Elizabeth Warren And The Commander In Chief Test
So far at least, Elizabeth Warren is not doing a good job of articulating her foreign policy positions. That needs to change if she's going to be a serious candidate.
Writing in The Washington Post, Josh Rogin argues that Elizabeth Warren is failing the “Commander In Chief Test” in her responses regarding the unfolding crisis in Syria and other vital national security issues:
It should be obvious this week that the United States needs a president who has the foreign policy chops to speak clearly about the United States’ role in the world and has a real plan to keep our country safe. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) ascendance to pseudo-front-runner status compels us to examine if she is meeting that test — and based on her recent performance, she is failing.
“So, look, I think that we ought to get out of the Middle East. I don’t think we should have troops in the Middle East. But we have to do it the right way, the smart way,” Warren said at Tuesday’s Democratic debate. “We need to get out, but we need to do this through a negotiated solution. There is no military solution in this region.”
Realizing their candidate had made a gaffe, the Warren campaign sent out a mid-debate tweet in which “Warren” declared that we need to get our troops out of “Syria,” not the entire Middle East. Campaign spokesperson Alexis Krieg told me in an email Warren “was referring to ‘combat troops’ since we have multiple non-combat bases, in UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, etc and she did not mean those.”
“She believes we need to end the endless wars. That means getting all U.S. troops out of combat in the Middle East and using diplomacy to work with allies and partners to end conflicts and suffering in the region and around the world,” Krieg said.
The spin was worse than the gaffe. Does Warren (or the Warren campaign) not know that the United States’ Al Udeid base in Qatar flies “combat” missions fighting terrorists, including in Iraq and Syria, all the time? What is a “non-combat base” anyway? Are the U.S. bases in Iraq, to which our troops in Syria are now withdrawing, combat bases? Does Warren want to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq? The campaign declined to answer any of these questions.
The title of Rogin’s column accuses Warren of failing the “Commander in Chief” test. This, of course, refers to the fact that Warren, along with her fellow Democrats is running to fill a position that has a tremendous amount of power when it comes to foreign policy, most of it largely independent of Congressional review. The current President has made clear that random comments, Tweets, press statements, or Presidential phone calls could have broad implications for our national interests and for the fate of American troops, citizens, and allies around the world. Given this, it’s vital that any person running for President needs to be able to establish that they are sufficiently informed in the area of foreign policy and that they have an understanding of the implications of the often overly-generalized statements they make during the course of the campaign. So far at least, Warren, who is now properly receiving new scrutiny given her rise in the polls, has not established that she’s done that.
Rogin is correct, for example, that Warren’s response to the question posed Tuesday night was, at best, confusing and that the campaign’s attempt to explain it didn’t really help the situation any further. Saying we need to get our troops “out of the Middle East,” or even to just limit it to “combat troops” ignores the rather obvious implications and follow-up questions that position raises, many of which Rogin touches upon in his column.
I say this as someone who agrees with the general idea that we need to end the “endless wars” and that Congress needs to reassert itself when it comes foreign policy, especially with respect to the so-called “war on terror” and the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that was passed in October 2001 in the wake of the September 11th attacks. That AUMF has been used to justify not only seventeen years of American involvement in Afghanistan but also attacks in Yemen, Syria, and across Central Africa. Both the Obama and Trump Administrations have used it to expand the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria even though ISIS did not exist in October 2001 and was most assuredly not responsible for terror attacks that took place before it exists. Clearly, we need to disengage from some of these commitments, and drastically rethink others.
At the same time, though, the events of the past several weeks in northern Syria make clear that any such change in existing policy needs to be done responsibly rather than hastily. It also needs to be done in a way that doesn’t encourage bad actors such as the Syrian government, Russia, and ISIS and we need to be careful to ensure that how we act doesn’t send the wrong signal to potential adversaries and allies alike. This is why the simplistic ” we ought to get out of the Middle East” answer that Warren gave at the debate tends to show a rather obvious naivete and inexperience on Warren’s part that you won’t find in the more nuanced opinions of her primary opponent former Vice-President Joe Biden.
As Rogin goes on to note, this isn’t the first time that Warren has spoken on these issues, but it does not seem as though she’s given any more thought to the details of her foreign policy, or shown much evidence that she has learned anything:
It’s not as if Warren is unthoughtful or inexperienced on foreign policy. She’s a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. She has traveled to the war zones. Last November, she gave a foreign policy speech that sought to define her worldview. It called for a new foreign policy based on progressive trade and economic policies, cutting the defense budget and ending “reckless, endless wars in the Middle East.”
But now that President Trump is ending the United States’ military involvement in one of those wars, the “endless war” crowd seems incapable of saying exactly how they would have done it different. They are the dog that caught the car. Warren can’t connect the foreign policy she envisions on paper with the events that are unfolding before our eyes.
Pete Buttigieg put his finger on the larger problem with Warren’s stance Tuesday night. He was responding to Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who, like Warren, want to end the “endless wars,” but without a practical plan for how to combat the ongoing threats.
“When we abandon the international stage, when we think our only choices are between endless war or total isolation, the consequence is the disappearance of U.S. leadership,” he said.
Buttigieg is correct here. If we’re going to disengage we need to do so in a way that doesn’t create more problems than it solves. While this is often used as an excuse to slow disengagement down to the point where it seems like it’s never going to happen, as has been the case with Afghanistan, it’s also something that needs to be taken into account. President Trump arbitrarily decided to remove what amounts to a handful of troops from northern Syria and the result has been an invasion by Turkey that has stabbed our allies the Kurds in the back and inured to the benefit of Turkey, Syria, and Russia. When it became clear that this decision was disastrously stupid, the President papered over it with a ceasefire that gives Turkey everything it wants, forces the Kurdish military forces and the civilians they were protecting into far more dangerous parts of Syria, and strengthens Syria and its patron Russia, who have taken on their new role as protector of the Kurds.
As I’ve stated several times during the Trump Presidency, one of the biggest tasks that the next President, whether they come in 2021 or 2025, is likely to face is cleaning up the mess that this President has made of the world. Over the past several years, this President has succeeded in driving a wedge between the United States and our allies — as I have previously noted here, here, here, and here — while at the same time coddling dictatorships and authoritarian rulers in Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China, and North Korea. He has needlessly rejected international agreements such as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the first agreement that brought Iran’s nuclear program under international monitoring, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the Paris Climate Accords. And, he has helped to create a far less stable and more uncertain world that future Presidents will have to deal with. Fixing all of this, assuming it even can be fixed, is going to be a full time job for the President who succeeds Trump. Because of that, it’s essential that this successor be someone who can do more than just spout generalities.
It’s still early in the campaign, of course, and Warren is going to be around long enough that there would seem to be plenty of time for her to lay out a better, broader-reaching explanation of what her foreign policy positions are. Perhaps, as other candidates have in the past, she’ll deliver a detailed speech on the matter at some point in the future. As things stand, though, the answers we’ve gotten from Warren so far on these issues constitute little more than slogans that don’t seem to recognize the inevitable follow up questions that an open comment about ending endless wars. As the current events in northern Syria demonstrate, we live in a complicated world, and it’s just not as simple as that.
The Democrats’ insistence on domestic piecrust promises continues to baffle me.
This is a historical moment where the American hegemony is failing. The Russian, Chinese, and Saudis are rushing to fill it. Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore are probably rolling around together on the floor, locked in a passionate embrace. It’s a perfect opportunity to invoke the post WWII order, FDR, the four freedoms, the UN, etc.
Instead the Democratic party is talking about lesbians and pills.
Tail wagging dog, etc. etc. I hate the media.
@Lit3Bolt: Not to mention the GOP’s blithe disregard as Rome burns.
Credit to the GOP, they sniffed out where the money is first. Dems only beg for scraps from American plutocrats. GOP believes in free trade.
I don’t know, it seems she’s saying exactly what lots of other Democratic leaning commenters are saying. I understand perfectly well what she means. So does everyone else, we’re just pretending she doesn’t, because we’re afraid of what sort of changes she might bring.
I know Doug supports impeachment, so I’m willing to accept this criticism from him. Does Josh Rogin? I mean, the sitting president names the wrong countries. He says since the Kurds weren’t there with us at D-Day, they don’t mean anything. He lies, and gets stuff wrong all the time.
Trump “failed the Commander-in-Chief test” from Day One of his campaign. If Bernie has a heart attack is that “failing the Commander-in-Chief test”? And if Biden falls asleep or wanders off topic, again, does that “fail the Commander-in-Chief test”? No, what Warren did was just speak in very broad terms about her desire to have fewer troops in war zones in the Middle East. Somehow that makes her unfit for command?
“Hire professionals, listen to them and muddle through with an Obamaesque foreign policy” would not make a great campaign slogan, but it’s where most of the Democrats really are.
Biden’s strength here is that he has listened to the professionals enough that he can name drop. Very few presidents start office with a strong enough grasp of foreign policy.
I would like to see a declaration of principles about how we handle refugee crises, self determination for minorities like the Kurds and the Palestinians, etc. That’s going to be an increasing problem, and we should be muddling through in a direction.
You’ve got it right on that count.
Dems will continue to leave it to the party of Grifting Obtuse People to continue their specialization raising rubles, rials, hryvnias and pesos from despots, strongmen and kleptocrats around the globe.
Along those lines, I see today’s Tampa Bay Times has the video clip of Ron “Trump Toady” DeSantis in a deep, grateful embrace of each of the Soviet-born businessmen Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas. A warm embrace shared on the very night of DeSantis’ election as Governor.
Hate to say this, but Admiral William H. McRaven got it wrong in his NYT Op-ed today; Our Republic Is Under Attack From the President .
The attack on our Republic isn’t limited to the flailing, criminally imbued idiocy of Donald Trump. Trump’s brand of ethics-free, morally devoid, self enrichment with which he assails everything America stands for, enjoys the full support and hearty engagement of and by the entire larcenous, mendacious Republican party.
A spineless lot who will do anything to further secure their hold on power and the rich vein of graft it makes possible.
Country be damned.
Yes, the next president will have to clean up Trump’s mess, but speaking in such terms gives the impression that we can and should find our way back to a status quo ante. That’s simply not going to happen. We need to figure out our (reduced) place in the world. The pity is that what might have been the challenge of a generation is probably lucky to crack the top three problems we actually face.
From Clinton to Obama, no president has come into office with any significant foreign policy experience. Hillary Clinton was the best in that regard, but we saw what happened. Trump doesn’t have a foreign policy, past indulging his whims and catering obsequiously to dictators and strongmen.
So while this criticism of Warren is valid, it’s not sufficient to disqualify her.
A more relevant question would be what kind of people would she hire to advise her on foreign policy? I assume not someone who looks the part, nor a fixer who’ll look after her political interests. This says little, as the Trump bar is so low, even Nixon can casually stroll well above it.
BTW, the Middle East has been a headache for the West for a while. It got worse after the Iranian Revolution, but it’s been a handful for everyone since the end of WWII. About the only one to navigate a crisis there with more positive than negative results was Bush the elder. The basics of his approach were 1) building a broad coalition, including regional powers, 2) isolating the enemy even from his backers (harder to do now, I know), and 3) pursuing a limited, well-defined objective, rather than an open-ended, nebulous one.
@Lit3Bolt: You said:
I don’t get why I should care about this as a citizen and a voter. Maybe there’s something of substance here, but I don’t know what it is. This comment seems to me like the tip of some iceberg.
Meanwhile I am personally acquainted with two fine young men who served in Iraq/Afghanistan. One of them went to driving snowplows at airbases in Germany to driving Humvee’s in convoys in Iraq. He was driving when his gunner was killed by enemy fire. Another friend learned to drive in Afghanistan, when his veteran driver decided, on a long trip, that being awake 28 hours straight was too much, and the thing is pretty much a tank anyway, and my friend (a Marine) could drive it easy. (He did manage it without incident!).
So that means something to me. But rich people getting richer at the cost of this sort of impact on lives doesn’t seem to me to be worth it. I get that we still need the Saudi oil. I get that we need to shut down radical Islamic terrorism, too. But what does money have to do with it?
You know what…Bush/Cheney had all the foreign policy chops to meet the “Commander In Chief Test”, and look how that turned out.
This is another fuqing case of the double standard in coverage that we are going to see from now until November…Trump is giving the country away to Putin, on a silver platter, but Warren is disqualified because she answered a question on the debate stage wrong… in the view of a fuqing pundit.
Let’s go back and see how much Rogin wrote on Benghazi, and what he said about Trump passing the “Commander In Chief Test”. I’m betting he’d be embarrassed.
It’s time to change the name of this online journal to Inside the Beltway.
Warren is a clear thinker, a quick study, and has good instincts. Right now she’s in a Dem primary in which foreign policy has not, and likely will not, be a significant issue. (Trump’s Syria fiasco may change that.) I expect that by the time foreign policy becomes relevant, in the general election, she’ll be fine.
Also, as far as I’m aware, she has no major financial or other ties to big oil, the root cause of our foreign policy screw ups.
Our foreign policy in the Mideast is going to continue to be kabuki shadowboxing until we get up enough nerve to
a) go full out on getting off oil (replace with renewables, nukes, fusion, and better efficiency) and tell the Saudis and other oil companies to Go To Hell. Selling the technology we develop to everyone pissed at having to continue paying out cash in exchange for oil is also a jolly good step in making friends. It would also make a nice big dent in the amount of money Russia could raise as well.
b) tell Israel to stop using us as a proxy cat paw and by the way, they can pay for their own defense.
Yeah, I’m unmoved by this. If this was the only point of difference between her and other candidates, it would make me rank her lower, but given the field, it doesn’t drop her below anyone for me.
Do I think she should bone up on foreign policy? Absolutely. And I think that she will, so I’m not worried about that. I think that she’ll be able to pick good, relevant advisors who will be able to explain the consequences of doing things one way or another. Who she picks will probably tell us a lot.
And frankly, what’s going on in the Middle East is not the most important question of this election. It’s not even in the top ten.
When it comes to actual policy, I primarily vote based on how a candidate plans to run the Executive and foreign policy. Those are the areas where Presidents actually have the most authority and those are currently the areas that have the biggest question marks for Warren since she hasn’t said much.
Warren’s lead FP advisor is Sasha Baker, who worked for Ash Carter when he was SECDEF under Obama. Here’s her bio – not much is known about Baker’s views that I can find. At least it’s not a known interventionist like Samantha Power.
OT: John Kasich (former Governor of OH, (R)) just came out for impeachment.
Seems like a lot of quibbling. Warren as an actual elected politician has shown herself to be good at the process, which is really what someone like Buttegieg is signalling when he goes on about leadership.
My fear is that in one week Trump has destroyed the chances of any possible shift in American foreign policy for a generation. Peter Handke, who just won the Nobel for literature, believed that the Bosnians staged their own genocide in the 90s. We’re about a month away from Trump and his cult saying the same thing about the Kurds being ethnic cleansed. People who never want to alter the permanent war and the American Empire will be using the horror of Trump for a very long time.
Arguably the entire nasty mess can be traced back to a lack of cooperation between the USA and UK from the 1930’s on, and then a shared mistake in backing local autocrats from the 1950’s.
“…a broad coalition, including regional powers.”
The problem now is, which regional powers can anyone lean on?
Especially as when it comes to a crisis hard power is critical.
The list is (in rough order of power) Israel, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria.
Who among these is a reliable ally for the west? Closest is Israel, arguably, but it is overwhelmingly preoccupied with its own security concerns, and some parties view regional instability as a positive for opening opportunities, undermining opponents and limiting American options.
Then you’ve got the externals:
France: involved, but rather short on local hard power
Russia: habitually mischievous and concerned with oil markets and financial shadiness.
UK: the Cyprus bases are a major asset in the EastMed and with strong defence links in the Gulf/Oman, and the City is a key factor in elite finance, but now preoccupied with Brexit and not offending other parties, and likely to see major constraints on expenditure in future.
Germany: habitually passive and commercial, more follower than actor
China and India, both largely spectators despite worries about oil supply
“Rest of the West” (e.g. Greece, Italy, Australia): significant but need leadership/coordination from USA and/or European coalition (i.e. NATO).
The regional situation is deteriorating and even a rational US leadership would have severe problems.
In this situation Trump is the turd cherry on top of the cake.
@grumpy realist strategy
Has a lot to be said for it.
But as Trump’s folly in Syria shows, this will need careful management if it is not to blow up in everyone’s face.
Even on the most optimistic realistic projections I’ve seen are that Gulf oil will be a vital and enormously lucrative commodity for Eurasia/Africa for several decades min.
Someone is going to be naval hegemon in the Indian Ocean.
And a three cornered tension between Turkey, Iran and Israel for Mid East dominance (with Russia as “external balancer”) plus nukes in the mix, would not make me sleep soundly.
BTW, A gaffe or three prove nothing, but are deeply damaging.
Exhibit A: “What is Aleppo?”
Overall, frustrating as it is, candidates should avoid sweeping generalizations “ie “we need to get out of the Middle East”), and favor less specific but tangible policy moves (ie “We’re over-extended in the Middle East and need to redeploy in a way that best serves our interests.”)
One thing to keep in mind is that candidates, no matter how knowledgeable, lack a lot of classified intelligence information privy to those inside the administration.
@Andy: I’ve always said the same – Presidents control foreign policy a lot more than economic policy.
That said Warren seems to be a reality based politician.. So I expect her foreign policy to be informed by experts and evidence, not idealogues and slogans.
For better or for worse and as most people know here, foreign policy does not matter that much in elections though maybe the Kurd gemocide could change that. I would imagine that the winning Democratic Party nominee would rely on a stable of professionals and specialists and I’m okay with that.
It depends in the kind of crisis you’re dealing with. In 1990-91, one country in the coalition to remove Saddam from Kuwait was Syria. Why? Because they’ve been aligned with Iran for a long time, and Saddam was a mutual enemy. This works well enough for a limited objective.
You obviously haven’t heard Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates opinion of Biden– “been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
Elizabeth Warren? Who cares. You guys have a bigger problem. Tulsi Gabbard and Jill Stein are commie agents. Knee padders for Putin. And one of your candidates! My god.
Don’t doubt me, Queen Hillary herself said so. Although………..she is crazy as a loon.
@Bill: As I noted at the time, it’s not clear that having Bob Gates think you’re terrible at foreign policy is a negative.
Yes, but Gabbard gets 1% of the Democratic vote in polls. On the other hand, Republicans elected their Russian agent President.
Meanwhile, David Brooks makes the case that 2020 is the real Flight 93 election, since if we re-elect Trump, our country will never recover:
“Politics is downstream from morality and culture. Warren represents a policy wrong turn, in my view, but policies can be argued about and reversed. Trump represents a much more important and fundamental threat — to the norms, values, standards and soul of this country.
Last week, Trump all but greenlighted the ethnic cleansing of Kurds without an ounce of remorse. He normalizes dishonesty and valorizes cruelty. His letter to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reminds us yet again that we have a president whose professional competence is at kindergarten level. Once a nation has lost its heart, mind and soul, it is very hard to get these things back.
Furthermore, Trump is an unprecedented threat to democratic institutions. Over the past few years, I’ve thought the progressive fears of incipient American fascism were vastly overblown. But, especially over the past month, Trump has worked overtime to validate those fears and to raise the horrifying specter of what he’ll be like if he is given a second term and is vindicated, unhinged and unwell.”
@Kathy: The idea that we have an enormous amount of troops in the middle east and that they are engaged in dangerous operations is fake news–which is why statements like Trumps and EWs show ignorance and refusal to become educated.
Most of our 50K troops are in counties where no combat is taking place. Maybe 10% of those 50K are in Iraq and Syria performing advisor roles to the Iraqis and Kurds where there is combat.
For the low price of posting less than 10% of our Forces in the middle east–we guarantee stability of commerce for ourselves and allies while blunting the despotic instincts of some incredibly bad actors.
The majority of the battle weary troops from the aughts have left the military. These types of advise missions give us the chance to keep our Forces with an edge and do good things while at it.
“Bring the troops home”is right up there with “Abolish the IRS”… it makes sense to people incapable of understanding complex relationships around the world that directly influence their quality of life. You’re either a player on the geopolitical stage or you’re the played.
We’re right up on the 70year generational amnesia point where our generation has no context of why our grandparents chose for the US to be players. Russia, China, Iran, and India are watching to capitalize off tremendous opportunity we are fumbling away because of our short sightedness.
Obviously elections are about choices…and if the choice is between Donald Trump and Elizabeth Warren, there is no argument that Josh Rogin or Doug or anyone else could make about foreign policy that would paint Trump as a better choice than Warren…
It really shouldn’t baffle you, as I’m sure most Americans are far more worried about domestic policy than they are about foreign policy…
Not to mention holding Israel far more accountable than many other presidents have…
You should care about this as a voter because no American political party should be accepting aid of any kind from foreign sources…
Misogyny much old man?
Elizabeth Warren is a good Senator. Period. In terms of Presidency, she has 1) already alienated the business community, 2) does not tell people that doctors do not have to accept Medicare–and many are rejecting it now, 3) has no plan to fund her many, many programs, 4) does not understand that the role of the President is NOT to make plans, but to lead, 5) she divides people (as Beto O’Rourke rightfully points out), and 6) always sounds like she scolding her children. I’d take Biden over her in a heartbeat, and she CANNOT and WOULD NOT win in the rust belt. Take that to the bank.
1) Good. The business community ought to be alienated.
2) If we had Medicare for all doctors would either accept Medicare or go bust.
3) Actually, she does have plans for funding, the question is whether they would work.
4) That sentence doesn’t mean anything.
5) She divides people? Do you live in a cave? The people are already divided.
6) Ah, you don’t like women’s voices.
Six points, all false or irrelevant.
Pssst. Secret footage of Hillary’s most recent interview. Don’t let Tulsi know, she might forward it to Putin.
Dude, why are you making a public fool of yourself? You weren’t always this way.
@Cris Ericson:..and Daisy wants to feel all of their bones crunching in her teeth.
So you are running for dog catcher?
@Moosebreath: It’s good, that having decided for marketing reasons, that he’s a Never Trumper, that Brooks is consistent and says he’d vote for Warren over Trump. But the rest of the piece is the usual Republican advice that it would be better for Dems to nominate Biden, a “centrist”. Brooks remains the world’s champion Republican concern troll. It’s his usual column, ‘Out of my deep concern for Democrats I advise they should do what Republicans want.’ In fact, it’s an archetype of Teve’s link from Open Forum yesterday,
@Moosebreath: Nice try on the part of Mr. Brooks, but the fact that Trump was elected demonstrates that the fears he feels for our country are already part of the objective reality. It’s not that if Trump isn’t thwarted, the nation will become broken; it’s that Trump’s election shows that the nation already is.
Or, you can train your dog to walk on a leash rather than relying on your brute force and the power of a choke chain. Choice is yours.
game … set … match …
thank you for that
@Just nutha ignint cracker: Indeed a properly trained dog won’t pull on the leash except in extremely rare circumstances. The dog should be following your actions not the other way around…
@Mister Bluster: Can one of the system administrators ban this loon already?
I’m seriously not trying to be glib here…
But can someone point out to me where Trump passed a commander-in-chief test?
Or is this a case of IOKIYAR?
Partly. Also, among conservatives “successful” “businessmen” get a waiver, on the theory that running a business is comparable to (or even better than) actual experience governing. It’s a side effect of the “government = incompetent” meme.