desertions, poor logistics support, and weak leadership.” To
make up for that failure, “U.S. Special Operations troops
increasingly …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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A Smarter Plan for Immigrant Welfare

October 11, 2018 in Economics

By David Bier, Alex Nowrasteh

David Bier and Alex Nowrasteh

The Trump administration recently unveiled a plan to prevent
immigrants who the government predicts might be unable to support
themselves financially from entering the country. But the proposal
relies too much on guesswork. A bill introduced by Wisconsin
Republican Glenn Grothman, which would allow immigrants into the
country without giving them access to the welfare system, is a
preferable alternative.

The Department of Homeland Security’s proposed
regulation— the “public charge”
rule
—poses a major problem for legal immigrants. It would
bar them from entry if a bureaucrat predicts that they
might use some welfare here. But because the
law makes them eligible for it, legal immigrants could always
potentially use welfare at some point, even if they never
have and never would. It may be difficult for many to convince the
government otherwise.

If the administration’s goal is truly to prevent overuse
of welfare benefits, however, Grothman’s bill provides a
better strategy to support immigrant self-sufficiency and protect
taxpayers. It bans access to all means-tested welfare and
entitlement programs for immigrants until they become citizens.
That means verified U.S. citizens could access federal welfare
benefits like food stamps, Medicaid, and Medicare, but no
noncitizens would be able to.

A bill introduced by
Wisconsin Republican Glenn Grothman would allow immigrants into the
country without giving them access to the welfare
system.

According to our estimates using data based on noncitizen use of
welfare and entitlements in the Census Bureau’s
Survey of Income and Program Participation
, Grothman’s bill
could save U.S. taxpayers about $60 billion in the first year that
it takes effect (it provides a two-year grace period). Most rigorousestimates show that immigrants already pay more
than enough in taxes to cover the cost of their benefits, but
Grothman’s bill would end any debate over the fiscal impact of
immigration by making it unambiguously positive.

Under Rep. Grothman’s bill, legal immigrants could
continue to come to the United States to live and work as they do
now. The only difference is that they will be totally barred from
all welfare benefits and entitlement programs. Rather than building
a virtual wall around the country to keep out legal
immigrants—like the public charge rule would
do—Grothman’s bill builds a virtual wall around the welfare state.

His bill would expand a 1996 law that restricted federal welfare to
only noncitizens who were eligible to become U.S. citizens after
living here as a legal permanent resident for five years. The
Grothman bill would take the next logical step by limiting all
benefits only to those who actually go through …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Best and Worst Governors 2018

October 10, 2018 in Economics

By Chris Edwards

Chris Edwards

The U.S. economy is booming, and state governments are
benefitting from strong revenue growth. Many governors are using
the opportunity to expand spending programs, while others are
cutting tax rates. Some governors are hiking taxes despite already
overflowing coffers.

Which governors are the most frugal and which the most
spendthrift? The Cato Institute’s new “fiscal report
card” calculates the answer based on recent tax and spending
changes, and assigns letter grades of “A” to
“F.”

The report awarded an “A” to five governors.

Susana Martinez of New Mexico has been steadfast in opposing tax
increases over eight years in office. Many GOP governors break
their promises not to raise taxes, but not Martinez. Last year, she
vetoed $350 million of tax hikes. She has also kept a lid on budget
growth and has repeatedly vetoed wasteful spending.

The focus of governors
should be delivering efficient state services at lower costs to
create budget room for competitive tax rates.

Henry McMaster of South Carolina is off to a conservative start
as governor since 2017. He has also vetoed tax hikes and proposed
cutting income tax rates across the board.

Doug Burgum of North Dakota entered office in 2017 after North
Dakota’s energy boom had turned to a bust. With falling state
revenues, Burgum pursued broad spending cuts to balance the budget,
not tax increases.

Paul LePage of Maine has been a staunch fiscal conservative over
eight years in office. He has restrained spending, reformed welfare
programs, and repeatedly cut taxes, including repealing a surtax on
high earners last year.

Greg Abbott of Texas has held the state budget flat in recent
years and pursued business tax reforms. He cut the state’s
damaging franchise tax and wants to cut it further until it
“fits in a coffin.”

The “A” governors are all Republicans, and the
overall results show that GOP governors are more fiscally
conservative than Democrats, on average. That party divide has
persisted over time on the Cato report cards, which are computed
every two years from objective tax and spending data.

Switching to the worst governors, the report awarded eight
F’s this year, with the two worst scores going to “left
coast” Democrats Kate Brown in Oregon and Jay Inslee in
Washington.

Spending has exploded under Brown, with the general fund budget
rising 14 percent in the past two-year cycle and 10 percent in the
current one. She supported a 2016 ballot measure to impose a gross
receipts tax to raise $3 billion a year. Oregon voters defeated the
measure by a 59-41 margin, but Brown ignored the anti-tax message
and signed into law large tax hikes in 2017.

Inslee’s appetite for tax …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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What to Expect If Democrats Win the House

October 10, 2018 in Economics

By Michael D. Tanner

Michael D. Tanner

There’s less than a month until the midterm elections, and,
despite an uptick in Republican enthusiasm following the spectacle
of the Kavanaugh nomination, it still seems likely that Democrats
will capture control of at least one chamber of Congress. And as
Election Day draws nearer, we can expect both parties to cast the
stakes in increasingly apocalyptic terms. But what would a
Democratic Congress actually mean for the future direction of the
country?

First, despite the hopes or fears of both sides, we can forget
about the big-ticket items on the Democratic left. We are not going
to see single-payer health care, guaranteed jobs for everyone, or
free college. While the loonier elements of the Democratic party
have been campaigning on the idea of “Make Venezuela Great
Again,” most of the party is united on little more than
opposition to President Trump.

And, even if some of the more extreme Democratic proposals made
it through the House, they would then have to face the Senate,
which, as we all know, is where bills go to die. Republicans are
still favorites to keep control of the Senate, however narrowly,
and even if they don’t, the Democratic majority will be far
short of the 60-seat threshold to break filibusters.

More big spending,
pushback on deregulation, heavy investigation of administration
officials, but no big-ticket items from the Left’s
agenda.

Moreover, even if the Democrats were able to kidnap Mitch
McConnell and replace him with an accommodating clone, President
Trump would still have the veto. After all, this is a president who
thrives on “fighting.” What better way for him to
excite his base than to turn every Democratic proposal into a
dramatic showdown?

One exception to this, unfortunately, is liable to be increased
spending and bigger deficits. While it is difficult to imagine a
more spendthrift Congress than this one (spending is up 7 percent
over last year, for instance, and next year’s deficit will
top $1 trillion), but history suggests that the combination of a
Democratic Congress and Republican president tends toward even
greater profligacy.

Of course, once they are in the opposition, House Republicans
might suddenly rediscover their opposition to big spending (it’s
surprising how that works), but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Certainly, President Trump has shown no inclination to curb
excessive spending. And some Democratic initiatives, like a
gigantic infrastructure boondoggle, may be particularly appealing
to this president.

A Democratic Congress may be able to slow President Trump’s
deregulatory efforts but won’t be able to stop them. That’s
because, following the lead of his predecessors, he is
accomplishing many of his goals through executive actions.
Democrats will continue to learn that if …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Republicans Treated Merrick Garland Way Better Than Democrats Treated Brett Kavanaugh

October 9, 2018 in Economics

By Ilya Shapiro

Ilya Shapiro

Even though Brett Kavanaugh was ultimately confirmed to the
Supreme Court, while Merrick Garland’s nomination expired alongside
the Obama presidency, there’s no question that the chief judge of
the D.C. Circuit was treated better than the newest justice has
been.

Set aside the debate over whether it was proper for Senate
Republicans to hold open the seat vacated by Justice Antonin
Scalia’s passing, whether norms were broken and institutions
sacrificed on the altar of power politics. Nobody’s mind will
change on that.

Democrats’ anger at Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell’s tactics is understandable, even if they
would’ve done the same thing in his place. But this was a
black swan event. The last time the Senate confirmed a Supreme
Court nominee of a president of the opposite party to a vacancy
arising in a presidential election year was 1888.

Focus instead on how the Senate treated each nominee personally.
McConnell announced his “no hearings, no votes” stance
within hours of Scalia’s death, without waiting for President
Obama to pick a nominee (which didn’t happen for another
month). He argued that, since the country was embroiled in a heated
election campaign and the next justice could shift the balance of
the Supreme Court, the American people should decide who gets to
fill that seat—when they chose a new president less than nine
months later.

Brett Kavanaugh takes his
seat amid debates about the Supreme Court’s ‘legitimacy,’ with
substantial portions of the population thinking he’s a
rapist.

Senators made clear, both before and after Garland was formally
nominated, that this was about the direction of the Supreme Court,
not about any person. There were no charges that Garland was a
left-wing firebrand or otherwise unqualified. Indeed, such
accusations would’ve been absurd. Nor were there fishing
expeditions into Garland’s past, with media leaks to portray
any juicy morsel in the most negative light possible.

Contrast that with the trial by ordeal that Kavanaugh endured.
While there was gnashing of progressive teeth when Justice Anthony
Kennedy announced his retirement, the opposition machine
didn’t shift into high gear until President Trump selected
his successor.

At that point, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to
oppose Kavanaugh “with everything I have.” Sen. Cory
Booker, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said those who
supported Kavanaugh are “complicit in evil.” Sen. Richard
Blumenthal, who also sits on that committee, called Kavanaugh
your worst nightmare.” Former Virginia
governor and Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe
said Kavanaugh would “threaten the lives of millions for
decades
.”

I could go on, because these aren’t isolated examples.
Senators accused Kavanaugh not just with the “usual”
attacks on Republican judges as …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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The Saudi Monarchy May Have Killed a Free Man

October 9, 2018 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi moved to the United States
after he was pressured to stop criticizing Crown Prince Mohammed
bin Salman’s new authoritarian order. He explained his
decision a year ago in the Washington Post : “I have
left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice. To
do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison. I can speak
when so many cannot.”

Khashoggi, who once advised members of the royal family, appears
to have paid the ultimate price for living his principles. On
Tuesday he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, seeking
to complete paperwork to facilitate his remarriage. He never
exited. Alive, anyway.

The Saudi authorities insist that he had left and they also are
looking for him. It first appeared likely that he had been
kidnapped, a common tactic used by Riyadh against dissident princes
and other critics. The Turkish police noted the departure of
several diplomatic vehicles from the building, in which he could
have been taken, drugged and/or bound. However, Ankara now
concludes that Khashoggi was murdered by a special hit squad
brought in for that purpose.

Did journalist Jamal
Khashoggi fall prey to the tyrannical regime in Saudi
Arabia?

Stated an anonymous official: “We believe that the murder
was premeditated and the body was subsequently moved out of the
consulate.” If true, Riyadh has dramatically escalated the
war on its critics, many of whom, as Khashoggi related, currently
languish in prison. However, having denied that the journalist is
either at the consulate or in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the
regime could not easily later release him from prison. And death
certainly ends his criticism.

The KSA never has run on liberal principles. However, there long
was some space for measured criticism, with liberals allowed to
advocate reform. Khashoggi called it “a gentleman’s
agreement” which resulted in a balance between what could and
could not be published. However, that tolerance has disappeared
under the reign of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as
MbS, who with his father has turned a brotherly monarchy into a
family dictatorship.

Unfortunately, the crown prince’s long overdue social
liberalization has been more than counterbalanced by imposition of
political tyranny. Explained Khashoggi: “We started seeing
more direct pressure on journalists to only publish pro-government
stories. Some people were asked to sign loyalty pledges. Some
people were banned from writing or had their columns taken down.
Things got worse for the activists, too, or people with critical
opinions. The government was sending a message that if you’re
not with us, you’re against us.”

On his arrival in the United States Khashoggi wrote of
“the fear, intimidation, …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Where Is Trump's Alleged Isolationism?

October 9, 2018 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

It’s nearly impossible to read major newspapers,
magazines, or online publications in recent months without
encountering a plethora of articles contending that the United
States is turning inward and “going alone,”
“abandoning Washington’s global leadership role”
or “retreating from the world.” These trends supposedly herald the arrival of a new
“isolationism.” The chief villain in all of these
worrisome developments is, of course, Donald Trump. There is just
one problem with such arguments; they are vastly overstated
bordering on utterly absurd.

President Trump is not embracing his supposed inner
isolationist. The policy changes that he has adopted regarding both
security and international economic issues do not reflect a desire
to decrease Washington’s global hegemonic status. Instead,
they point to a more unilateral and militaristic approach, but one
that still envisions a hyper-activist U.S. role.

For instance, it’s certainly not evident that the United
States is abandoning its security commitments to dozens of allies
and clients. Despite the speculation that erupted in response to
Trump’s negative comments about the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) and other alliances during the 2016 election
campaign (and occasionally since then), the substance of U.S.
policy has remained largely unchanged. Indeed, NATO has continued
to expand its membership with Trump’s blessing—adding
Montenegro and planning to add Macedonia.

If you look at his
actions and not his words, you won’t find it.

Indeed, Trump’s principal complaint about NATO has always
focused on European free-riding and the lack of burden-sharing, not
about rethinking the wisdom of the security commitments to Europe
that America undertook in the early days of the Cold War. In that
respect, Trump’s emphasis on greater burden-sharing within
the Alliance is simply a less diplomatic version of the message
that previous generations of U.S. officials have tried sending to
the allies.

Moreover, Trump’s insistence at the July NATO summit in
Brussels that the European nations increase their military budgets and do more for
transatlantic defense echoed the comments of President
Obama’s Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in 2014. Hagel warned his European
counterparts that they must step up their commitment to the
alliance or watch it become irrelevant. Declining European defense
budgets, he emphasized, are “not sustainable. Our alliance
can endure only as long as we are willing to fight for it, and
invest in it.” Rebalancing NATO’s “burden-sharing
and capabilities,” Hagel stressed, “is
mandatory—not elective.”

Additionally, U.S. military activities along NATO’s
eastern flank certainly have not diminished during the Trump
administration. Washington has sent forces to participate in a
growing number of exercises (war games) along Russia’s
western land border—as well as in the …read more

Source: OP-EDS