Immigration policy of Donald Trump

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Illegal immigration was a signature issue of US President Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign, and his proposed reforms and remarks about this issue generated much publicity.[1] A hallmark promise of his campaign was to build a substantial wall on the United States-Mexico border. Trump has also expressed support for a variety of “limits on legal immigration and guest-worker visas”,[1][2] including a “pause” on granting green cards, which Trump says will “allow record immigration levels to subside to more moderate historical averages”.[3][4][5] Trump’s proposals regarding H-1B visas frequently changed throughout his presidential campaign, but as of late July 2016, he appears to oppose the H-1B visa program.[6] Trump has questioned official estimates of the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States (between 11 and 12 million), insisting the number is much higher (between 30 and 34 million).

Positions on immigration[edit source]

Trump has questioned official estimates of the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States (between 11 and 12 million), asserting that the number is actually between 30 and 34 million.[7] PolitiFact ruled that his statement was “Pants on Fire”, citing experts who noted that no evidence supported an estimate in that range.[7] For example, the Pew Research Center reported in March 2015 that the number of undocumented immigrants overall declined from 12.2 million in 2007 to 11.2 million in 2012. The number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. labor force ranged from 8.1 million to 8.3 million between 2007 and 2012, approximately 5% of the U.S. labor force.[8]

Birthright citizenship[edit source]

Trump proposes rolling back birthright citizenship – a historically broadened interpretation of the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment that all persons born on U.S. soil are citizens – so as not to grant citizenship to US-born children of undocumented immigrants (whom he refers to as “anchor babies“). The mainstream view of the Fourteenth Amendment among legal experts is that everyone born on U.S. soil, regardless of parents’ citizenship, is automatically an American citizen.[9][10]

Kate’s Law[edit source]

Trump during his campaign promised to ask Congress to pass Kate’s Law to ensure that criminal aliens convicted of undocumented reentry receive strong, mandatory minimum sentences. The law is named after Kate Steinle who was allegedly shot and killed in July 2015 by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who was deported by the US a total of five times.[11]

A Senate version of the bill was previously introduced by Ted Cruz in July 2016 and was filibustered by the senate.[12][13][14][15]

Border security[edit source]

Trump has emphasized U.S. border security and undocumented immigration to the United States as a campaign issue.[16][17] During his announcement speech he stated in part, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems…. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”[18] On July 6, 2015, Trump issued a written statement[19] to clarify his position on undocumented immigration, which drew a reaction from critics. It read in part:

The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc. This was evident just this week when, as an example, a young woman in San Francisco was viciously killed by a 5-time deported Mexican with a long criminal record, who was forced back into the United States because they didn’t want him in Mexico. This is merely one of thousands of similar incidents throughout the United States. In other words, the worst elements in Mexico are being pushed into the United States by the Mexican government. The largest suppliers of heroin, cocaine and other illicit drugs are Mexican cartels that arrange to have Mexican immigrants trying to cross the borders and smuggle in the drugs. The Border Patrol knows this. Likewise, tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border. The United States has become a dumping ground for Mexico and, in fact, for many other parts of the world. On the other hand, many fabulous people come in from Mexico and our country is better for it. But these people are here legally, and are severely hurt by those coming in illegally. I am proud to say that I know many hard working Mexicans—many of them are working for and with me … and, just like our country, my organization is better for it.”[20]

A study published in Social Science Quarterly in May 2016 tested Trump’s claim that immigrants are responsible for higher levels of violent and drug-related crime in the United States.[21] It found no evidence that links Mexican or undocumented Mexican immigrants specifically to violent or drug-related crime.[21] It did however find a small but significant association between undocumented immigrant populations (including non-Mexican undocumented immigrants) and drug-related arrests.[21]

In addition to his proposals to construct a border wall (see below), Trump has called for tripling the number of Border Patrol agents.[22]

U.S.–Mexico border wall proposal[edit source]

Trump speaking about his immigration policy in Phoenix, Arizona, August 31, 2016.

Trump has repeatedly pledged to build a wall along the U.S.’s southern border, and has said that Mexico would pay for its construction through increased border-crossing fees and NAFTA tariffs.[23] In his speech announcing his candidacy, Trump pledged to “build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”[24][25] Trump also said “nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively.”[25] The concept for building a barrier to keep undocumented immigrants out of the U.S. is not new; 670 miles of fencing (about one-third of the border) was erected under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, at a cost of $2.4 billion.[25] Trump said later that his proposed wall would be “a real wall. Not a toy wall like we have now.”[26] In his 2015 book, Trump cites the Israeli West Bank barrier as a successful example of a border wall.[27] “Trump has at times suggested building a wall across the nearly 2,000-mile border and at other times indicated more selective placement.”[28] After a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on August 31, 2016, Trump said that they “didn’t discuss” who would pay for the border wall that Trump has made a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.[29] Nieto contradicted that later that day, saying that he at the start of the meeting “made it clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall”.[30] Later that day, Trump reiterated his position that Mexico will pay to build an “impenetrable” wall on the Southern border.[31]

John Cassidy of The New Yorker wrote that Trump is “the latest representative of an anti-immigrant, nativist American tradition that dates back at least to the Know-Nothings” of the 1840s and 1850s.[32] Trump says “it was legal immigrants who made America great,”[33] that the Latinos who have worked for him have been “unbelievable people”, and that he wants a wall between the U.S. and Mexico to have a “big, beautiful door” for people to come legally and feel welcomed in the United States.[34]

According to experts and analyses, the actual cost to construct a wall along the remaining 1,300 miles of the border could be as high as $16 million per mile, with a total cost of up to $25 billion, with the cost of private land acquisitions and fence maintenance pushing up the total cost further.[28] Maintenance of the wall could cost up to $750 million a year, and if the Border Patrol agents were to patrol the wall, additional funds would have to be expended.[28] Rough and remote terrain on many parts of the border, such as deserts and mountains, would make construction and maintenance of a wall expensive, and such terrain may be a greater deterrent than a wall in any case.[28] Experts also note that on federally protected wilderness areas and Native American reservations, the Department of Homeland Security may have only limited construction authority, and a wall could cause environmental damage.[28]

Despite campaign promises to Build a full Wall, Trump later stated that he favors putting up some fences.[35]

In February 2017, Reuters reported that an internal report by the Department of Homeland Security estimated that Trump’s proposed border wall would cost $21.6 billion and take 3.5 years to build. This estimate is far higher than estimates by Trump during the campaign ($12 billion) and the $15-billion estimate from Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.[36]

Critics of Trump’s plan question whether a wall would be effective at stopping unauthorized crossings, noting that walls are of limited use unless they are patrolled by agents and to intercept those climbing over or tunneling under the wall.[28] Experts also note that approximately half of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. did not surreptitiously enter, but rather “entered through official crossing points, either by overstaying visas, using fraudulent documents, or being smuggled past the border”.[28]

Mass deportation of undocumented immigrants[edit source]

Foreign born in US labor-force 1900-2015. Approximately 8 million of the foreign-born in the labor force were undocumented immigrants in 2012.

In August 2015, during his campaign, Trump proposed the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants as part of his immigration policy.[37][38][39] During his first town hall campaign meeting in Derry, New Hampshire, Trump said that if he were to win the election, then on “[d]ay 1 of my presidency, undocumented immigrants are getting out and getting out fast”.[40]

Trump has proposed a “Deportation Force” to carry out this plan, modeled after the 1950s-era “Operation Wetback” program during the Eisenhower administration that ended following a congressional investigation.[38][39][41] Historian Mae Ngai of Columbia University, who has studied the program, has said that the military-style operation was both inhumane and ineffective.[39][41]

According to analysts, Trump’s mass-deportation plan would encounter legal and logistical difficulties, since U.S. immigration courts already face large backlogs.[38] Such a program would also impose a fiscal cost; the fiscally conservative American Action Forum policy group estimates that deporting every undocumented immigrant would cause a slump of $381.5 billion to $623.2 billion in private sector output, amounting to roughly a loss of 2% of U.S. GDP.[42] Doug Holtz-Eakin, the group’s president, has said that the mass deportation of 11 million people would “harm the economy in ways it would normally not be harmed”.[38]

In June 2016, Trump stated on Twitter that “I have never liked the media term ‘mass deportation’—but we must enforce the laws of the land!”[43][44] Later in June, Trump stated that he would not characterize his immigration policies as including “mass deportations”.[45] However, on August 31, 2016, contrary to earlier reports of a “softening” in his stance,[23][46][47] Trump laid out a 10-step plan reaffirming his hardline positions. He reiterated that all undocumented immigrants are “subject to deportation” with priority given to undocumented immigrants who have committed significant crimes and those who have overstayed visas. He noted that all those seeking legalization would have to go home and re-enter the country legally.[31][48]

Proposed Muslim immigration ban[edit source]

Trump frequently revised proposals to ban Muslim immigration to the United States in the course of his presidential campaign.[6] In late July 2016, NBC News characterized his position as: “Ban all Muslims, and maybe other people from countries with a history of terrorism, but just don’t say ‘Muslims’.”[6] (Rudy Giuliani said on Fox News that Trump tasked him to craft a “Muslim ban” and asked Giuliani to form a committee to show him “the right way to do it legally”.[49][50] The committee, which included former U.S. Attorney General and Chief Judge of the Southern District of New York Michael Mukasey, and Reps. Mike McCaul and Peter T. King, decided to drop the religious basis and instead focused on regions where Giuliani says that there is “substantial evidence that people are sending terrorists” to the United States.[50])

In December 2015, Trump proposed a temporary ban on foreign Muslims entering the United States (the U.S. admits approximately 100,000 Muslim immigrants each year)[51]“until we can figure out what’s going on”.[52][53][54][55] In response to the 2015 San Bernardino shooting, Trump released a statement on “Preventing Muslim Immigration” and called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on”.[56] In a December 2015 interview, the host Willie Geist repeatedly questioned Trump if airline representatives, customs agents or border guards would ask a person’s religion. Trump responded that they would and if the person said they were Muslim, they will be denied entry into the country.[57]

Trump cited President Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s use during World War II of the Alien and Sedition Acts to issue presidential proclamations for rounding up, holding, and deporting German, Japanese, and Italian alien immigrants, and noted that Roosevelt was highly respected and had highways named after him.[58][59][60][61] Trump stated that he did not agree with Roosevelt’s internment of Japanese Americans, and clarified that the proposal would not apply to Muslims who were U.S. citizens or to Muslims who were serving in the U.S. military.[62][63]

In May 2016, Trump retreated slightly from his call for a Muslim ban, calling it “merely an idea, not a proposal”.[64] On June 13, 2016, he reformulated the ban so that it would be geographical, not religious, applying to “areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies”.[64][65] Two hours later, he claimed that ban was only for nations “tied to Islamic terror”.[64] In June 2016, he also stated that he would allow Muslims from allies like the United Kingdom to enter the United States.[64] In May 2016, Trump said “There will always be exceptions” to the ban, when asked how the ban would apply to London’s newly elected mayor Sadiq Khan.[66] A spokesman for Sadiq Khan said in response that Trump’s views were “ignorant, divisive and dangerous” and play into the hands of extremists.[67]

In June 2016, Trump expanded his proposed ban on Muslim immigration to the United States to cover immigration from areas with a history of terrorism.[68] Specifically, Trump stated, “When I am elected, I will suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe, or our allies, until we understand how to end these threats.”[68] According to lawyers and legal scholars cited in a New York Times report, the president has the power to carry out the plan but it would take an ambitious and likely time-consuming bureaucratic effort, and make sweeping use of executive authority.[69] Immigration analysts also noted that the implementation of Trump’s plan could “prompt a wave of retaliation against American citizens traveling and living abroad”.[69] In July 2016, Trump described his proposal as encompassing “any nation that has been compromised by terrorism”.[70] Trump later referred to the reformulation as “extreme vetting”.[71]

When asked in July 2016 about his proposal to restrict immigration from areas with high levels of terrorism, Trump insisted that it was not a “rollback” of his initial proposal to ban all Muslim immigrants.[72] He said, “In fact, you could say it’s an expansion. I’m looking now at territory.”[72] When asked if his new proposal meant that there would be greater checks on immigration from countries that have been compromised by terrorism, such as France, Germany and Spain, Trump answered, “It’s their own fault, because they’ve allowed people over years to come into their territory.”[73][74]

On August 15, 2016, Trump suggested that “extreme views” would be grounds to be thrown out of the U.S., saying he would deport Seddique Mateen, the father of Omar Mateen (the gunman in the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting), who has expressed support for the Taliban.[75][76][77] On 31 August, during a speech in Phoenix, Trump said he would form a commission to study which regions or countries he would suspend immigration from, noting that Syria and Libya would be high on that list.[78][79][80] Jeff Sessions an advisor to Trump’s campaign on immigration at the time said the Trump campaign’s plan was “the best laid out law enforcement plan to fix this country’s immigration system that’s been stated in this country maybe forever”.[81] During confirmation-hearing testimony, he acknowledged supporting vetting based on “areas where we have an unusually high risk of terrorists coming in”; Sessions acknowledged the DOJ would need to evaluate such a plan if it were outside the “Constitutional order.”[82]

Other proposals[edit source]

Trump has proposed making it more difficult for asylum-seekers and refugees to enter the United States, and making the e-Verify system mandatory for employers.[22]

Syrian refugees[edit source]

Trump has on several occasions expressed opposition to allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S.—saying they could be the “ultimate Trojan horse[83]—and has proposed deporting back to Syria refugees settled in the U.S.[84][85] By September 2015, Trump had expressed support for taking in some Syrian refugees[84][86] and praised Germany’s decision to take in Syrian refugees.[87]

On a number of occasions in 2015, Trump asserted that “If you’re from Syria and you’re a Christian, you cannot come into this country, and they’re the ones that are being decimated. If you are Islamic … it’s hard to believe, you can come in so easily.” PolitiFact rated Trump’s claim as “false” and found it to be “wrong on its face”, citing the fact that 3 percent of the refugees from Syria have been Christian (although they represent 10 percent of the Syrian population) and finding that the U.S. government is not discriminating against Christians as a matter of official policy.[88]

In May 2016 interview with Bill O’Reilly, Trump stated “Look, we are at war with these people and they don’t wear uniforms….. This is a war against people that are vicious, violent people, that we have no idea who they are, where they come from. We are allowing tens of thousands of them into our country now.” Politifact ruled this statement “pants on fire”, stating that the U.S. is on track to accept 100,000 refugees in 2017, but there is no evidence that tens of thousands of them are terrorists.[89]

Executive actions[edit source]

Travel ban and refugee suspension[edit source]

On January 27, 2017, Trump signed an executive order (Number 13769), titled “Protecting the Nation From Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals“, that suspended entry for citizens of seven countries for 90 days: Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, totaling more than 134 million people.[90] The order also stopped the admission of refugees of the Syrian Civil War indefinitely, and the entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days.[91] Refugees who were on their way to the United States when the order was signed were stopped and detained at airports.[92]

Implicated by this order is 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1182 “Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.” 8 U.S. Code § 1182 (Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952).

Critics argue that Congress later restricted this power in 1965, stating plainly that no person could be “discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence.” (8 U.S. Code § 1152) The only exceptions are those provided for by Congress (such as the preference for Cuban asylum seekers).[93]

Many legal challenges to the order were brought immediately after its issuance: from January 28 to January 31, almost 50 cases were filed in federal courts.[94] Some courts, in turn, granted temporary relief, including a nationwide temporary restraining order (TRO) that bars the enforcement of major parts of the executive order.[95][96] The Trump administration is appealing the TRO.[96]

Increased immigration enforcement[edit source]

On January 25, 2017, Trump signed Executive Order 13768 which, among other things, significantly increased the number of immigrants considered a priority for deportation. Previously, under Obama, an immigrant ruled removable would only be considered a priority to actually be physically deported if they, in addition to being removable, were convicted of serious crimes such as felonies or multiple misdemeanors. Under the Trump administration, such an immigrant can be considered a priority to be removed even if convicted only of minor crimes, or even if merely accused of such criminal activity.[97] Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, who came undocumented to the United States when she was 14, may have become the first person deported under the terms of this order on February 9, 2017. Garcia de Rayos had previously been convicted of felony criminal impersonation related to her use of a falsified Social Security card to work at an Arizona water park. This conviction had not been considered serious enough, under Obama, to actually remove her from the country, although she was required to check in regularly with ICE officials, which she had done regularly since 2008. The first time she checked in with ICE officials after the new executive order took effect, however, led to her detention and physical removal from the country. Greg Stanton, the Mayor of Phoenix commented that “Rather than tracking down violent criminals and drug dealers, ICE is spending its energy deporting a woman with two American children who has lived here for more than two decades and poses a threat to nobody.”[98] ICE officials said that her case went through multiple reviews in the immigration court system and that the “judges held she did not have a legal basis to remain in the US”.[99]

The Washington Post reported on 10 February 2017 that federal agents had begun to conduct sweeping immigration enforcement raids in at least six states.[100]

Federal Reserve officials have warned that Trump’s immigration restrictions will likely have an adverse impact on the economy. Immigration is a core component of economic growth, they have said.[101]

Revised travel ban and refugee suspension[edit source]

On March 6, 2017, Trump signed a revised executive order, that, among other differences with the original order, excluded Iraq, visa-holders, and permanent residents from the temporary suspension and did not differentiate Syrian refugees from refugees from other countries.[102]

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Yemen Province

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Yemen Province
ولاية اليمن (Wilayah al-Yaman)
Participant in the Yemeni Civil War
AQMI Flag asymmetric.svg

Active 13 November 2014–present
Ideology Salafist Islamism
Salafist Jihadism
Leaders Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Leader of ISIL)
Abu Bilal al-Harbi[1]
Area of operations  Yemen
Strength 300[2]
Part of AQMI Flag asymmetric.svg Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Opponents State opponents

Non-state opponents

Battles and wars Yemeni Civil War

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Yemen Province (Arabic: الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام – ولاية اليَمَن‎‎, ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fī ‘l-ʿIrāq wa-sh-Shām – Wilayah al-Yaman), or ISIL-YP, is a branch of the militant Islamist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), active in Yemen. ISIL announced the group’s formation on 13 November 2014.[5][6]

Organization[edit source]

Yemen Province’s organizational structure is divided into geographical based sub-units. There are at least eight known sub-provinces active in Yemen as of 2015, many named after existing administrative divisions of Yemen:[7]

At least seven separate sub-wilayah have claimed responsibility for attacks in Yemen, including Wilayah Sana’a, Wilayah Lahij, and Wilayah al-Bayda.[8][9]

Background[edit source]

On 13 November 2014, ISIL announced that a branch of the group had been established in Yemen, following pledges of allegiance made by unidentified militants in the country. al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the strongest militant group in the country, rejected this establishment.[5][10] By December of that year, ISIL had begun to build an active presence inside Yemen, and its recruitment drive brought it into direct competition with AQAP.[11][12] The branch’s first attack occurred in March 2015, when it carried out suicide bombings on 2 Shia Mosques in the Yemeni capital.[1][13] In the following months it continued to carry out attacks aimed largely at civilian targets associated with the Shia Houthi movement.[2]

The group has been able to attract recruits by appealing to heightened sectarianism in the country following the outbreak of the Yemeni Civil War in 2015.[9] It has received a number of defectors from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who are drawn by the group’s money and its ability to carry out regular attacks against the Houthis. This has led to increased tensions with AQAP, although the two sides had avoided clashes as of late 2015.[2][14]

On 6 October 2015, ISIL militants conducted a series of suicide bombings in Aden that killed 15 soldiers affiliated with the Hadi government and the Saudi-led coalition.[3] The attacks were directed against the al-Qasr hotel, which had been a headquarters for pro-Hadi officials, and also military facilities.[3] The group carried out further attacks against pro-Hadi forces, including the December 2015 assassination of Aden’s governor.[15] The group experienced a major split in the same month, when dozens of its members, including military and religious leaders, publicly rejected ISIL’s leader in Yemen for perceived violations of Sharia. ISIL’s central command condemned the dissenters, accusing them of violating their pledge to al-Baghdadi.[16][17] A member of AQAP claimed in early 2016 that about 30 members of ISIL in Yemen had recently defected to his organisation, unhappy with the group’s tactics and targeting of mosques and Muslim civilians.[18] On 15 May 2016, ISIL militants claimed responsibility for a suicide attack that killed 25 police recruits in the city of Mukalla in southern Yemen. AQAP was forced out of the city in April by the Saudi-led coalition.[19]

Designation as a terrorist organization[edit source]

Country Date References
 United States 19 May 2016 [20]

References

Lawmakers Demand Trump Pump Brakes On Military Action In Yemen

Authored by Deirdre Fulton via TheAntiMedia.org,

As conflict swirls over the recent U.S. bombing in Syria, more than 50 bipartisan lawmakers have demanded President Donald Trump seek approval from Congress before expanding U.S. military action in another Middle East theater: Yemen.

The letter sent this week came in response to reports that the Trump administration is considering a proposal to directly engage the U.S. military in Saudi Arabia’s war against the Houthis in Yemen, including a planned United Arab Emirates-led attack on the Yemeni port of Hodeida, currently held by Houthi rebels.

“Such an attack could push the country into full-blown famine, where nearly half a million children in Yemen are facing starvation,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who led the letter campaign along with Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.), and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

As Common Dreams reported in March, the U.S.-supported war in Yemen has already led the country to what one journalist described as “the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world.”

Furthermore, “Direct U.S. hostilities against Yemen’s Houthis would run counter to your pledge to pursue a ‘disciplined, deliberate and consistent foreign policy’ that protects American families in ‘every decision’,” reads the letter to Trump. “Indeed, according to U.S. defense officials, the U.S.-backed Saudi war against Houthis in Yemen has already ‘strengthened al Qaeda there’ and poses ‘a serious threat to U.S. security’.”

The lawmakers, who garnered 50 additional signatures for their missive, note that “Congress has never authorized the actions under consideration.”

In turn, they write:

Engaging our military against Yemen’s Houthis when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers clearly delineated in the Constitution. For this reason, we write to request that the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) provide, without delay, any legal justification that it would cite if the administration intends to engage in direct hostilities against Yemen’s Houthis without seeking congressional authorization.

As U.S. Representatives, we take seriously the right and responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of force, or to refuse to do so, as mandated by the Constitution and the 1973 War Powers Resolution. We expect that any direct military actions pursued by the administration against the Yemeni Houthis be brought before Congress for consideration and authorization for approval before they are executed.

“President Trump does not have the authority to send U.S. forces to battle the Houthis in Yemen, period,” said Lieu. “Once again, the administration appears ready to ramp up U.S. involvement in a complicated civil war without a clear strategy in place or the necessary authorization from Congress. A unilateral decision for direct U.S. involvement in Yemen would be met by swift, bipartisan opposition.”

The letter, and a full list of signatories, is here (pdf).

Just Foreign Policy, which supported the signature campaign along with other anti-war organizations, is now urging constituents to demand their lawmakers invoke the War Powers Resolution when they return from recess on April 25, “to explicitly prohibit military escalation in Syria and Yemen.”

“I can’t promise you that we can stop this catastrophe,” wrote Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy last month.

“But we used this exact same mechanism less than four years ago and were successful in stopping U.S. military action,” he continued, referring to the 2013 effort to stop then-President Barack Obama from bombing the Syrian government. “Given that the lives of hundreds of thousands of Yemeni children hang in the balance, isn’t it worth a try?”

 

The Media’s Missing The Point: Syria, Empire, & The Power Of Signaling

Trying to reduce the carefully choreographed drama to one stage and one audience risks misunderstanding the signal.

It seems many media observers are confused by events in Syria and the swirl of competing narratives. Did the Swamp drain Trump? Did the Neocons succeed in forcing Trump to follow their lead? Is the U.S. ramping up yet another endless war?

Consider the possibility that none of these narratives actually get to the heart of what’s going on. To make sense of all this, we’re going to have to delve into topics far below today’s headlines.

I think Ilargi (The Automatic Earth) got it right in his recent essay Symbols of Strength, in which he proposed that the entire cruise-missile exercise had little to do with Syria and everything to do with signaling Trump’s willingness to use force to China’s President Xi jinping.

Signaling is a term that is currently much in vogue. I used it in my recent essays Virtue-Signaling the Decline of the Empire (February 28, 2017) and It’s What’s Happening Beneath the Surface That Matters.

The original idea of signaling, drawn from economist Michael Spence’s job-market signaling model, has become confused with communication.

Spence proposed the notion that a college degree bridges the asymmetrical information gap between employer and employee: the employer has a tough time obtaining useful information on the qualifications and intelligence of job applicants. A college degree signals employers that the applicant is perseverent enough to get through 4+ years of college, and has enough intelligence (and work ethic) to earn the diploma.

Here is Bloomberg writer Noah Smith’s description of the difference between signaling and communicating: “Spence’s signaling model was about proving yourself by doing something difficult — something so difficult that someone who didn’t have what it takes wouldn’t even bother.”

In other words, communication isn’t a signal. A quizzical raised eyebrow, a scoffing chuckle, a wry comment–all of these telegraph emotional content as well as information. But these are not signals.

A signal is a form of communication, but its cost must be high to be persuasive. A signal can provide information on intent, depth of commitment, willingness to accept risk and much more.

A signal is often intended to communicate different things to different audiences.

To understand signaling, we need to understand the difference between force and power. Edward Luttwak ably described the difference in his book The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: force is a mechanical input (expense) that doesn’t scale: it takes a lot of people, effort and treasure to force others to comply with Imperial edicts.

Power, on the other hand, is ultimately the sum total output of the Empire: its productive capacity, resources, human and social capital–everything. Power influences others without direct coercion. This allows the Empire to extend its influence without having to bear the enormous costs of applying force.

Luttwak explains that power results from positioning military assets to serve political-power objectives. That is, the assets must be positioned to credibly threaten the use of force anywhere in the Empire, but the job of maintaining influence/control is done more by signaling the readiness and ability to use force rather than having to put the force in the field (a very costly and risky venture that often turns out badly).

In other words, the perception of power and the willingness and ability to apply force is what matters in terms of political influence. If we look through this lens, we discern a much different picture of what may be going on with the cruise missile attack on Syria.

(I also recommend Luttwak’s companion volume, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire.)

The “Secret Sauce” of the Byzantine Empire: Stable Currency, Social Mobility (September 1, 2016)

Here is some essential context for the signaling of the U.S., Russia and China. The U.S. spends roughly $700 billion annually on its Armed Forces and another $100 billion on intelligence agencies and defense-related expenditures. So round it up to $800 billion.

That is roughly 15% of total federal spending, and a bit over 3% of America’s GDP. Historically, these are very low numbers. In other words, the U.S. isn’t even spending much of its total available output on its military.

Every great power aims its signals at both the international audience and the domestic audience. Rather than being a poker game, signaling is more 3-D chess, with three boards in play at all times: client states and allies; potential adversaries, and the domestic audience.

China, Russia and the U.S. are all signaling to these three different audiences with every pronouncement and every action.

We must be careful not to misread a signal primarily intended for a domestic audience as being more than a symbolic act. All the analysts who see the cruise-missile attack as “proof” that the Swamp has drained Trump, or the U.S. intends to raamp up its involvement in Syria are looking at only one board–or they’ve misread the game entirely, and are glued to a PR sideshow.

A successful signal performs on multiple levels, leveraging the effect at a low cost. No Great Power can afford to use only brute force to maintain influence. Signals may be directed at multiple audiences, and trying to reduce the carefully choreographed drama to one stage and one audience risks misunderstanding the signal.

The entire cruise-missile drama hints at the possibility that U.S. Neocons are being played. It’s all too pat for my taste. But that’s a topic for another essay.

*  *  *

For those interested in Imperial strategies, force and power, I recommend these books as worthy starting places. I am not an authority, I am only an avid amateur, so please let me know which other books you’ve found to be especially insightful.

How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower (Adrian Goldsworthy)

War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires (Peter Turchin)

The Rise of Rome: The Making of the World’s Greatest Empire (Anthony Everitt)

428 AD: An Ordinary Year at the End of the Roman Empire (Giusto Traina)

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (Jack Weatherford)

Venice: A New History (Thomas F. Madden)

Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire (Judith Herrin)

The End of Empire: Attila the Hun & the Fall of Rome

The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000

1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

The Fall of the Roman Empire

The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History

The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization

This essay was drawn from Musings Report 14. The Reports are emailed weekly to major contributors and patrons ($50 annually or $5/month or higher).