Duss on Democracy Now! discusses JD Vance, Trump and Biden foreign policy

Following J.D. Vance’s first speech at the Republican Convention as the official vice presidential nominee, CIP Executive Vice President Matt Duss joined Democracy Now! to discuss the competing narratives and records on foreign policy espoused by Vance, Trump and Biden. Below are excerpted transcripts of Matt’s discussion.

On the Iraq War:

“The story he wants to tell America about Trumpism, about the MAGA movement is that he was misled; he was told by Washington elites that this [the Iraq War] was a just war, a necessary war and was lied to, so he did his duty as an American citizen and went to serve in Marines in Iraq but then came to realize that that war was based on a lie. And of course that is a very valid argument. It was based on a series of lies and and and untruths and had enormously disastrous effects of course for the region but also for the United States. And that’s again an area where President Biden is quite vulnerable. He was a strong supporter of the Iraq War and to this day has never fully accounted for his support for the war.”

 

On Trump’s foreign policy record:

“If you look at the actual record of Trump’s presidency, it was in fact quite militarist. It was not isolationist, it was certainly not dovish in any respect. It was just unilateralist. And that I think is consistent with what we saw [in Vance’s speech] last night. It’s not that the United States will be pulling back from the world necessarily. It’s that we will be much more aggressive in advancing our own perceived interests. And if you look at some of the steps Trump took with North Korea, we came closer than ever before to a war in North Korea in 2017. We were on the brink of war with Iran in the wake of the assassination of Qasem Solemaini in January 2020. There was of course the attempt at regime change in Venezuela. So again, I think it’s important to understand all of these in the background even while we recognize the validity of the critique of the foreign policy establishment that we’ve seen from Trump and now from Vance.”

 

On support for Israel:

“What [Vance] said at the beginning about the kind of political support from many Americans, particularly Christian Americans –I myself grew up in the evangelical church so I can relate to what he’s talking about– there is a deep understanding, a deep sympathy culturally, religiously and politically for the state of Israel for a whole bunch of reasons. I think that is valid, it’s important to understand that. But I think there is a separate conversation about what is the correct policy if people care about Israel. What actually leads to security, not just for Israelis, but to Palestinians, for Palestinians, and for people across the region. And I think that is where we’re going to have real disagreement.”

Read Matt’s recent analysis with co-author Daniel Levy, In the U.K. and France, There Was a Gaza Vote. And in the U.S.?, in The New Republic.

On the Abraham Accords and plans for a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia:

“You heard […] Vance praising the Abraham Accords, and unfortunately the Abraham Accords are not a formula for genuine security. It’s important to understand what the countries in the region –Israel, the United Arab Emirates, some of these other undemocratic and repressive countries– see the purpose of the Abraham Accords as, and that is sustaining their own undemocratic rule. I think that ultimately is not going to be formula either for security of Israel in the long term, certainly not for the Palestinians. I don’t want to blame the Abraham Accords for October 7th attacks, but I will note that the logic behind the Abraham Accords, which is that the Palestinians can just be pushed to the side and kind of just managed in perpetuity. That is the logic and environment in which the October 7th attacks happened.

“Unfortunately this is not an area where the Biden administration is able to offer a counterargument because President Biden himself has adopted the Abraham Accords and now pretends that they can be a basis for regional peace and security, which they cannot.”

The House NDAA foreshadows Trump’s next term

Stephen Miles is the president of Win Without War. You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter.)

House Republicans have just given us a glimpse into the possible future through their consideration of the Fiscal Year 2025 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and it’s terrifying. Let’s unpack what just happened.

At its most basic level, the NDAA is the bill that authorizes the Pentagon and associated spending at other agencies, but it’s much more than that. While it authorizes a gargantuan level of spending, nearly one trillion dollars and rising, its real distinction is in being considered one of Congress’ last “must pass” pieces of legislation. Its passage is typically bipartisan, with wide majorities, and contains provisions that touch on nearly every area of federal policy.

In years past, the biggest fights were often about national security and foreign policy, as you’d expect from legislation with ‘national defense’ in the title. How much we should spend at the Pentagon, whether to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and the like. But starting last year, something pretty big changed, and this year, House Republicans went into overdrive.
 

The Mandate of Kevin

The bill started out bipartisan, passing the House Armed Services Committee with large bipartisan support, as usual. Then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, navigating a narrow majority, chose to feed his most MAGA members some red meat by allowing a handful of amendments on the House floor on issues like abortion, LGBTQ rights, and diversity in the military. This turned what had been a bipartisan bill into one of the most partisan ever.

This was, of course, always destined to fail on legislation that needed to pass a Democratic Senate and be signed into law by a Democratic President. So, after months of bluster and bravado, House Republicans did what they’ve had to do on every other piece of major recent legislation and swallowed a compromise bill, one that was popular with a broad bipartisan majority but enraged the far-right MAGA wing of the party.

Which brings us to this year’s NDAA and now-Speaker Johnson navigating an even smaller majority. Rather than recognize reality, work with Democrats, and engage in an honest, robust debate on the myriad of genuine national security threats our country and the world face, Speaker Johnson decided to double down and give even more control to the far-right of his caucus.

This created the fascinating, if horrifying, opportunity to view just what the future may hold should November’s election return unified Republican control to government. It’s a far reaching, radical agenda, so let’s dig in.
 

Red Meat for the Red Meat Caucus

It’s worth starting with national security and foreign policy, the ostensible focus of the underlying bill. Three issues dominated: Israel and Gaza, China, and Ukraine. Sadly, the overwhelming focus of these amendments and the ensuing floor debate was mostly scoring partisan political points. There was little to no grappling with the complexity of these challenges, honest debate around our nation’s actual goals, or interest in de-escalating geopolitical tensions.

Beyond those issues though, we got an even clearer sense of where a future MAGA majority might take governing. Far from the focus on actual questions of national defense, Republican amendments to the NDAA quickly veered into a litany of far right fever dreams. Reps. Reschenthaler, Greene, and Gosar targeted electric cars while Rep. Biggs focused on trying to gut the Endangered Species Act. Reps. Banks, Norman, and Higgins offered amendments both eliminating diversity focused jobs and offices at the Department of Defense and also barring any such positions in the future. Rep. Ogles had an anti-mask covid conspiracy amendment while a host of Republicans led amendments targeting trans individuals’ access to healthcare. There were also amendments attacking pride flags, drag shows, and women in the military. There was even an amendment from Rep. Boebert to ban the government from trying to confront domestic terrorism. That’s right, Rep. Boebert amended the national defense bill to bar us from defending the nation.

But there was so much more. Perhaps not surprisingly for a party that has made immigration its focus lately, the NDAA featured multiple amendments on the issue, though as with others, there was little to no serious attempts to grapple with a complex issue. Instead we got amendments imagining an immigrant threat to military bases, inventing false analogies to demonize immigrants, and even trying to kick Mexico out of North America. Seriously. But the real window into a possible MAGA future is Rep. Crenshaw’s amendment to require the Secretary of Defense to come up with plans to go to war in Mexico. Yes, you read that right, plans for a U.S. war in Mexico. And this isn’t a case of one random member of Congress with outrageous ideas, it’s in lockstep with the apparent plans of the soon-to-be Republican nominee for President.
 

Lost causes and MAGA monuments

Two final amendments really complete the emerging picture. The first, not surprisingly, is a repeat of the anti-abortion amendment that nearly tanked the entire NDAA last year. Sponsored by dozens of Republicans and adopted on a near party line vote, there’s little reason to believe that this year’s effort will be any more successful in overcoming opposition in the Senate and the White House. However, with control of the Senate and the White House possible to change, it is worth understanding that this provision is likely the floor, not the ceiling of anti-abortion efforts likely to be included in future NDAAs.

But perhaps no other amendment is more revealing than one by Reps. Clyde and Good to force the military to re-install a monument to the Confederacy at Arlington National Cemetery. Arlington, of course, has a complex history deeply tied to the Civil War, but this effort is nothing but pure white supremacy and an attempt to erase the horrific legacy of slavery. It is cold comfort that two dozen Republicans joined with all House Democrats to narrowly defeat this amendment given the very real possibility that an increased Republican majority would pass it and other similar pieces of legislation, openly glorifying some of our nation’s darkest hours.

And while a handful of other Republican amendments similarly narrowly failed given the slim House majority and united Democratic opposition, the vast majority passed. Just like last year, House Democrats overwhelmingly voted against the final bill and Republicans sent it to the Senate by the slimmest of margins. The Senate is now working on its own bill, and the two will likely ultimately head to a conference committee where, in consultation with the White House, Republicans will be forced to drop most, but not all, of these provisions.

Yet, House Republicans have now given one of their clearest views yet into how they will govern next year under possible unified control of Congress and the White House. It’s a terrifying vision, one driven by hate, conspiracy, and bigotry. It’s one that sacrifices genuine efforts to protect people in the United States and around the world in favor of partisan efforts to wage culture wars, limit freedom, and threaten lives.

It’s a dark, deeply disturbing vision of a future we may find ourselves in very soon, and we can’t say we weren’t warned.

Environmental Impact of Explosive Weapons in Gaza

On June 5, World Environment Day, the Climate and Militarism Program at the Center for International Policy hosted a webinar about the severe and widespread environmental impacts of explosive weapons being used in the genocidal war against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Explosive weapons supplied by the United States to Israel (and elsewhere around the world) cause both direct and indirect civilian deaths through environmental destruction and contamination that remain long after the bombs explode.

A recording of this panel is available on the event webpage or on the Center for International Policy’s YouTube channel.

An excerpt from the conversation about the long-term implications of explosive weapons on civilian health, human rights, and global security is below:

What’s happening right now is devastating. Not just the ecological damage – I genuinely worry about the generational effects and the profound health effects that this is going to have in the future, in children, and the cancer rates, and the chemicals that pregnant women are being exposed to… about the long term projections of cancer and pulmonary diseases. These typically have fairly long lag times. For cancer, it’s 20 to 40 years. Now, that could be accelerated by repeat exposures.

My immediate family members were affected by the war [in Iraq]. We had cancer rates spike in our family. You know, I think it’s just a matter of time that we’re going to see a lot of these diseases [in Gaza]. I can only speculate, because we don’t have the capacity to test contamination right now.

This is in large part because we don’t have any more universities in Gaza that are left standing. And so you have the scholasticide on top of the ecocide. And so you really can’t study what is happening.

Because of the ongoing bombing, we’re not able to actually sample the air and sample the soil and sample the water, but what I would imagine is there’s so much heavy metal contamination in the soil that it would probably be rather dangerous to grow anything. And the water situation, on top of dehydration and thirst, and on top of the famine that people are experiencing… With just the sheer amount of bombings, I also worry about the concrete material that is being pulverized over and over and over again.

What we saw immediately in the aftermath of 911 was the increased exposure to a number of not just heavy metals, but you also have asbestos from the buildings, you have building materials, you have pulverized glass, steel, and all these other things… Just from that single event, we saw the ensuing effects over decades. Now Gazans are eight months into this madness and are being exposed to things that I honestly don’t understand, I don’t know…

However, we know that particulate matter doesn’t respect boundaries. It doesn’t respect borders… And so even from just a plain human level, I don’t know who is being exposed to this. I would imagine Israelis, I would imagine people in the surrounding region… The heavy metals are carcinogenic. These things aren’t just going to go away, you have to have efforts in terms of soil remediation. This takes a lot of money, a lot of funding, and a lot of technologies to try and clean it. You know, even in the United States we see Superfund sites, these places become very, very difficult, if not impossible, to really clean.

With military aggression, be it by the United States or by Israel, we tend to see that the environmental effects on civilians aren’t even considered, and this is why these things are so under-studied. I want to make that clear. In Iraq, there were these massive burn pits, just ongoing pits of fire, and the [U.S. military] would just throw everything in there. And that caused so much damage to the atmosphere and the environment. And actually, the only way we know about their health effects is through American soldiers who came home. We do not care – there’s very limited data – on the effects of burn pits on Iraqi civilians. And I think this is very telling of where we are – not only in regard to the overall lack of science regarding lasting military contamination – but that it’s very intentional. 

It’s part of the dehumanization where civilian lives are sort of relegated as less-than, as Iraqis and Palestinians. A lot of people of color are just relegated as such. Sort of, ‘you’re just in the way of the bomb.’ And I think that this is the mentality that intense militarism really is centered around.

Dr. Meena Aladdin, PhD, Molecular Toxicology [comments have been summarized and edited for brevity]

 

Watch the recording here. The full list of webinar panelists includes:

 

Image description and credit: An Israeli army tank deploys near a sunflower field in Israel’s southern border with the Gaza Strip. © Menahem Kahana, AFP

CIP Analysis of New Congressional Ukraine and Israel Aid Proposals

We are hopeful that Congress will finally provide long overdue aid to help the people of Ukraine repel Russia’s illegal invasion. With Ukraine’s financial and critical military resources nearly exhausted, this US assistance is vital to preventing Vladimir Putin from achieving his goal of destroying Ukrainian independence and democracy.

In contrast to Ukraine’s demonstrated need for funds to counter conquest and occupation by an expansionist nuclear power, the effort to provide billions of dollars in new American taxpayer funding for weapons to Israel to use in its devastating campaign in Gaza is not militarily, financially or strategically justified.

While Israel has the right and responsibility to defend its people and take military action in response to Hamas’ horrific October 7, 2023 attack, Israel’s campaign in Gaza is failing to achieve its own stated objectives of rescuing the Israelis taken hostage or “eliminating” Hamas from the territory. Instead, Israel’s disproportionate bombardment and siege of the territory with US weapons has resulted in more than 30,000 deaths – two-thirds of which Israel itself estimates are civilians – nearly half of them children.

Despite calls by American lawmakers for meaningful conditions on US military assistance to prevent Israel’s continued use of US arms in a manner that President Biden himself has twice called “indiscriminate,” the stand-alone Israel aid bill being considered by the House of Representatives not only fails to include any such safeguards, but would reduce already insufficient opportunities for Congressional oversight of weapons sales to Israel under federal law. The White House’s issuance of National Security Memorandum 20 (NSM-20) requiring foreign military aid recipients like Israel to adhere to relevant international humanitarian and US law was a step in the right direction, but not a sufficient replacement for durable, statutorily binding safeguards – especially in light of the Biden administration’s resistance to enforcing either existing law or, thus far, NSM-20 with regard to Israel.

With a per capita GDP greater than that of the UK, Canada and Japan – and more than twelve times that of Ukraine — Israel has not made the case to Congress or American taxpayers that it will be unable to carry out essential, legitimate defense activities without the level of financial assistance specified in the bill. Such extraordinary additional subsidization is especially inappropriate in light of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government continuing to spend Israel’s own funds in connection with accelerating efforts to seize and permanently control territory in the occupied West Bank, including the largest expropriation of Palestinian land in the 30 years since the Oslo Accords. Helping Israel finance missile and air defense systems if it was unable to pay for them itself would be entirely reasonable. But providing ever-increasing amounts to fund the deadly munitions and other weapons Israel is deploying in Gaza is not. While Israel openly rejects US requests to use such arms appropriately, desist from violations of Palestinian rights in the West Bank, and refrain from further escalations with Iran, increasing US financing rewards rather than disincentivizes such Israeli actions that run counter to American interests.

Additionally, as Gaza’s civilian population faces a crisis of starvation and disease, the Israel aid bill unconscionably reinforces the recently legislated prohibition on US contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) – the main provider of lifesaving aid and services in the territory — even as it provides a welcome increase in global humanitarian aid. UNRWA has already fired the 12 low-level staff alleged to have participated in the October 7 attacks and has committed to helping hold them fully accountable if the ongoing investigation confirms the allegations. Lawmakers should work urgently to reverse the funding cutoff as nearly all US partner countries have, rather than continuing to collectively punish millions of Palestinians who rely on UNRWA services, including the hundreds of thousands on the brink of famine in Gaza.

Far from addressing the growing threat to American and regional security that the war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza represent, the stand-alone Israel aid bill would cruelly exacerbate it at the very moment further Israeli escalation with Iran risks drawing the United States even deeper into another costly and avoidable quagmire in the Middle East. At this dangerous moment, lawmakers could best keep Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region — including US personnel — safe by pushing for a Gaza ceasefire that allows for massive humanitarian relief and the release of all hostages, while emphasizing the need for de-escalation in tensions with Iran.

The threat of space war is already here

What will happen when war comes to the heavens? Orbit, the most immediately useful part of space, is already a military domain, housing constellations of satellites that relay communications, observing the earth below, and creating useful data on the whole of the world. These military satellites are joined by commercial and scientific satellites, connecting the world and offering a host of useful services to people and companies on the planet below.

Multiple nations have successfully destroyed their own de-orbiting satellites with missiles fired from earth, and the possibility persists that a nation may attack the satellites of another during wartime.

As Dr. Joanna Rozpedowski, senior non resident fellow at CIP, writes for the Geopolitical Monitor:

Every terrestrial war is now simultaneously a space and cyber war requiring identification and active monitoring of threats from space assets and threats to space assets from rival states. In the US Department of Defense assessment, China and Russia in particular pose significant risks to space assets through various means such as cyber warfare, electronic attacks, and ground-to-orbit missiles capable of destroying satellites and space-to-space orbital engagement systems, thus disrupting civilian infrastructure on earth. This has prompted the United States to allocate substantial resources to bolster its Space Forces, with budgetary allocations to the space domain doubling from $15.4 billion to $30.3 billion between 2021 and 2024.

Orbit is shared by commercial satellites alongside military ones, and many commercial satellite products, like images of earth from above, can be purchased by private individuals and organizations.Commercial satellites can, in a pinch, end up providing data used to military ends, as forces risk communication over a commercial network, or make plans based on satellite imagery bought for reconnaissance.

Continues Rozpedowski:

Private actors must thus increasingly reckon with the unintended consequences of detailed satellite ad hoc data sharing in active conflict zones in high-demand data environments. Navigating these complexities will require international cooperation, technological innovation, and a careful consideration of ethical and political implications as well as the provision of legal guardrails to avoid the appearance of bias and undue politicization.

The existing international treaties governing space date to the middle of last century, in effect but out of date regarding present realities. Read more from Rozpedowski about the challenges of potential armed conflict in orbit.