Category: Robert Caskey

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China's Most Dangerous Geopolitical Weapon


The Obama years may have allowed China to infringe on American global power, but under Trump, the tide is turning. As governments around the world watch China’s expanding reach with a sense of resignation, the president has signed into law a bill promising to restrict foreign investment in the U.S.

Under the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act, the U.S. government has added a powerful tool to block other countries — namely China — from buying up or funneling money into U.S. companies. This is directly protecting vital strategic assets and know-how.

The new investment law is a big step toward shielding the U.S. from dangerous Chinese intrusions on our home soil. Following the White House’s tougher stance on American global competitors, Chinese acquisitions and investments in America have already plummeted 92 percent to $1.8 billion in the first half of this year. The drop comes off the back of an already tough year for Chinese entities seeking to extend their tentacles into the U.S. following pressure from the Trump administration.

Such guardianship has been long awaited by those with an eye on national security: in 2015 and 2016, Beijing’s corporations went on an overseas acquisitions spree that concluded with multibillion dollar deals throughout the U.S. while the Obama administration stood idly by and let the buyout occur. U.S. intelligence has long classified Chinese firms as security risks, raising concerns that China is able to access technologies underpinning American military might and economic power. Now, with the investment law and the new National Defense Authorization Act prohibiting U.S. government agencies from using telecommunications and surveillance products from Chinese technology firms like ZTE and Huawei, their voices are finally codified into U.S. law.

The White House moves are a significant blow to Beijing’s foreign policy objectives. America has been a major destination for Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) in the last decade, and the largest target of Chinese capital flows since 2005. But even if Chinese President Xi tirelessly touts the supposed benign nature of investments, don’t be fooled: such investments are a favorite, and more surreptitious, weapon in the Chinese arsenal than the military – a weapon China is employing freely given the country cannot compete with U.S. military might in terms of capabilities and global force projection.

But as it turns out, the Chinese strategy of encroaching on America’s geopolitical position and security interests in this way has already borne fruit. Massive FDI flows into allied countries and strategic regions have unambiguously exposed Beijing’s money as a pertinent threat. In a prime example of how easy it is to seize an entire country’s strategic infrastructure, China Three Gorges in May bid $11 billion to take over the entire capital of Portugal’s largest grid company, with subsidiaries in the U.S., Spain, and Brazil.

Beijing’s bid to bind Europe to itself extends also to the political realm. Following a billion-dollar deal involving the Greek port of Piraeus, China has been able to count on Greek support to divert EU criticism of Beijing’s behavior in areas from human rights to maritime security. The implications of Beijing’s encroachment are a direct threat to our security, because these maneuvers affect the sovereignty — and the reliability — of America’s supposed allies.

Similar scenes are also playing out across Africa, where China is the single largest investor by far. And the effects are already painfully felt. Chinese capital flows into strategic choke points like Djibouti are turning the country into a Chinese puppet whose intentions can no longer be trusted. The country is of vital importance to counterterrorism efforts, and is home to 4,000 American troops gathering key intelligence on al-Qaeda and Islamic State terror cells. Yet at the beginning of the year, the government of Djibouti lost a high-profile court case over the way it kicked out the operator of the country’s port — whose business was promptly handed out to a Chinese state-owned cargo company at around the same time as the takeover.

That’s a problem, since the Chinese have already built a military base a stone’s throw away from the Americans. With China looking for additional facilities to expand its presence, top U.S. military officials are warning of the “significant consequences” if China takes hold of the port facilities, since counterterrorism operations will suffer a massive blow.

All this shows that China is trying to undermine America’s global power status through money rather than military might. China’s reach is extending as wide as Beijing’s pockets appear deep, and Washington must act fast. Just as he has drawn red lines in the sand at home, Trump must draw red lines abroad when it comes to strategic Chinese investments. Otherwise, the consequences of the Obama era’s years of neglect will only give China more of an advantage.

The Obama years may have allowed China to infringe on American global power, but under Trump, the tide is turning. As governments around the world watch China’s expanding reach with a sense of resignation, the president has signed into law a bill promising to restrict foreign investment in the U.S.

Under the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act, the U.S. government has added a powerful tool to block other countries — namely China — from buying up or funneling money into U.S. companies. This is directly protecting vital strategic assets and know-how.

The new investment law is a big step toward shielding the U.S. from dangerous Chinese intrusions on our home soil. Following the White House’s tougher stance on American global competitors, Chinese acquisitions and investments in America have already plummeted 92 percent to $1.8 billion in the first half of this year. The drop comes off the back of an already tough year for Chinese entities seeking to extend their tentacles into the U.S. following pressure from the Trump administration.

Such guardianship has been long awaited by those with an eye on national security: in 2015 and 2016, Beijing’s corporations went on an overseas acquisitions spree that concluded with multibillion dollar deals throughout the U.S. while the Obama administration stood idly by and let the buyout occur. U.S. intelligence has long classified Chinese firms as security risks, raising concerns that China is able to access technologies underpinning American military might and economic power. Now, with the investment law and the new National Defense Authorization Act prohibiting U.S. government agencies from using telecommunications and surveillance products from Chinese technology firms like ZTE and Huawei, their voices are finally codified into U.S. law.

The White House moves are a significant blow to Beijing’s foreign policy objectives. America has been a major destination for Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) in the last decade, and the largest target of Chinese capital flows since 2005. But even if Chinese President Xi tirelessly touts the supposed benign nature of investments, don’t be fooled: such investments are a favorite, and more surreptitious, weapon in the Chinese arsenal than the military – a weapon China is employing freely given the country cannot compete with U.S. military might in terms of capabilities and global force projection.

But as it turns out, the Chinese strategy of encroaching on America’s geopolitical position and security interests in this way has already borne fruit. Massive FDI flows into allied countries and strategic regions have unambiguously exposed Beijing’s money as a pertinent threat. In a prime example of how easy it is to seize an entire country’s strategic infrastructure, China Three Gorges in May bid $11 billion to take over the entire capital of Portugal’s largest grid company, with subsidiaries in the U.S., Spain, and Brazil.

Beijing’s bid to bind Europe to itself extends also to the political realm. Following a billion-dollar deal involving the Greek port of Piraeus, China has been able to count on Greek support to divert EU criticism of Beijing’s behavior in areas from human rights to maritime security. The implications of Beijing’s encroachment are a direct threat to our security, because these maneuvers affect the sovereignty — and the reliability — of America’s supposed allies.

Similar scenes are also playing out across Africa, where China is the single largest investor by far. And the effects are already painfully felt. Chinese capital flows into strategic choke points like Djibouti are turning the country into a Chinese puppet whose intentions can no longer be trusted. The country is of vital importance to counterterrorism efforts, and is home to 4,000 American troops gathering key intelligence on al-Qaeda and Islamic State terror cells. Yet at the beginning of the year, the government of Djibouti lost a high-profile court case over the way it kicked out the operator of the country’s port — whose business was promptly handed out to a Chinese state-owned cargo company at around the same time as the takeover.

That’s a problem, since the Chinese have already built a military base a stone’s throw away from the Americans. With China looking for additional facilities to expand its presence, top U.S. military officials are warning of the “significant consequences” if China takes hold of the port facilities, since counterterrorism operations will suffer a massive blow.

All this shows that China is trying to undermine America’s global power status through money rather than military might. China’s reach is extending as wide as Beijing’s pockets appear deep, and Washington must act fast. Just as he has drawn red lines in the sand at home, Trump must draw red lines abroad when it comes to strategic Chinese investments. Otherwise, the consequences of the Obama era’s years of neglect will only give China more of an advantage.



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Tariffs Won't Help Make America Great Again


Now that the Commerce Department has classified foreign steel and aluminum imports as a threat to national security under Section 232, the debate over tariffs is heating up.  Commerce’s recommendations include duties of 24% on steel and 7.7% on aluminum, as well as quotas to peg U.S. imports of the two metals to a fraction of current levels.

The ball is now in Donald Trump’s court to decide, between now and April, whether heavy tariffs should come into play or not.  The president wants to do right by the Rust Belt, but would tariffs really make American manufacturing great again?

The question is much trickier than it seems at first glance.  The Heritage Foundation – which boasted in January that the White House embraces two thirds of its ideas – has warned that tariffs always come with unintended consequences and may ultimately do more harm than good.  Not only are tariffs among the “least effective” tools to punish other countries, but they also cost taxpayer dollars and American jobs.

The Cato Institute has also urged the president to rethink his approach, noting that “steel import restriction would harm the U.S. economy” by inflicting vital damage to the competitiveness of the wider manufacturing sector.  While steel mills employ 140,000 workers in an industry whose annual turnover clocks in at $36 billion, steel-reliant manufacturers employ 6.5 million people and generate $1.04 trillion.

We already have concrete examples of how tariffs on the same imports have played out in the past.  A report for the Consuming Industries Trade Action Coalition (CITAC) on the unintended consequences of steel tariffs imposed by George W. Bush in 2002 found that 200,000 Americans lost their jobs due to higher steel prices that year.  That number represents approximately $4 billion in lost wages.  Fifty thousand of the jobs list were in secondary industries highly reliant on imported steel, like machinery and equipment.

That Bush-era case study shows that America’s embattled blue-collar workers could be in for another rough ride.  While the trade protections are meant to be one in the eye for Chinese metals-producers (and one the Chinese deserve), they come with a high risk of friendly fire.

U.S. manufacturing is highly dependent on foreign metals, and tariffs applied across the board will severely restrict manufacturers’ ability to access products from critical steel- and aluminum-suppliers in other parts of the world.  Imports represent 90% of America’s primary aluminum consumption, or roughly 4 million tons a year.  China isn’t even in the top ten suppliers.  Out of our country’s unused production capacity, we’d be able to get only around 500,000 back online.  As one expert put it recently, “the days when the United States was the largest producer of aluminum in the world are long gone, with most of the lost smelters dismantled and beyond resurrection.”

If the goal is to give as good as we get, it’s important to note that global tariffs wouldn’t even have that much of an impact on China.  So what would they achieve instead?

As it turns out, they would mostly be good just for hurting American consumers.  Australian and British-owned Rio Tinto ships 75% of the output from its Canadian smelters to the U.S. and would face restrictions just like Chinese producers.  Unsurprisingly, the company is supporting Canadian efforts to obtain an exemption to avoid impasses and unnecessary trade losses.  Rusal, the world’s largest producer outside China, is the second biggest source of aluminum for American manufacturing.  Emirates Global Aluminum (EGA) comes in third.

Leaders of the brewing industry have already warned that any duties on aluminum entering the states will be passed on to consumers, making beer more expensive.  Rest assured that GM and Ford executives will reach a similar conclusion when the aluminum going into their cars suddenly becomes pricier.  If the C-suite can roll the added costs downhill, they will.

All of this makes it easy to understand why so many prominent Republicans are warning the White House that trading partners will not take the imposition of punitive tariffs enacted under the guise of “national security” lying down.  The European Union, America’s largest trading partner, has already announced that it will impose punitive measures on U.S. products in the case that Washington restricts metal imports.  Eurocrats quickly presented a hit list of affected American goods that seems to pretty nicely encapsulate their mental image of us: it includes agricultural products but also whiskey and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

The Chinese have also launched an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation of their own into sorghum imports from the U.S.  By slapping punitive tariffs on sorghum, Beijing can easily put the screws to a $1-billion-a-year industry – not to mention that China could escalate by targeting the $14-billion soybean sector or U.S. coal exports, just as coal country picks itself back up off the ground.

In attempting to protect the economy, choosing the wrong course of action could unintentionally shoot the economy in the foot just as the new tax cuts come into effect.  If national security is the priority, then broad, indiscriminate tariffs aren’t the way to do it.  Limiting U.S. companies’ access to foreign metals is a surefire way to weaken the economy and make us more vulnerable – taking Commerce’s national security argument and turning it on its head.

If Trump wants to make American manufacturing great again, he should have Commerce come up with a surgical approach that targets only Chinese imports and spares the rest.

Now that the Commerce Department has classified foreign steel and aluminum imports as a threat to national security under Section 232, the debate over tariffs is heating up.  Commerce’s recommendations include duties of 24% on steel and 7.7% on aluminum, as well as quotas to peg U.S. imports of the two metals to a fraction of current levels.

The ball is now in Donald Trump’s court to decide, between now and April, whether heavy tariffs should come into play or not.  The president wants to do right by the Rust Belt, but would tariffs really make American manufacturing great again?

The question is much trickier than it seems at first glance.  The Heritage Foundation – which boasted in January that the White House embraces two thirds of its ideas – has warned that tariffs always come with unintended consequences and may ultimately do more harm than good.  Not only are tariffs among the “least effective” tools to punish other countries, but they also cost taxpayer dollars and American jobs.

The Cato Institute has also urged the president to rethink his approach, noting that “steel import restriction would harm the U.S. economy” by inflicting vital damage to the competitiveness of the wider manufacturing sector.  While steel mills employ 140,000 workers in an industry whose annual turnover clocks in at $36 billion, steel-reliant manufacturers employ 6.5 million people and generate $1.04 trillion.

We already have concrete examples of how tariffs on the same imports have played out in the past.  A report for the Consuming Industries Trade Action Coalition (CITAC) on the unintended consequences of steel tariffs imposed by George W. Bush in 2002 found that 200,000 Americans lost their jobs due to higher steel prices that year.  That number represents approximately $4 billion in lost wages.  Fifty thousand of the jobs list were in secondary industries highly reliant on imported steel, like machinery and equipment.

That Bush-era case study shows that America’s embattled blue-collar workers could be in for another rough ride.  While the trade protections are meant to be one in the eye for Chinese metals-producers (and one the Chinese deserve), they come with a high risk of friendly fire.

U.S. manufacturing is highly dependent on foreign metals, and tariffs applied across the board will severely restrict manufacturers’ ability to access products from critical steel- and aluminum-suppliers in other parts of the world.  Imports represent 90% of America’s primary aluminum consumption, or roughly 4 million tons a year.  China isn’t even in the top ten suppliers.  Out of our country’s unused production capacity, we’d be able to get only around 500,000 back online.  As one expert put it recently, “the days when the United States was the largest producer of aluminum in the world are long gone, with most of the lost smelters dismantled and beyond resurrection.”

If the goal is to give as good as we get, it’s important to note that global tariffs wouldn’t even have that much of an impact on China.  So what would they achieve instead?

As it turns out, they would mostly be good just for hurting American consumers.  Australian and British-owned Rio Tinto ships 75% of the output from its Canadian smelters to the U.S. and would face restrictions just like Chinese producers.  Unsurprisingly, the company is supporting Canadian efforts to obtain an exemption to avoid impasses and unnecessary trade losses.  Rusal, the world’s largest producer outside China, is the second biggest source of aluminum for American manufacturing.  Emirates Global Aluminum (EGA) comes in third.

Leaders of the brewing industry have already warned that any duties on aluminum entering the states will be passed on to consumers, making beer more expensive.  Rest assured that GM and Ford executives will reach a similar conclusion when the aluminum going into their cars suddenly becomes pricier.  If the C-suite can roll the added costs downhill, they will.

All of this makes it easy to understand why so many prominent Republicans are warning the White House that trading partners will not take the imposition of punitive tariffs enacted under the guise of “national security” lying down.  The European Union, America’s largest trading partner, has already announced that it will impose punitive measures on U.S. products in the case that Washington restricts metal imports.  Eurocrats quickly presented a hit list of affected American goods that seems to pretty nicely encapsulate their mental image of us: it includes agricultural products but also whiskey and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

The Chinese have also launched an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation of their own into sorghum imports from the U.S.  By slapping punitive tariffs on sorghum, Beijing can easily put the screws to a $1-billion-a-year industry – not to mention that China could escalate by targeting the $14-billion soybean sector or U.S. coal exports, just as coal country picks itself back up off the ground.

In attempting to protect the economy, choosing the wrong course of action could unintentionally shoot the economy in the foot just as the new tax cuts come into effect.  If national security is the priority, then broad, indiscriminate tariffs aren’t the way to do it.  Limiting U.S. companies’ access to foreign metals is a surefire way to weaken the economy and make us more vulnerable – taking Commerce’s national security argument and turning it on its head.

If Trump wants to make American manufacturing great again, he should have Commerce come up with a surgical approach that targets only Chinese imports and spares the rest.



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Nikki Haley's Africa Trip Is about Fixing Obama's Mistakes


This week Nikki Haley, our ambassador to the United Nations, visits two countries on the brink of becoming the world’s next failed states: South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her trip comes as optimism for South Sudan has faded as the six-year-old nation, famously “midwifed” into existence by the Obama administration, has sunk into a civil war between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnic group, and his former vice president, Riek Machar, a Nuer. The conflict has generated the biggest exodus of civilians in the continent since the Rwandan genocide of 1994 — despite the presence of 17,000 UN peacekeepers.

Meanwhile, the DRC has just been voted onto the increasingly irrelevant UN Human Rights Council, even as president-turned-strongman Joseph Kabila has — once again — postponed elections in a bid to keep a grip on power. Elections were due to take place this year under a transitional agreement aimed at stopping renewed violence in a country torn by ethnic conflict in the central and eastern provinces, which has resulted in the displacement of more than 2.5 million people.

But Africa has more often than not been a place riven by conflict — why should America care about the fate of these two far-flung countries and why is President Trump sending Haley there when our own nation is in dire need of reform? According to the UN ambassador herself, the trip is meant to scold both leaders and make it clear to them that their behavior won’t be tolerated anymore. But unofficially, Haley’s trip is the first act in a long-standing revision of Obama-era policies, from stopping wasteful spending to cutting ties to dictators.

The U.S. is already blowing more than $2 billion per year on peacekeeping efforts in the DRC and South Sudan, money that has not stopped both countries from going down the drain. When Haley first announced in June that the U.S. had reached a deal with the UN to slash $600 million from the yearly peacekeeping budget of more than $7.5 billion, she was submerged under a deluge of criticism from liberals who said she was “gloating” over the budget cuts. But given the UN peacekeeping missions’ dismal track record, she’s done well to question what American taxpayers are really paying for.

Last month, the UN was slammed by fresh accusations that it botched its response to claims of sexual misconduct against peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR). The Blue Helmets deployed there had the highest number of misconduct accusations in the world last year. Adding insult to injury, an AP investigation published earlier this year found nearly 2,000 claims of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers over the past 12 years. Not to mention the devastating cholera epidemic brought by Nepalese peacekeepers to Haiti. Yet because of a culture of impunity and policies stipulating that contributing countries, not the UN, must carry out investigations, only a fraction of those accused were ever prosecuted.

Given such a track record, if the UN isn’t willing to reform its broken peacekeeping system, then Haley shouldn’t be afraid to dangle even more U.S. funding over their heads until they’re ready to do so.

But even effective peacekeeping will never work if Washington continues the Obama administration’s failed model of supporting aspiring autocrats — which helped bring about the predicaments we see today. In 2011, South Sudan gained independence with the robust support of the Obama administration — support that inexplicably never faltered, even years later, as the country devolved into civil war with most atrocities carried out by government soldiers. Even liberal commentators have since labeled South Sudan one of Obama’s biggest failures.

The Obama administration also missed a crucial chance to stand up for democracy in the DRC in 2011, when President Kabila won a second term in elections tarnished by allegations of vote rigging. Even in 2016, when Kabila sentenced to jail on trumped-up charges popular opposition leader Moïse Katumbi, the Obama administration failed to object loudly enough — despite the fact that the move signaled the regime’s subsequent refusal to allow a democratic transition. Katumbi, the country’s best hope for stability, has promised to return from self-imposed exile to the DRC before the end of the year to challenge Kabila, but without robust outside support, it’s an open question how much headway he can make.

This is where Haley has a critical chance to challenge strongmen like Kiir and Kabila where others have failed. In addition to pushing for reform of the UN’s peacekeeping operations, she must confront the ineffective conflict resolution approach used by the Obama administration and others before it, which accepts authoritarianism in exchange for a thin veneer of stability. She must lead a push not only for peace, but also for peacefully handing over the reins of power. And she must work with like-minded allies to hit rogue regimes where it hurts — with targeted financial sanctions. There is still time to save South Sudan and the DRC from the Obama era’s bungling before it’s too late.

This week Nikki Haley, our ambassador to the United Nations, visits two countries on the brink of becoming the world’s next failed states: South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her trip comes as optimism for South Sudan has faded as the six-year-old nation, famously “midwifed” into existence by the Obama administration, has sunk into a civil war between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnic group, and his former vice president, Riek Machar, a Nuer. The conflict has generated the biggest exodus of civilians in the continent since the Rwandan genocide of 1994 — despite the presence of 17,000 UN peacekeepers.

Meanwhile, the DRC has just been voted onto the increasingly irrelevant UN Human Rights Council, even as president-turned-strongman Joseph Kabila has — once again — postponed elections in a bid to keep a grip on power. Elections were due to take place this year under a transitional agreement aimed at stopping renewed violence in a country torn by ethnic conflict in the central and eastern provinces, which has resulted in the displacement of more than 2.5 million people.

But Africa has more often than not been a place riven by conflict — why should America care about the fate of these two far-flung countries and why is President Trump sending Haley there when our own nation is in dire need of reform? According to the UN ambassador herself, the trip is meant to scold both leaders and make it clear to them that their behavior won’t be tolerated anymore. But unofficially, Haley’s trip is the first act in a long-standing revision of Obama-era policies, from stopping wasteful spending to cutting ties to dictators.

The U.S. is already blowing more than $2 billion per year on peacekeeping efforts in the DRC and South Sudan, money that has not stopped both countries from going down the drain. When Haley first announced in June that the U.S. had reached a deal with the UN to slash $600 million from the yearly peacekeeping budget of more than $7.5 billion, she was submerged under a deluge of criticism from liberals who said she was “gloating” over the budget cuts. But given the UN peacekeeping missions’ dismal track record, she’s done well to question what American taxpayers are really paying for.

Last month, the UN was slammed by fresh accusations that it botched its response to claims of sexual misconduct against peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR). The Blue Helmets deployed there had the highest number of misconduct accusations in the world last year. Adding insult to injury, an AP investigation published earlier this year found nearly 2,000 claims of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers over the past 12 years. Not to mention the devastating cholera epidemic brought by Nepalese peacekeepers to Haiti. Yet because of a culture of impunity and policies stipulating that contributing countries, not the UN, must carry out investigations, only a fraction of those accused were ever prosecuted.

Given such a track record, if the UN isn’t willing to reform its broken peacekeeping system, then Haley shouldn’t be afraid to dangle even more U.S. funding over their heads until they’re ready to do so.

But even effective peacekeeping will never work if Washington continues the Obama administration’s failed model of supporting aspiring autocrats — which helped bring about the predicaments we see today. In 2011, South Sudan gained independence with the robust support of the Obama administration — support that inexplicably never faltered, even years later, as the country devolved into civil war with most atrocities carried out by government soldiers. Even liberal commentators have since labeled South Sudan one of Obama’s biggest failures.

The Obama administration also missed a crucial chance to stand up for democracy in the DRC in 2011, when President Kabila won a second term in elections tarnished by allegations of vote rigging. Even in 2016, when Kabila sentenced to jail on trumped-up charges popular opposition leader Moïse Katumbi, the Obama administration failed to object loudly enough — despite the fact that the move signaled the regime’s subsequent refusal to allow a democratic transition. Katumbi, the country’s best hope for stability, has promised to return from self-imposed exile to the DRC before the end of the year to challenge Kabila, but without robust outside support, it’s an open question how much headway he can make.

This is where Haley has a critical chance to challenge strongmen like Kiir and Kabila where others have failed. In addition to pushing for reform of the UN’s peacekeeping operations, she must confront the ineffective conflict resolution approach used by the Obama administration and others before it, which accepts authoritarianism in exchange for a thin veneer of stability. She must lead a push not only for peace, but also for peacefully handing over the reins of power. And she must work with like-minded allies to hit rogue regimes where it hurts — with targeted financial sanctions. There is still time to save South Sudan and the DRC from the Obama era’s bungling before it’s too late.



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The Tehran Attacks: Beginning of the End for Assad?



Iran is now paying the price for funding and supporting the Assad regime at home.



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Biometrics: A Different Kind of Border Wall


The liberal media rejoiced at the news that Donald Trump’s border wall received precious little money from the recent omnibus spending bill — thanks to a combination of anti-wall Republicans, Democrats, and shady dealings — but this is hardly a time for conservatives to abandon ourselves to despair. This message goes out especially to Ann Coulter, who lamented to Tucker Carlson that Trump is failing to act like the “bull in the china shop” she was hoping for. While Ann thinks not building the wall would be the end of America, this attitude completely misses the point.

Even if the brick and mortar wall won’t be going to be built any time soon, the country is making strides towards building what many call the “other border wall.” Made up of improved and more widely deployed biometrics entry-exit screening systems, this long-delayed virtual wall will be indispensable for national security once finally put into place. Trump has already made a first step towards implementing it as part of his executive order on immigration — or as the liberals call it, the “Muslim ban.” Although the courts have suspended parts of it, the section relating to the “Expedited Completion of the Biometric Entry-Exit Tracking System” has stayed in place.

A bit of context first: one of the main problems plaguing our nation’s immigration policies has long been the authorities’ inability to verify whether those who are supposed to leave are in fact doing so. Just as difficult is the task of ensuring those who are legally in the country abide by its rules. Roughly half of illegal immigrants (5-6 million people) are people currently in the U.S. who entered the country lawfully but failed to leave when their permission to remain in the country expired. A biometric exit system will help to collect and access individual data and make identity fraud impossible. You can steal someone’s ID, but you can’t take their fingerprints.

This is not a new idea, and it wasn’t even a Republican who initially signed biometrics into law. Back in 1996, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act signed by Bill Clinton called for an automated entry-exit process, but it was never implemented. Even the nonpartisan 9/11 report in 2004 recommended that a comprehensive biometric entry and exit screening system be put into place. Par for the course for government efficiency, the government missed two implementation deadlines in 2006 and 2009. Since then, the issue has gone quiet.

Thanks to Trump’s renewed push to crack down on immigration, the screws have been put on the Department of Homeland Security to finally enact a law that should have been put in place 21 years ago. While Congress appropriated only half of Trump’s requested $3 billion for the Department, the extra funds are specifically earmarked for “enhanced border security” efforts for FY2017, specifically for “maintenance, infrastructure and technology for the existing wall”. It’s no coincidence that DHS head John Kelly emphasized the need to harness technology during his confirmation hearings, suggesting he would work closer with the private sector to develop new solutions.

Thanks in large part to that two-decade delay, the U.S. is now merely following in the footsteps of other countries afflicted by unsustainable levels of immigration. Europe’s border agency Frontex, rattled to the core by a seemingly endless refugee crisis and terror spree, has tasked tech companies to come up with ways to track and control the flow of people trying to reach the continent before they get there. It has also earmarked 30 million Euros to upgrade facial recognition systems and improve data storage in order to help authorities track irregulars.

On the other side of the globe, Australia has also taken significant steps towards curbing the uncontrolled entry of refugees and immigrants. The country’s Immigration Department was awarded a $95.4 million budget boost for 2017 to introduce technologies for processing traveler visas and assessing security risks.

The world’s frontrunner on biometrics system, though, remains Israel, a country that is locked in a constant battle with terrorism like no other. The government has plans to make biometric ID cards linked to a database mandatory for Israeli citizens. That way, identity theft is made more difficult, making it harder for terrorists to pose as Israelis and carry out devastating attacks in large population centers. Similarly, in order to bolster the security of its travel documents, Peru hired France’s Imprimerie Nationale to develop a new biometric passport — a passport which then helped the country get visa free access to the European Union.

So as long as Homeland Security gets its act together and puts biometric requirements into place, there’s no need to bemoan the suspension of the border wall. Besides, the wall would do nothing to address the millions of illegal immigrants already in the country. The biometric entry-exit tracking system, on the other hand, will have a drastic effect and will eventually be more important for national security. Now all we need is for somebody to tell Ann.

The liberal media rejoiced at the news that Donald Trump’s border wall received precious little money from the recent omnibus spending bill — thanks to a combination of anti-wall Republicans, Democrats, and shady dealings — but this is hardly a time for conservatives to abandon ourselves to despair. This message goes out especially to Ann Coulter, who lamented to Tucker Carlson that Trump is failing to act like the “bull in the china shop” she was hoping for. While Ann thinks not building the wall would be the end of America, this attitude completely misses the point.

Even if the brick and mortar wall won’t be going to be built any time soon, the country is making strides towards building what many call the “other border wall.” Made up of improved and more widely deployed biometrics entry-exit screening systems, this long-delayed virtual wall will be indispensable for national security once finally put into place. Trump has already made a first step towards implementing it as part of his executive order on immigration — or as the liberals call it, the “Muslim ban.” Although the courts have suspended parts of it, the section relating to the “Expedited Completion of the Biometric Entry-Exit Tracking System” has stayed in place.

A bit of context first: one of the main problems plaguing our nation’s immigration policies has long been the authorities’ inability to verify whether those who are supposed to leave are in fact doing so. Just as difficult is the task of ensuring those who are legally in the country abide by its rules. Roughly half of illegal immigrants (5-6 million people) are people currently in the U.S. who entered the country lawfully but failed to leave when their permission to remain in the country expired. A biometric exit system will help to collect and access individual data and make identity fraud impossible. You can steal someone’s ID, but you can’t take their fingerprints.

This is not a new idea, and it wasn’t even a Republican who initially signed biometrics into law. Back in 1996, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act signed by Bill Clinton called for an automated entry-exit process, but it was never implemented. Even the nonpartisan 9/11 report in 2004 recommended that a comprehensive biometric entry and exit screening system be put into place. Par for the course for government efficiency, the government missed two implementation deadlines in 2006 and 2009. Since then, the issue has gone quiet.

Thanks to Trump’s renewed push to crack down on immigration, the screws have been put on the Department of Homeland Security to finally enact a law that should have been put in place 21 years ago. While Congress appropriated only half of Trump’s requested $3 billion for the Department, the extra funds are specifically earmarked for “enhanced border security” efforts for FY2017, specifically for “maintenance, infrastructure and technology for the existing wall”. It’s no coincidence that DHS head John Kelly emphasized the need to harness technology during his confirmation hearings, suggesting he would work closer with the private sector to develop new solutions.

Thanks in large part to that two-decade delay, the U.S. is now merely following in the footsteps of other countries afflicted by unsustainable levels of immigration. Europe’s border agency Frontex, rattled to the core by a seemingly endless refugee crisis and terror spree, has tasked tech companies to come up with ways to track and control the flow of people trying to reach the continent before they get there. It has also earmarked 30 million Euros to upgrade facial recognition systems and improve data storage in order to help authorities track irregulars.

On the other side of the globe, Australia has also taken significant steps towards curbing the uncontrolled entry of refugees and immigrants. The country’s Immigration Department was awarded a $95.4 million budget boost for 2017 to introduce technologies for processing traveler visas and assessing security risks.

The world’s frontrunner on biometrics system, though, remains Israel, a country that is locked in a constant battle with terrorism like no other. The government has plans to make biometric ID cards linked to a database mandatory for Israeli citizens. That way, identity theft is made more difficult, making it harder for terrorists to pose as Israelis and carry out devastating attacks in large population centers. Similarly, in order to bolster the security of its travel documents, Peru hired France’s Imprimerie Nationale to develop a new biometric passport — a passport which then helped the country get visa free access to the European Union.

So as long as Homeland Security gets its act together and puts biometric requirements into place, there’s no need to bemoan the suspension of the border wall. Besides, the wall would do nothing to address the millions of illegal immigrants already in the country. The biometric entry-exit tracking system, on the other hand, will have a drastic effect and will eventually be more important for national security. Now all we need is for somebody to tell Ann.



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Trump’s Good cop/bad cop Approach to Saudi Arabia


Staying true to his unpredictable approach to politics, Trump has been keeping us guessing on where he’ll go with his administration’s Saudi policy. During his campaign, he went where few politicians dare to tread when he said the Kingdom wasn’t pulling its weight in covering the cost of the U.S. security umbrella. He took a more balanced approach during Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s official visit to Washington in March, when they agreed on the major security threat posed by Iran. Then, just a week ago, Trump veered back towards his campaign rhetoric against the House of Saud, saying that the U.S. was losing a “tremendous amount of money” defending the desert kingdom.

While Trump plays bad cop, he’s letting James Mattis and Rex Tillerson play nice. The secretaries of State and Defense travelled to Saudi last month, where Tillerson acknowledged the Kingdom’s worries by calling Iran “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism” and announcing a government-wide review of U.S. policy on Iran.

Trump’s approach to U.S.-Saudi relations might look incoherent, but the good cop/bad cop strategy is a smart one. By using it, Trump is getting the point across that free riding won’t be tolerated, while Mattis and Tillerson smooth any ruffled feathers and move ahead with priorities in bilateral relations: collaboration on Iran, defense, and investment. This dynamic keeps Riyadh on our side, but also keeps them on their toes.

Assisting Trump is that, at this point, the Saudis have much less to offer in return for our political and military support. Thanks to the shale revolution, Saudi oil exports to the U.S. have fallen by 24% over the past 10 years — while American production has doubled during the same period. Where the Saudis used to be able to dangle their oil reserves over our heads, we now have the upper hand in the relationship. This has become even clearer since the fall in crude oil prices, blowing a hole in Saudi Arabia’s budget and setting off an economic crisis there.

In response, last April, the Saudi government announced a plan known as “Vision 2030” to reduce economic dependence on oil, attract outside capital, and open up the Kingdom’s highly conservative society. As part of the plan, the government plans to sell a 5% stake in state oil giant Aramco. That IPO, estimated to be worth at least $1 trillion, could be the largest in history and has already attracted interest from the New York Stock Exchange — something that Trump’s businessman reflexes surely noticed. During his tour in the Kingdom, Tillerson touted American companies as “partners you can count on” and said Saudi Arabia would find numerous opportunities in the U.S. in a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But the U.S. isn’t the only country with a stake in these new investment opportunities. Other countries, including the UK but also China, have been lining up to take advantage of opportunities offered by a more liberalized economy. In the past six months alone, Theresa May has made two state visits to the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia is London’s biggest trading partner in the Middle East, and May wants to increase trade and business ties even further. Last December, she attended the annual Gulf Cooperation Council summit to discuss the creation of a GCC-UK free trade space, while her second visit last month included the chief executive of the London Stock Exchange (there to try and win the Aramco IPO for the LSE). The Chinese, meanwhile, inked $65 billion in investment and business deals back in March, when the Saudi king Salman visited Beijing on an Asia-wide tour. Going beyond economic ties, both the British and the Chinese have stepped up their military presence in the vicinity.

For all the skepticism about Saudi-American relations, Trump and his cabinet secretaries know that Riyadh is on track to becoming one of the world’s biggest economies by 2050, equal to France. The Chinese clearly recognize this and are acting accordingly, and so the administration wants to make sure we keep our place at the table by making up for the damage done during the Obama years. Fortunately, we now have more leverage than we’ve had in decades and can extract better terms for our businesses — all while containing Iran. If all goes well, Trump may soon be able to point to the Saudis as an example of what “America First” actually looks like in foreign policy: America’s interests secured via partnerships with allies that finally pay their fair share.

Staying true to his unpredictable approach to politics, Trump has been keeping us guessing on where he’ll go with his administration’s Saudi policy. During his campaign, he went where few politicians dare to tread when he said the Kingdom wasn’t pulling its weight in covering the cost of the U.S. security umbrella. He took a more balanced approach during Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s official visit to Washington in March, when they agreed on the major security threat posed by Iran. Then, just a week ago, Trump veered back towards his campaign rhetoric against the House of Saud, saying that the U.S. was losing a “tremendous amount of money” defending the desert kingdom.

While Trump plays bad cop, he’s letting James Mattis and Rex Tillerson play nice. The secretaries of State and Defense travelled to Saudi last month, where Tillerson acknowledged the Kingdom’s worries by calling Iran “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism” and announcing a government-wide review of U.S. policy on Iran.

Trump’s approach to U.S.-Saudi relations might look incoherent, but the good cop/bad cop strategy is a smart one. By using it, Trump is getting the point across that free riding won’t be tolerated, while Mattis and Tillerson smooth any ruffled feathers and move ahead with priorities in bilateral relations: collaboration on Iran, defense, and investment. This dynamic keeps Riyadh on our side, but also keeps them on their toes.

Assisting Trump is that, at this point, the Saudis have much less to offer in return for our political and military support. Thanks to the shale revolution, Saudi oil exports to the U.S. have fallen by 24% over the past 10 years — while American production has doubled during the same period. Where the Saudis used to be able to dangle their oil reserves over our heads, we now have the upper hand in the relationship. This has become even clearer since the fall in crude oil prices, blowing a hole in Saudi Arabia’s budget and setting off an economic crisis there.

In response, last April, the Saudi government announced a plan known as “Vision 2030” to reduce economic dependence on oil, attract outside capital, and open up the Kingdom’s highly conservative society. As part of the plan, the government plans to sell a 5% stake in state oil giant Aramco. That IPO, estimated to be worth at least $1 trillion, could be the largest in history and has already attracted interest from the New York Stock Exchange — something that Trump’s businessman reflexes surely noticed. During his tour in the Kingdom, Tillerson touted American companies as “partners you can count on” and said Saudi Arabia would find numerous opportunities in the U.S. in a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But the U.S. isn’t the only country with a stake in these new investment opportunities. Other countries, including the UK but also China, have been lining up to take advantage of opportunities offered by a more liberalized economy. In the past six months alone, Theresa May has made two state visits to the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia is London’s biggest trading partner in the Middle East, and May wants to increase trade and business ties even further. Last December, she attended the annual Gulf Cooperation Council summit to discuss the creation of a GCC-UK free trade space, while her second visit last month included the chief executive of the London Stock Exchange (there to try and win the Aramco IPO for the LSE). The Chinese, meanwhile, inked $65 billion in investment and business deals back in March, when the Saudi king Salman visited Beijing on an Asia-wide tour. Going beyond economic ties, both the British and the Chinese have stepped up their military presence in the vicinity.

For all the skepticism about Saudi-American relations, Trump and his cabinet secretaries know that Riyadh is on track to becoming one of the world’s biggest economies by 2050, equal to France. The Chinese clearly recognize this and are acting accordingly, and so the administration wants to make sure we keep our place at the table by making up for the damage done during the Obama years. Fortunately, we now have more leverage than we’ve had in decades and can extract better terms for our businesses — all while containing Iran. If all goes well, Trump may soon be able to point to the Saudis as an example of what “America First” actually looks like in foreign policy: America’s interests secured via partnerships with allies that finally pay their fair share.



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Going Overboard with #Russiagate


It’s a sad day for politics in America when Rep. Trey Gowdy has to plead with Democrats in Congress to be “constructive” and responsible in finding the truth, but Gowdy knows as well as anyone that his appeal is doomed to fall on deaf ears. Democrats in Congress and their allies in the media have officially become obsessed with the alleged links between the Trump administration and Russia, and it has very little to do with concerns over the integrity of the electoral process or the fate of American democracy.

In reality, the president’s opponents see the investigations into Trump campaign associates and hangers-on as an invaluable weapon. With the electorate booting the Democratic Party completely out of power, what better way is there to undermine the administration and cast a cloud of illegitimacy over the duly elected commander-in-chief?

Tim Weiner puts it perfectly when he says the FBI’s investigation could take “years to resolve,” which is music to anti-Trump ears. After all, as long as the press and the Democrats can keep RussiaGate on the front page, President Trump and the GOP will never have a chance to tackle their legislative priorities and will be stuck in a constant cycle of mini-scandals that undermine the administration without ever actually impugning it. The objective isn’t to figure out whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton, but to dominate the political agenda and suffocate any real discussion of policy.

This is why, regardless of the results of a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation and an FBI probe into allegations of collusion between Moscow and senior members of Trump’s team, the Left will do all it can to prevent the RussiaGate narrative from dying.

Of course, the main weakness in the Russia case is that there is not a shred of evidence pinning the President to the Kremlin. The closest the Democrats can get is onetime advisors such as Paul Manafort, who chaired the Trump campaign for a few months last year but who was forced out after the allegations of corruption dating back to his work for Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yanukovych emerged. Manafort was removed from the campaign well before the election and plays no part whatsoever in the administration, but none of that matters to the media: they are perfectly happy to keep mining Manafort’s past to score points against his former clients.

As it turns out, Trump is not the only billionaire whose reputation Manafort has unfairly tarred by association. Last month, the Associated Press published claims that Manafort secretly worked for Russia’s Oleg Deripaska on a plan that would “greatly benefit the Putin government.” The news agency quoted anonymous sources as saying Manafort signed a $10 million annual contract with Deripaska in 2006, after pitching a strategy that would boost Russia’s influence in the U.S.

Deripaska, though, refused to take the aspersions lying down. Instead, he took out quarter-page and later full-page advertisements in outlets like the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal to refute the idea any such contract was ever signed. On top of that, he signaled his readiness to take part in any Congressional hearings on the subject in order to clear his name. His letter makes an important point: the Associated Press produced no evidence to support the claims it published, and the only thing linking Deripaska to a pro-Putin influence campaign is Manafort’s alleged attempt to sell him on it. The Russian businessman’s ties with Trump, for that matter? Nonexistent.

Like Trump, Deripaska’s only crime was apparently hiring Manafort to do any work whatsoever. Unfortunately for the Russian, not even being cheated by the political operative is enough to keep him from being lumped into the wider feeding frenzy.

Again, protestations to the contrary don’t matter. Regardless of what comes to light as part of the probes into Trump’s alleged links with Moscow, Democratic lawmakers, the media, and the president’s enemies within the Republican Party have no intention of letting this go. This is all they have after the desperate attempt to overturn the results of the election in the Electoral College failed (although Faith Spotted Eagle is presumably enjoying her one electoral vote). Rather than accept that Trump won the election fair and square and fight him on policy, his opponents have decided that the Russian scandal is the best way to handicap the new administration. As some on the Left openly admit, the final objective is impeachment: a pipe dream, but an enticing one.

President Trump’s opponents will continue to lay this trap for as long as they can, and the administration needs to take care not to fall into it by indulging conspiracy theories and letting themselves get bogged down fighting interference actions. Instead, Republicans need to remain focused on policy priorities. Without a real leg to stand on, the story will eventually run out of steam. The only question is how much of Trump’s time in office it manages to eat up before it does.

It’s a sad day for politics in America when Rep. Trey Gowdy has to plead with Democrats in Congress to be “constructive” and responsible in finding the truth, but Gowdy knows as well as anyone that his appeal is doomed to fall on deaf ears. Democrats in Congress and their allies in the media have officially become obsessed with the alleged links between the Trump administration and Russia, and it has very little to do with concerns over the integrity of the electoral process or the fate of American democracy.

In reality, the president’s opponents see the investigations into Trump campaign associates and hangers-on as an invaluable weapon. With the electorate booting the Democratic Party completely out of power, what better way is there to undermine the administration and cast a cloud of illegitimacy over the duly elected commander-in-chief?

Tim Weiner puts it perfectly when he says the FBI’s investigation could take “years to resolve,” which is music to anti-Trump ears. After all, as long as the press and the Democrats can keep RussiaGate on the front page, President Trump and the GOP will never have a chance to tackle their legislative priorities and will be stuck in a constant cycle of mini-scandals that undermine the administration without ever actually impugning it. The objective isn’t to figure out whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton, but to dominate the political agenda and suffocate any real discussion of policy.

This is why, regardless of the results of a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation and an FBI probe into allegations of collusion between Moscow and senior members of Trump’s team, the Left will do all it can to prevent the RussiaGate narrative from dying.

Of course, the main weakness in the Russia case is that there is not a shred of evidence pinning the President to the Kremlin. The closest the Democrats can get is onetime advisors such as Paul Manafort, who chaired the Trump campaign for a few months last year but who was forced out after the allegations of corruption dating back to his work for Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yanukovych emerged. Manafort was removed from the campaign well before the election and plays no part whatsoever in the administration, but none of that matters to the media: they are perfectly happy to keep mining Manafort’s past to score points against his former clients.

As it turns out, Trump is not the only billionaire whose reputation Manafort has unfairly tarred by association. Last month, the Associated Press published claims that Manafort secretly worked for Russia’s Oleg Deripaska on a plan that would “greatly benefit the Putin government.” The news agency quoted anonymous sources as saying Manafort signed a $10 million annual contract with Deripaska in 2006, after pitching a strategy that would boost Russia’s influence in the U.S.

Deripaska, though, refused to take the aspersions lying down. Instead, he took out quarter-page and later full-page advertisements in outlets like the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal to refute the idea any such contract was ever signed. On top of that, he signaled his readiness to take part in any Congressional hearings on the subject in order to clear his name. His letter makes an important point: the Associated Press produced no evidence to support the claims it published, and the only thing linking Deripaska to a pro-Putin influence campaign is Manafort’s alleged attempt to sell him on it. The Russian businessman’s ties with Trump, for that matter? Nonexistent.

Like Trump, Deripaska’s only crime was apparently hiring Manafort to do any work whatsoever. Unfortunately for the Russian, not even being cheated by the political operative is enough to keep him from being lumped into the wider feeding frenzy.

Again, protestations to the contrary don’t matter. Regardless of what comes to light as part of the probes into Trump’s alleged links with Moscow, Democratic lawmakers, the media, and the president’s enemies within the Republican Party have no intention of letting this go. This is all they have after the desperate attempt to overturn the results of the election in the Electoral College failed (although Faith Spotted Eagle is presumably enjoying her one electoral vote). Rather than accept that Trump won the election fair and square and fight him on policy, his opponents have decided that the Russian scandal is the best way to handicap the new administration. As some on the Left openly admit, the final objective is impeachment: a pipe dream, but an enticing one.

President Trump’s opponents will continue to lay this trap for as long as they can, and the administration needs to take care not to fall into it by indulging conspiracy theories and letting themselves get bogged down fighting interference actions. Instead, Republicans need to remain focused on policy priorities. Without a real leg to stand on, the story will eventually run out of steam. The only question is how much of Trump’s time in office it manages to eat up before it does.



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