The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is considered “must-pass” legislation for Congress and the President as it fulfills the legislative branch’s constitutional duties of authorizing the Pentagon’s budget. With the Democrats in control of the House, anti-war and pro-diplomacy activists saw an opportunity to rein in a dangerous president who, by pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and reimposing crushing sanctions, was pushing the United States and Iran toward a long-anticipated military confrontation. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and nominal Trump ally Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), both on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), the panel that writes the NDAA, put forth an amendment that would prevent the administration from using any funds to fight Iran without authorization from Congress. In the bill’s all-night markup process, HASC chair Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) objected to the amendment as written but promised Khanna and Gaetz to work together to put the essence in the final legislation, which eventually passed on the House floor. At the same time, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) mustered support from much more establishment Members of Congress like Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and Foreign Affairs Committee chair Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) to pass an amendment that would repeal the 2002 Authorization for Military Force for Iraq. The law originally provided congressional support for then-President Bush to invade Iraq and remove Saddam Hussien, but it continues to this day to authorize a U.S. military presence in the region. A wide variety of advocates supported the measure, even the right-wing Heritage Foundation, which called it “good policy.” However, the Republican-controlled Senate version of the NDAA looked very different. There was no equivalent of the Khanna/Gaetz amendment, or the Lee amendment, from the Senate Armed Services Committee. Instead, SASC established a new branch of the military, “Space Force.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) granted Sen.Tom Udall (D-N.M.) a vote on an amendment that resembled Khanna/Gaetz and it received a majority and bipartisan support (50 yeses, 40 nos) on the floor, but not the 60 votes that were required to add it to the legislation. And so the NDAA came to conference as two vastly different bills, a House version that would check Donald Trump, an executive that Democrats claim is dangerous to the country and the world, and a Senate bill that would enable him to that logic. As Congress returned from summer recess and the conference committee was named, the Trump-Ukraine scandal went into overdrive and pushed the House into launching an impeachment investigation, which delayed the NDAA conference. But on December 9, the NDAA conference report was released and, despite the Democrats’ claims that Trump is a threat to national security, it did not have Rep. Lee’s amendment repealing the 2002 AUMF, nor the Khanna/Gaetz amendment blocking funding for war with Iran. Why? When Democrats have already determined that Trump is dangerous and are impeaching him for using national security to his political advantage rather than the national interest, why hand him the keys to the national security state in which he was already locked into a series of escalations with Iran? Democrats were clearly not willing to tank the NDAA to play “politics” with national security in the same way that the Republicans were. HASC chair Rep. Smith sarcastically lamented that he couldn’t convince Republicans to become Democrats. In reality, Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner told him what the White House would sign and he accepted that. Weeks later, Trump ordered the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite Quds force, accelerating a series of escalations toward war with Iran. While the legal authority for the strike has not been confirmed, it has been unusually classified, Trump’s National Security Advisor has said it is covered by the 2002 AUMF, which could have been repealed had Democrats stood firm. Rep. Khanna and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are now re-introducing the Khanna/Gaetz amendment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) meanwhile, condemned the assassination of Soleimani, but has only called for a briefing in response, thus essentially reducing her role to bystander. The inability of Congress to take back power from the executive branch lies solely with congressional leadership. Even when faced with an executive like Donald Trump, they still defer. This deference comes from a political fear of being labelled weak on national security, anti-military, anti-American, or unsupportive of the troops. But there is also widespread conviction on Capitol Hill, despite all evidence to the contrary, in the competence and morality of the national security state that serves under the executive. As recent polling has shown, though, this post 9/11 crouch flies in the face of what voters want; they want restraint and are weary of an aggressive foreign policy. Our representatives in Washington appear deaf to that. And it’s largely this deference that enables Congress to give any executive free rein, even Donald Trump, the very man Democrats are impeaching for abusing his power on national security issues. The irony is not lost. The assassination of Soleimani shows how our inability to end old wars could potentially begin new ones. Congress voted to go to war in 2002 and now that authorization could lead directly to a new war that has nothing to do with its original intent. Some members recognize this danger as, in addition to the Khanna/Sanders push, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) has announced his intention to offer a War Powers Resolution on Iran in the Senate, while Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Lee will enter the companion in the House. On Monday, Speaker Pelosi announced, through a Dear Colleague Letter, a War Power Resolution that she will support led by Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.). However, it is unclear as of now whether she supports the Khanna/Sanders effort. Still, there is no word from Congress on whether it will revisit the effort to repeal 2002 AUMF. If Congress is not willing to reclaim its role as the body that decides if and when the country goes to war by preventing an unauthorized war with Iran, then we face a constitutional crisis and a war that they will all own too.
Tyler Bellstrom is a policy analyst, activist, and writer based in Washington DC. He was a policy fellow for Rep John Conyers (D-MI) and a former fellow at Just Foreign Policy where he was involved with passing the first War Power Resolution in the history of the United States Congress. Tyler graduated from Vassar College and got his Master's in International Affairs from the New School where he did field research and interned in Kosovo. His work has been published in the New Republic, the Guardian, and Fellow Travelers Blog.
Then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, left, presents a Navy Distinguished Public Service Award to U.S. Rep. Adam Smith at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., Jan. 15, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Sam Shavers/Released)
Handout photo shows US President Joe Biden (C-R) and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (C-L) take part in a bilateral meeting, on the final day of a three-day G-7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, on May 21, 2023. The final day of the three-day of the Group of Seven leaders' summit is under way in the western Japan city of Hiroshima, with focus on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his talks with international leaders. Photo by Ukrainian Presidency via ABACAPRESS.COM
Roughly 70% of Americans want the Biden administration to push Ukraine toward a negotiated peace with Russia as soon as possible, according to a new survey from the Harris Poll and the Quincy Institute, which publishes Responsible Statecraft.
Support for negotiations remained high when respondents were told such a move would include compromises by all parties, with two out of three respondents saying the U.S. should still pursue talks despite potential downsides. The survey shows a nine-point jump from a poll in late 2022 that surveyed likely voters. In that poll, 57% of respondents said they backed talks that would involve compromises.
The new data suggests that U.S. government policy toward the Ukraine war is increasingly out of step with public opinion on the eve of the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion.
“Americans’ strong support for U.S. diplomatic efforts to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine stands in stark contrast to Washington’s reluctance to use its considerable leverage to get Kyiv and Moscow to the negotiating table and end this war,” said George Beebe, the director of grand strategy at the Quincy Institute.
The Biden administration has publicly rejected the idea of negotiating an end to the war with Russia, with U.S. officials saying that they are prepared to back Ukraine “as long as it takes” to achieve the country’s goal of ejecting Russian troops from all of its territory, including Crimea.
Just this week, Russian sources told Reuters that the U.S. declined a Kremlin offer to pursue a ceasefire along the current frontlines in conversations held in late 2023 and early 2024, including a round of unofficial talks in Turkey.
U.S. officials denied the claim, saying there was no “official contact” between Moscow and Washington on the issue and that the U.S. would only agree to negotiations involving Ukraine. Reuters’ Russian sources claimed that American officials said they did not want to pressure Kyiv into talks.
The Harris/Quincy Institute poll involved an online survey of 2,090 American adults from Feb. 8 to 12. The results are weighted to ensure a representative sample of the U.S. population. The margin of error is 2.5% using a 95% confidence level.
As the House weighs whether to approve new aid for Ukraine, 48% of respondents said they support new funding as long as it is conditioned on progress toward a diplomatic solution to the war. Others disagreed over whether the U.S. should halt all aid (30%) or continue funding without specific conditions (22%).
This question revealed a sharp partisan divide on whether to continue Ukraine funding in any form. Fully 46% of Republicans favor an immediate shutoff of the aid spigot, as compared to 17% of Democrats.
Meanwhile, 54% of Democrats and 40% of Republicans favored conditioning aid on diplomatic talks. “The American people seem more clear-eyed than Washington in recognizing the urgent need to pair aid for Ukraine’s defense with a diplomatic offensive,” Beebe argued.
The poll also showed that most Americans expect the war to drag into at least 2025. Only 16% of respondents thought the war would end this year. Others were evenly split on how long the war might last, with 46% expecting it to be resolved before the end of 2026 and 38% saying there is no end in sight.
Confiscating Russia’s sovereign assets is an act of economic war. Seizing and transferring these assets to Ukraine may make Washington feel virtuous, but it will not bring peace. Passage of this bill will only reinforce the view of hardliners in Moscow that Russia’s war lies not just with Ukraine, but really with the United States and the West. Any hope that the United States and Russia could work toward stabilizing or improving relations will subsequently be destroyed.
There is no justification for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but enacting this bill will make peace less likely. Ukrainians have courageously defended their country for nearly two years, but even Ukraine’s former top military commander General Valery Zaluzhny admits the war is now a stalemate.
Russia’s frozen assets could be used as a bargaining chip during negotiations, but once Congress provides the president the authority to seize Russian assets, there will be immense political pressure on him to carry out the policy to avoid looking weak. President Biden was recently pilloried by the media and members of my party for returning frozen Iranian assets in exchange for five American hostages. He is unlikely to make that decision again.
Confiscation will only convince Moscow that there is no negotiated settlement to be had with Ukraine. The result will be a destroyed Ukraine. More Ukrainian soldiers and civilians will die, and more cities and towns will be turned to rubble.
History is replete with examples of economic warfare turning into violent hostilities. Many historians believe the U.S. embargo of 1807, which was intended to punish France and England for their aggressions at sea, led to the War of 1812. Likewise, FDR’s decision to freeze Japan’s sovereign assets and implement an embargo on oil and gasoline exports led to Tokyo’s decision to attack Pearl Harbor.
The past teaches us the folly of embracing every proposed act of revenge. U.S. senators are duty-bound to ask whether our actions will ensure American security and prosperity. In regard to the REPO Act, the Russians already answered that question for us. Moscow says they will retaliate in kind against the United States and our allies, with some estimates claiming upward of $288 billion in Western assets that Moscow could confiscate.
Nicholas Mulder, an assistant professor of history at Cornell University, highlights the danger of the “destabilizing precedent that western countries would set by seizing assets to end a war they are not openly involved in.” Professor Mulder states that such an action “would broaden the coercive actions that states could take for disputes to which they are not a direct party.”
Confiscating Russia’s assets will also certainly convince other countries, including China, that the United States can no longer be trusted as the guarantor of the global economy. They will seek to move away from the dollar and hold their reserves in other currencies. This process of de-dollarization will be an unmitigated disaster as it will degrade America’s financial strength and ensure the prosperity Americans have come to expect is no longer attainable.
In addition, this bill will hand the Russians another tool to fuel resentment against the United States. American leaders speak of a “rules-based international order” but the theory that the United States can confiscate the assets of another country we are not at war with is legally dubious.
Professor Mulder argues that “economic reprisals are the prerogative of injured states, not of third parties.” Rather than compel respect for international law, our actions will demonstrate to our adversaries that we are flouting it. This bill will be used by the Kremlin to show the world that while Washington demands that others follow the rules, we are happy to break them whenever we see fit.
In a multipolar world, Washington can no longer expect to act with impunity, particularly when dealing with a nuclear power. We understood the serious dangers our country faced during the Cold War. But three decades of repeated foreign policy disasters proves that Washington’s foreign policy establishment is badly broken.
A good way to start on the road to fixing that broken foreign policy is rejecting this disastrous bill.
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Prabowo Subianto, running for president, in Bandung, Indonesia. (Shutterstock/Dhodi Syailendra)
(JAKARTA, INDONESIA) — Soon after voting ended in the world’s fourth-largest country and third-largest democracy, Prabowo Subianto is claiming a knock-out blow winning more than half the vote and the necessary number of provinces to eliminate both his challengers.
According to unofficial tallies, which have been historically accurate, Prabowo has garnered 58% of the vote in today's contest. The official count will not be announced until mid-March and his opponents have yet to concede defeat.
Nevertheless, highly popular incumbent president Joko Widodo (Jokowi)’s backing for the former special forces commander, and active undermining of his own party’s candidate Ganjar Pranowo, is a big reason for the ostensibly lopsided result. But the famously temperamental Prabowo’s clever rebranding as a cute and cuddly grandpa seems to have helped quite a bit, too.
Arriving in Jakarta just as the three-day “quiet period” was beginning spared me all the raucousness of the election campaigning. But the billboards of the three candidates — Anies Baswedan, Ganjar Pranowo, and Prabowo — were prominently plastered across the city. The few everyday folk I spoke to seemed to favor the former general. A young hotel housekeeper told me she voted for Prabowo (as did almost all her friends and family) as he was “a strong leader, and honest.” Reports here speak of the youth vote as being a big factor in the result.
Much of the U.S. commentary has pointed out that Prabowo was once banned from entering the U.S. for his links to a military unit accused of human rights atrocities. To that the feisty general might say: get over it. After all, the United States was forced to lift the ban on his entry after Jokowi — after beating Prabowo in a bitterly-fought election in 2019 — invited him to become his defense minister.
Now that Prabowo is likely to become president, such musings are chiefly academic. While my interlocutors in town seemed worried about democratic backsliding in the country (and this has been apparently underway for a couple of years), relatively few voters appear swayed by this concern. And in an increasingly multipolar world, Washington is less able to influence how other countries choose their leaders, and tell them how they should govern.
For his part, as president Jokowi has focused relentlessly on economic growth and domestic issues, though he also skillfully steered Indonesia’s G20 presidency in the turbulent wake of the Ukraine war. Under him Indonesia has not only prospered, but also put into place a tough industrial policy, including limiting or banning the export of certain valuable natural resources, such as nickel. This encourages these resources to be processed in-country, which helps grow and sustain economically valuable industries that require these resources, such as electric vehicle parts, thereby diversifying and strengthening the Indonesian economy.
The European Union has responded by taking him to the WTO, and the United States has not been exactly enthusiastic on these “downstreaming” policies. But China has played ball, building ore-processing plants in the country. Beijing has also built shiny new infrastructure, most prominently a new “Whoosh” bullet train from Jakarta to Bandung.
Meanwhile, Jakarta has not expressly taken sides in the U..S-China tussle. This is hardly surprising. Non-alignment (or bebas dan aktif — free and active — as the Indonesians call it in Bahasa) is a core Indonesian grand strategy principle. Indonesia was a foundational contributor to the idea of non-alignment in the Global South, with the famous 1955 Bandung conference being held there.
Even under the authoritarian leader Suharto, who tilted toward the United States, Indonesia maintained strong relations with arch-communist Vietnam. Though China was shunned by Suharto — and the Chinese-Indonesian minority treated poorly — it all seems in the rear-view mirror in today’s Indonesia. China is Indonesia’s biggest trade partner and among its biggest investors. Hoardings commemorating the Chinese new year are visible in parts of the city and the community is much better integrated than in the past.
Furthermore, when it comes to Russia, Indonesian social media has been rife with sympathy with Moscow on the Ukraine war.
What will Prabowo’s foreign policy be like? His past record indicates that the ex-general is much more a strong-willed, if volatile, pragmatist than an ideologue. Today, this means a continuation of Jokowi’s policy record of economic growth and the development of domestic industry and infrastructure. Thus business-friendly relations with Beijing, as also attempts to attract more American investment and trade, will continue.
Prabowo is also far more exposed in his youth to the world than was Jokowi when he was sworn in. The former general has lived in Europe and Singapore and was trained by the U.S. military. Which means that Indonesia under him could be somewhat more vocal on regional and international issues than it has been. Recall Prabowo’s bold play on a Ukraine peace plan at the United Nations last year.
Nevertheless, unless Washington makes a big deal of past human rights issues (unlikely), there are opportunities for incremental strengthening of ties. Military exercises between the two have been on an upswing lately. Indonesia has also softened its earlier opposition to AUKUS and refrained from joining BRICS, partly keeping relations with Washington in mind.
Trade relations are something to watch however, with Washington’s new focus on imposing labor standards on its major trading partners. This is not always welcome in Global South capitals which see lower labor costs as a comparative advantage. Unlike the United States these days, Indonesia is also very comfortable with trade integration. It was the most important ASEAN member leading the RCEP process and continues to lead in shaping the implementation of the world’s largest trade agreement.
Should there be a Republican in the White House next year, issues such as trade deficits could loom large. Indonesia also seeks a critical minerals agreement with the United States and hopes to benefit from the Inflation Reduction Act’s clean energy subsidies, but it will be a long haul to get there.
As long as Washington understands that Indonesia is committed to a non-aligned rise, there is much scope to deepen ties. Indonesians see their relations with other major powers as being defined on their own merits and not as a byproduct of any other relationship. That ought to be a good basis for moving forward.