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John Glaser

John Glaser

Articles by John Glaser

With Airstrikes in Iraq, Trump Draws America Further into Middle East Conflict

January 3, 2020

The U.S. airstrike that killed the Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani is a dangerous and reckless act that is almost certain to trigger an escalation of violence in the Middle East, including the possibility of retaliatory Iranian actions against U.S. forces in the region.
There is also likely to be backlash from Baghdad. The bombing killed Soleimani as well as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an important Shia paramilitary leader in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units with close ties to Iran. (Note: Iran’s increased influence in Iraq is a direct consequence of the U.S. invasion in 2003 and the subsequent decisions of the Bush administration.) U.S. forces are in Iraq with the permission of the Iraqi government, which has grown increasingly infuriated by repeated U.S. airstrikes on Iraqi territory

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Special Inspector General for Afghanistan: “The American People Have Constantly Been Lied To.”

December 9, 2019

The Washington Post has obtained a huge cache of internal government documents containing hundreds of interviews with U.S. officials on the war in Afghanistan. The documents reveal a broadly shared official view that America’s longest war has been a failure, essentially from the start. Over the years, official assessments of the war were consistently positive, optimistic, hopeful, and confident in the progress being made on the ground. But behind closed doors, official assessments were starkly different. Post reporter Craig Whitlock writes:
Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear

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Requiring the Pentagon to be Transparent about US Overseas Bases

August 28, 2019

The Overseas Base Realignment and Closure Coalition, “a group of military base experts from across the political spectrum,” is calling on Congress to mandate a reporting requirement on overseas bases. In a letter to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, the group of experts says the information that the Department of Defense currently provides on the cost and location of overseas bases is very “limited” and the “data is frequently incomplete.” This lack of transparency, they write, has allowed the Pentagon to erroneously claim America’s empire of overseas military bases – some 800 installations in 70 or 80 countries around the world – only costs taxpayers $20 billion per year, even while more inclusive independent estimates go as high as $150 billion per year. Below is an

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The Case against Afghanistan Withdrawal Is Weak

August 13, 2019

Even in these divisive times, political leaders in Washington are beginning to converge on at least one issue: it’s time to end the longest war in American history and withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan. President Trump said in the Oval Office last month that “it’s ridiculous” that we’re still there after almost two decades of stalemate and he reportedly wants to pull out by the 2020 election. His challengers on the Democratic side seem to agree.
Although in 2017 Trump authorized a small surge of troops and left the military strategy essentially unchanged, his special envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has made significant progress in direct negotiations with the Taliban. Daunting obstacles remain, but a political settlement that could include a U.S. withdrawal

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An Aborted War, and the Failure of Trump’s “Maximum Pressure” Campaign on Iran

June 21, 2019

President Trump’s last minute decision to abort a US military strike on Iran is a welcome sign that someone in the administration knows when to slam the breaks on the “maximum pressure” campaign. There is no national security interest at stake in the downing of a U.S. drone in the Persian Gulf that could come close to the costs and risks associated with bombing Iranian territory and military assets. Furthermore, contrary to those in the administration that tried to encourage a U.S. strike, it is likely such an attack would be escalatory, in contrast to Trump’s strikes on Syria in 2017 and 2018. Iran has the capability to respond to nearby U.S. assets in the region, and war games run by the Pentagon going back to the Obama administration have showed even a limited attack carries a high

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Lessons from Rome on Executive Power and Restraint

February 22, 2019

Recent events have unnerved many Americans about the political problem of executive power. Though it seems not to bother the vast majority of citizens, there has been at least some recognition in the public conversation that the mere possibility that a personage like Donald Trump could get elected president is precisely why a system of ever-expanding executive power, such as ours, is dangerous. But the truth is, this concern has been percolating since September 11, 2001. Both Bush and Obama left the office more powerful than they found it. And that makes perfect sense: if history shows us anything, it’s that war centralizes power – often into the hands of a single person.
But as the 2020 campaign picks up, it showcases that the expansion of executive authority isn’t relegated to war

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Bad Policy Begets Insecurity

February 19, 2019

The New York Times is reporting a major spike in aggressive cyber attacks by Iran and China against businesses and government agencies in the United States. “[S]ecurity experts believe,” the Times reports, that the renewed cyber attacks “have been energized by President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last year and his trade conflicts with China.”
Chinese cyberespionage cooled four years ago after President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China reached a landmark deal to stop hacks meant to steal trade secrets.
But the 2015 agreement appears to have been unofficially canceled amid the continuing trade tension between the United States and China, the intelligence officials and private security researchers said. Chinese hacks have returned to earlier levels,

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Trump Is Right to Withdraw From Syria

December 19, 2018

President Trump has ordered a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. This is the right decision. The U.S. military presence in Syria has not been authorized by Congress, is illegal under international law, lacks a coherent strategy, and carries significant risks of entangling America in a broader quagmire in yet another Middle Eastern country.
As I wrote in Axios:
The Obama administration first deployed U.S. troops to Syria to complement its aerial bombing campaign against ISIS with special operations forces and coordinate with local anti-ISIS militias on the ground, gradually expanding from hundreds of troops to roughly 4,000.
The mission expanded, too, from merely defeating ISIS (substantially accomplished some time ago) to ushering Syrian President Bashar al-Assad out of power,

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WWI, Honor, and U.S. Foreign Policy

November 12, 2018

Yesterday marked 100 years since the end of the First World War. The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog used the occasion to publish an excellent commentary, based on a longer academic journal article, by political scientists Alexander Lanoszka and Michael A. Hunzeker. They argue that the Great War could have actually ended long before the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. Two years earlier, in December 1916, both “Germany and the United States issued peace overtures” that, if heeded, “could have spared countless lives and have helped Europe escape the financial ruin and deep-seated animosity that produced World War II,” Lanoszka and Hunzeker explain. “Unfortunately, the Entente — Britain, France and Russia — dismissed both offers, and the fighting

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Let’s Face It: US Policy in the Middle East Has Failed

October 19, 2018

The ongoing controversy surrounding the murder of a dissident Saudi journalist and Saudi Arabia’s brutal bombing campaign of a largely defenseless neighboring Yemen, which has come with an enormous human toll, have elicited increased scrutiny over the U.S.-Saudi alliance. The White House remains supportive of Riyadh, both diplomatically and with continued military aid. Republicans have offered mildly critical words for the Saudi regime, while an increasing number of Democrats are calling for a fundamental reassessment of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
Such a reassessment is long overdue. Washington’s partnership with Riyadh has often been treated as sacrosanct, at least here in the nation’s capital. It should have been clear long ago that the Saudis are not good allies. In fact, they

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On the Purpose of NATO & the Cost of European Defense

July 10, 2018

The anxiety leading up to this week’s NATO summit is unusually intense, thanks in large part to President Trump’s fractious relationship with European allies. Trump’s political values are often in tension with that of his transatlantic counterparts, and the White House is inching ever closer to an all-out trade war with Europe and Canada, but the real drama of the NATO summit will center on Trump’s brash accusations of allied free-riding. He recently sent letters to many European capitals berating them for not meeting their pledge to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense.
In a post at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Lucie Béraud-Sudreau and Nick Childs try to push back on the notion that providing for European defense is all that costly for the United States.

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Partisan Hypocrisy on Diplomacy Undermines Strategic Foreign Policy

June 18, 2018

Now that some of the dust has settled from President Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, it’s worth taking stock of the politics surrounding it. As The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart points out, many Democrats and progressives have oddly decided to be staunch critics of the summit, harping on its limited achievements, the vague aspirations of denuclearization without concrete steps to get there, Trump’s bizarre obsequiousness in courting Kim, and this administration’s clear lack of preparation for such high-stakes diplomatic negotiations. These are all legitimate criticisms, by the way, but given how dangerously close the Trump administration came to potentially catastropic escalation only a few months ago (admittedly, a crisis of Trump’s own making), diplomacy, no matter

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Did Trump’s “Maximum Pressure” Bring North Korea to the Table?

April 30, 2018

Direct diplomacy between North and South Korea has picked up in recent weeks, culminating on Friday in a summit meeting between North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in. The Panmunjom Declaration, a joint statement detailing goals and objectives for ongoing negotiations, included language about “denuclearization” as well as a commitment to work toward formally ending the Korean War. Images of both leaders holding hands and stepping over the border were moving.
To top it all off, on Sunday, the South Korean government said that Kim Jong-un told President Moon Jae-in “that he would abandon his nuclear weapons if the United States agreed to formally end the Korean War and promise not to invade his country.” This is now the context heading into the planned

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No Strategic, Tactical, Legal, or Humanitarian Justification for US Strikes in Syria

April 11, 2018

President Trump delivered a disturbing tweet this morning regarding a U.S. military strike in Syria, which is reportedly impending:

Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2018

This amounts to an embrace of Russia’s challenge and it risks a significant escalation of the U.S. role in Syria. It is a profoundly dangerous example of brinkmanship. Americans are now supposed to ready themselves for a military clash with a nuclear power over a U.S. military strike against the Assad regime that has no legitimate justification.
First, any U.S. strike against

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Increased Civilian Casualties and a Disturbing Question from President Trump

April 6, 2018

Back in 2015, candidate Donald Trump caused a stir when he publicly advocated murdering the families of terrorists. At the time, this was widely condemned for its immoral cruelty and as a violation of the laws of war. Richard D. Rosen, director of the Center for Military Law and Policy at the Texas Tech University School of Law, described  “a policy of intentionally and directly targeting the families of terrorists” as “a war crime.” 
To the relief of many, the New York Times  reported  in March 2016 that Trump had “reversed course on his vow to kill the families of terrorists…saying he now recognized that such actions would violate international law.”
A disturbing report published yesterday in the Washington Post suggests President Trump may not have really changed his mind. The

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Explaining the Bolton Appointment, and Why It’s Dangerous

March 29, 2018

Ever since President Trump appointed John Bolton to be the new national security advisor last week, a torrent of commentary has poured forth about the hawkish Fox News pundit and American Enterprise Institute senior fellow, who once served as United Nations Ambassador for 18 months in the George W. Bush administration. Two pieces published today, however, stand out for their precision and insight. 
The first is by The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart, whose central argument is that Bolton is not the learned foreign policy scholar many believe him to be. While Bolton certainly has years of experience, it hasn’t been of the right kind. Bolton’s “militancy,” his “incessant, almost casual, advocacy of war,” Beinart argues, is positively “Trumpian: The less evidence you have, the more certain you

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A Trump-Kim Meeting — Fraught With Risk and Opportunity

March 9, 2018

Just over a year into a presidency already full of unusual precedents, President Trump has agreed to a North Korean offer, communicated through South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong, to meet face to face with Kim Jong-un. Though such meetings have been bandied about in the past, no sitting U.S. president has ever met with a sitting North Korean Supreme Leader. It is a prospect fraught with risk and opportunity.
Kim reportedly made this offer along with a statement that North Korea is “committed to denuclearization.” He left ambiguous what he would want in return, though, according to Chung, it involves a commitment that South Korea and the United States “not repeat the mistakes of the past.” Given what Pyongyang has previously demanded, this likely refers to upholding

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Do U.S. Bases Overseas Create Peace?

February 23, 2018

In a Cato study last year, I argued that the U.S. policy of maintaining hundreds of permanent forward-deployed military bases around the world is not only unnecessary, but also actually counterproductive in some ways. Advocates of forward-deployment claim it pacifies the international system by deterring adversaries and reassuring allies, thus ameliorating conflict spirals and staving off interstate wars.
I argued instead that today’s lower rates of interstate conflict are a result of many factors – including defense dominance, economic interdependence, changing norms, etc. – other than forward basing and the security guarantees that underlie them. I further claimed that forward bases can actually undermine peace and stability by incentivizing “reckless driving” by allies and

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Trump’s Bombast On Iran & North Korea Makes War More Likely

February 5, 2018

Neatly defining President Trump’s foreign policy has never been easy, characterized as it is by contradictory impulses, fragmentary ideas, and strains of paradox. However, on the two most arresting national security issues at the top of Trump’s agenda—Iran and North Korea—his approach is plain: aggressive confrontation is good; diplomacy is bad.
The problem is that, even if Trump himself is not determined to go to war with either of these countries, he is making it far more likely.
Last month, Trump once again waived nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, consistent with our obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 agreement that provided economic sanctions relief in exchange for Iran significantly rolling back its nuclear program and subjecting it to an

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Trump Commits to Another Open-Ended War in Syria

January 18, 2018

One of the leading critiques against President Trump’s foreign policy is that it smacks of global retreat and constitutes a U.S. withdrawal from the leading role it has played in the so-called “liberal world order.” As I explain in an op-ed in the New York Post today, that critique is unfounded.
I cite Joe Scarborough lamenting Trump’s “dangerous retreat from the world,” and Evan Osnos who, in a recent piece in The New Yorker, claimed, “President Trump is reducing U.S. commitments abroad.” Likewise, Hal Brands, who worked on foreign policy strategy in the Obama administration and is now a professor at Johns Hopkins SAIS, broods that Trump “is clearly attracted to something like Fortress America,” a vision that fuses anti-free trade economic nationalism with a withdrawal from U.S.

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The Malady of Excessive Interventionism

December 5, 2017

There is a lot that’s wrong with U.S. foreign policy right now, but a broader look at U.S. grand strategy in the post-Cold War era reveals just how broken things have been across administrations of both parties.
The post-Cold War era has seen a continuation of a long global trend toward greater peace and stability, lower rates of conflict, and zero great power wars. More peace and diminishing threats have merely enhanced the remarkable security already enjoyed by the United States thanks to its geographic isolation, weak neighbors, unparalleled economic and military power, and its nuclear deterrent.
But America doesn’t act as if it is safe. Instead, we have a hyper-interventionist foreign policy. Over the last century, according to the Rand Corporation, “there was only one brief

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Intolerable Cruelty With No Security Rationale: U.S. Support of Saudi Arabia in Yemen

November 21, 2017

The United States is helping one of the most vicious authoritarian regimes in the world bomb and blockade one of the poorest and most defenseless countries in the world. Painful as it may be for Americans to hear, war crimes are being committed with America’s support.
Saudi Arabia launched its war on Yemen in 2015 on flimsy national security grounds and almost immediately garnered criticism from the United Nations and human rights groups for indiscriminate bombings, and in some cases deliberate targeting, of civilian areas. Saudi bombs have landed on residential homes, marketplaces, refugee camps, schools, hospitals, and at least one funeral. In spite of these allegations and clear evidence of extreme human suffering, the United States has supported the Saudi campaign from the

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Can Congress Constrain Trump on North Korea?

November 15, 2017

It seems President Trump has aroused heightened interest in the exercise of Congress’s constitutional powers in war and peace. In a 366-30 vote this week, the House of Representatives passed a nonbinding resolution declaring the U.S. military’s role in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen unauthorized. That’s a start. Even more promisingly, a growing group of Senate Democrats is pushing legislation that would prohibit any use of funds for “military operations in North Korea absent an imminent threat to the United States without express congressional authorization.”
Though it merely makes more explicit something that ought to be fully understood under the Constitution, sponsors of the bill have understandable motivations here. President Trump has repeatedly claimed that he does not need

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Overwhelming Resistance to Trump’s Plan to Scuttle the Iran Deal

September 21, 2017

This has not been a good week for President Trump’s Iran policy. As the president has indicated, he plans in mid-October to decertify Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), negotiated and signed in 2015, which rolled back Iran’s nuclear program, placed severe restrictions on it for the foreseeable future, and imposed the world’s most intrusive inspections regime on what remained.
Leaving aside for now the various and profoundly negative ramifications of Trump’s stated intention to declare Iran in violation of the agreement, the most immediate problem for the president has always been that Iran is, in fact, not in violation of the deal. As attested to by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and all other signatories to the

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Fibbing Troop Levels and the Need for Transparency

August 28, 2017

An article in Politico today reports on a persistent problem with the Pentagon providing inaccurate numbers of U.S. troops deployed in foreign countries, particularly war zones like Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq.
The Defense Department has long been among the worst federal offenders in terms of lack of transparency in public reporting on everything from where Americans are deployed to how tax dollars are spent. Specifically, though, Pentagon officials have recently resorted to some clever accounting tricks in order to make total troop levels appear lower than they actually are.
At least a few factors are motivating this “concealment of total troops in war-zones,” as Politico puts it. First, the Obama administration set certain caps on the number of troops permitted to be deployed in

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Are US Bases in Asia Vulnerable? Time to Rethink Force Posture

July 24, 2017

A recent study from the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) looks at how China’s military capabilities in Asia make forward-deployed U.S. bases there vulnerable. The report warns, “the growing capability of China to threaten U.S. bases in the region” may represent “the greatest military threat to U.S. vital interests in Asia.”
“In the event of an unforeseen U.S.-China crisis,” the report explains, “a preemptive missile strike against the forward bases that underpin U.S. military power in the Western Pacific could be a real possibility…particularly if China perceives that its attempts at deterrence of a major U.S. intervention—say in a cross-strait Taiwan crisis or in a brewing dispute over the Senkaku Islands—have failed.”
Two important points need to be made in response to this

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Is Trump Putting Us Back on the Road to War with Iran?

July 19, 2017

On Monday, the Trump administration once again officially certified that Iran is in compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement that rolled back Iran’s nuclear program and subjected it to unprecedented levels of inspections and monitoring in exchange for sanctions relief. But, according to multiple reports, Trump was very close to refusing to do so.
Apparently, there is a split in the administration. Some of Trump’s national security advisors, along with some hawks on Capitol Hill, are intent on torpedoing the Iran nuclear deal. And Trump was set to officially claim, contrary to the facts, that Iran was not living up to the agreement. At the last minute, another camp in the administration’s national security team, including Secretary of State Rex

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On North Korea, Diplomacy Is the Sensible Option

July 7, 2017

The Trump administration’s approach to North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development has been almost exclusively an emphasis on military confrontation. The latest eruption of escalatory actions and rhetoric is in keeping with the norm.
Following Pyongyang’s successful testing of an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) this week, Trump referenced “some pretty severe things that we are thinking about” in response. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of U.S. forces in South Korean, warned ominously that “it would be a grave mistake for anyone” to doubt our willingness to use military force in response to North Korean “provocation.” UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said in a statement that we will use “our considerable military forces…if we must, but we prefer not to have

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Placating the Gulf States Distorts Middle East Policy

June 12, 2017

A lengthy New York Times article over the weekend touches on a contradiction in the U.S. strategy against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Even as the United States cooperates in a de facto tactical alliance with Iran against ISIS, we’re engaged in a longer-term strategy against Iranian influence in the Middle East. U.S. and Iranian-backed forces have even clashed in battlefield skirmishes in recent weeks.
Picking a fight with an implicit ally is problematic for many reasons. Perhaps most worryingly, such clashes risk sucking U.S. forces deeper into Syria’s civil war.
The article quotes Lebanese scholar Kamel Wazne’s argument that the Trump administration, with encouragement from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, is “turning up the heat against Iran,” and eager to prevent

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Why Bulking Up the US Military Presence in Asia Is a Bad Idea

May 8, 2017

The Wall Street Journal reports, “the Pentagon has endorsed a plan to invest nearly $8 billion to bulk up the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region over the next five years by upgrading military infrastructure, conducting additional exercises and deploying more forces and ships.”
The reasons behind such a military build-up in Asia are not entirely clear. Here are Senator John McCain’s statements justifying it:
“This initiative could enhance U.S. military power through targeted funding to realign our force posture in the region, improve operationally relevant infrastructure, fund additional exercises, pre-position equipment and build capacity with our allies and partners,” Mr. McCain told Adm. Harris in an April hearing.
Dustin Walker, a spokesman to Mr. McCain, described the plan

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