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Interview on John Batchelor Show (radio) on character and war (10 min.) March 30, 2020

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Looking for American patience, respect for authority and community spirit in the time of the virus. David Davenport @HooverInst

Mar 27, 8:08 PM
To listen to the interview:

A Different Kind of Character for a Different Kind of War (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) March 24, 2020

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America is again at war, but war of a different kind: war against an unknown virus attacking our health, our economy, our social lives. Sadly, there is no quick knockout punch we can deliver to the enemy, no cease-fire agreement halting hostilities.

No, fighting this war will require a different kind of character. It will require the “now” generation of instant technology and immediate gratification to exhibit patience. The “me” generation must become a “we” generation.

This war will be fought on the front lines of medical science, but even more important now is the home front. We will need both rugged American individualism and community concern for one another. The golden rule—do unto others as you would have others do unto you—will be more valuable than a financial bailout or a silver bullet.

This is America’s new test of character.

To listen to the audio:

David Davenport: A Different Kind of Character for a Different Kind of War

International Criminal Court Prepares a Legal War on the US (Washington Examiner) March 17, 2020

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Since its creation in 1998, many have understood the International Criminal Court to be a way for those in the world who oppose but cannot match America’s military power to attack it legally instead. At last, that has now happened with the court’s recent decision to investigate the U.S. military for potential war crimes in Afghanistan. If successful, the ICC prosecutor may then charge individual Americans for war crimes.

How did we come to this place, where Americans could be ordered to stand trial in The Hague for war crimes? It is a story of good intentions captured by a small but vocal group and turned to this group’s own political ends. After special international criminal tribunals were formed to deal with overwhelming human rights atrocities in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia earlier in the ’90s, there was a sense that a permanent court should be established to deal with these. The United States not only supported the idea but was one of its leading proponents and organizers.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the creation of the ICC. A group of human rights nonprofit groups and smaller nations formed a coalition to change the entire nature and scope of the proposed court. Instead of seeing cases referred by the U.N. Security Council as was done previously, the coalition wanted an independent prosecutor who could range over the world and bring forward his own cases. Instead of limiting parties to citizens of nations that agreed to the treaty creating the court, as was done historically, the council wanted jurisdiction over anyone who committed a crime on the territory of a signatory state. It also sought to add a new crime to the traditional mix: the crime of aggression.

The point of these politicized human rights activists was to create what they called “a court worth having,” not the sort of institution that would attract wide support. Instead of taking the time to engage in compromise and negotiation to attract most of the nations to join, the court was formed when only 60 of the world’s 190-plus nations signed on.

Rightly, the U.S. refused to agree to this kind of aggressive political institution. We did not sign the treaty and took some comfort in the fact that the court would only act in cases where local judicial systems either could not or would not act. Indeed, that was its original purpose — to be available when local systems were overwhelmed by abuse, as in the Rwandan genocide or when powerful dictators or national leaders refused to investigate their own people.

Especially when you look at questions of war and military force, there really is no true international “law.” Most treaties establish something more on the order of international norms to which nations aspire, but they are easily violated when national interest dictates. There is no international constitution, no global police force, to enforce these norms, so in that sense, it is a misnomer to think of them as law in the way Americans regard law.

Thus, an institution with the bold aspirations of the ICC becomes, in effect, politics by other means. Even though the U.S. has not signed onto the ICC and has arguably the strongest judicial system in the world, the ICC nonetheless creates an opportunity to try to put on a political trial of American soldiers and officials, which is precisely what many of the proponents of the court sought in the first place.

Just as the U.S. said “no” when the court was formed, it must just say “no” again if the prosecutor comes calling on Americans to be investigated or stand up in court.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Bernie Sanders’s Last Gasp: Tie Revolution to Defeating Coronavirus (Washington Examiner) March 16, 2020

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Bernie Sanders has now enrolled in the Rahm Emanuel school of public policy: Never let a good crisis go to waste — it’s an opportunity to do things you could not do before. That’s the life preserver Sanders has grabbed onto as his campaign sinks into the depths, seeking to tie his goal of “political revolution” to the coronavirus crisis.

Repeatedly in the Sunday night Democratic debate, Sanders tried to build a link between the coronavirus and our “failed” healthcare system. If we had “Medicare for all,” he claimed, people could be tested and treated. In his next breath, Sanders pointed to the need for an income inequality revolution, which mandates taxing the wealthy much more, so that people could afford to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

The last politician who successfully launched a major political revolution from the crisis of the day was President Franklin Roosevelt, who rolled out his New Deal in the wake of the Great Depression. However, Sanders isn’t Franklin Roosevelt, and this is not the Great Depression.

Actually, Sanders’s and FDR’s revolutionary goals are cut from similar cloths, even if the natures of the crises are quite different. Above all, Roosevelt’s revolutionary New Deal sought security, especially economic security, for the “forgotten man.” Roosevelt not only established Social Security but spoke of the need for the government to take over the economy and guarantee jobs, income, education, and health. He attacked the “economic royalists” on Wall Street who, like Sanders’s big pharmaceutical and oil companies, were making money at the expense of ordinary people. In all this, Sanders’s rhetoric and revolutionary aims are quite similar to Roosevelt’s.

But that’s where the similarities between Roosevelt and Sanders end, in part because this crisis is quite different and also because Sanders’s political gifts come nowhere near those of the masterful Roosevelt.

A viral health crisis that sprang from a province in China is not caused by an American systemic problem. Roosevelt argued that America’s economic and financial systems, which he said needed to transition from an agrarian economy to an industrial one, were part of the cause of the Depression. It was an economic emergency that Roosevelt managed to tie to fundamental problems in the economic system.

Sanders’s only tie between the coronavirus emergency and his call to revolutionize the healthcare system is in the later cure stage, not in the disease’s initial cause. Joe Biden rightly pointed out that a revolution to change the payment and delivery system in healthcare that could not take effect for years doesn’t even address the emergency of the moment. This present crisis must be tackled by national and state emergency powers, as Biden argued, not by a later debate on a healthcare revolution.

Sanders is not Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s leadership wisely called for a comforting and rallying of the public before he turned to revolution. He initiated fireside radio chats to come into people’s living rooms. The most memorable line from his first inaugural address was, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Unfortunately, Sanders looks and sounds like a revolutionary, waving his arms and calling for major change in the heat of a crisis.

A recent CNN poll underscored that what people seek in a crisis is a steady hand, not a revolutionary. The poll showed that 65% of Democratic voters would prefer Biden to handle a major crisis compared to 23% for Sanders. Somehow, Roosevelt had the ability to both reassure people while also, ultimately, leading a political revolution. Unfortunately for Sanders, he appears to drive only in one gear, the hot drive of a revolutionary.

“You say you want a revolution,” the Beatles said in the 1960s. “No, thank you,” say Americans in 2020.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


Democrats Don’t Want a Revolution After All (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) March 16, 2020

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In the twinkling of an electoral eye, frontrunner Bernie Sanders’ campaign is near death and Joe Biden’s has been resurrected. How could this happen?

Bernie said the American system needed a “political revolution,” and his revolution was “for all”: Medicare for all, free college for all, housing for all and jobs for all. The price tag was tens of trillions of dollars and a revolution in how America operates.

Even Democrats were not ready for that.

Perhaps it was about stopping the Trump revolution: a CNN Poll shows that 66 percent of Democratic voters thought Biden could best oppose Trump, 26 percent for Sanders. Or maybe concern over the coronavirus revolution changed things: the same poll showed Biden could best handle a major crisis by 65 percent over Sanders–at 23 percent.

It turns out 2020 is not the year for a revolution.

To listen to the audio:

David Davenport: Democrats Don’t Want A Revolution After All

Republicans’ Murky National Security (Washington Examiner) February 21, 2020

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The Republican tent has historically been big enough to hold several varieties of foreign policy conservatives. It was a little easier in the days of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, with anti-communism as the center holding things together, though even isolationists found a home in the party. From the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, however, it has been a struggle to find a foreign policy common denominator for Republicans. George W. Bush test-drove neoconservatism and nation building as his approach, but foreign policy realists were not impressed. The war on terror provided a core national security policy for a while, at least until the era of President Trump.

Even though we think of Republicans as the party of national security, could we actually describe what that means? Trump himself doesn’t seem to be sure. At first, he clearly liked “my generals” and appointed former military leaders to a broad range of roles, including secretary of defense, White House chief of staff, and national security adviser. Since then, like the public, Trump seems to have grown weary of the “endless wars” an aggressive national defense policy has delivered. He said in his 2019 State of the Union address that he was bringing our troops back home. Yet even when he reduced slightly in one place (Syria, for example), he expanded elsewhere (the Middle East) so that there is little change overall.

Meanwhile, the days of a foreign policy “grand strategy,” practiced by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, appear to be over. Perhaps in an era in which threats come from terror groups, rather than nation-states, a grand strategy is no longer realistic. Rather than a Truman Doctrine, we may have to settle for being “the world’s policeman,” responding to dangers on an ad hoc basis as they arise. Yet Trump warned in October 2019 that “the job of our military is not to police the world.” Less than three months later, however, America assassinated a top Iranian general perceived to be an imminent threat. Trump, at least, seems to be fulfilling his campaign proposal that foreign policy should be more unpredictable.

Republicans missed a recent opportunity to lend greater deliberation and consistency to national security when they failed to support legislation to restore to Congress the power to declare war, in this case, against Iran. The Constitution makes the president commander in chief, but it empowers Congress to declare war. By now, however, the exceptions to congressional war declarations have almost swallowed up the principle, and the president is largely able to go to war unilaterally. This places national security policy in the hands of a single person rather than building a consensus of national leaders, leaving the nation vulnerable to a president who wishes to drive toward war, such as Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam, or who prefers an unpredictable foreign policy, such as Trump.

One thing is relatively clear: The public is ready to move on from the era of endless wars. Both a recent Eurasia Group Foundation survey and a 2018 poll by the Committee for a Responsible Foreign Policy found that Americans wanted to spend less on defense and engage in fewer military interventions. A Pew Research Study of veterans found that even they thought the invasion of Iraq was not worth fighting. Therefore, it would seem as if the party of national security needs to find a way to pursue its goals at a lesser price.

It seems time for Republicans to engage in a debate over how to pursue national security without endless wars. For starters, we will have to acknowledge that sending in the military is a tactic, not a strategy. Long before we commit troops, we need an understanding of why we would use military force and what victory would look like. Then, too, we need to build a stronger national consensus about when to use force, which means we have to bring Congress off the sidelines and back into the forefront when we declare war.

Perhaps Trump’s failure to reduce our military commitments as promised will become a campaign issue in 2020. More likely, it’s one more important policy can to kick down the road until the post-Trump era.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the co-author, with Gordon Lloyd, of How Public Policy Became War, published May 7.

To view the column at the Washington Examiner:



Coronavirus and the National Debt (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) February 20, 2020

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What do coronavirus and the national debt have in common?  The answer is China.  Due in part to secrecy and poor management in China, suddenly the world confronts a major pandemic.  We’re reminded how interconnected our world is and how vulnerable we are to China.

Perhaps this is a reason to take the national debt more seriously.  China owns approximately 5 percent of our debt and some surprise there could have a major economic effect on the US.  It could be the next housing bubble and we are woefully unprepared.

A recent report by the Congressional Budget Office says our debt will equal 98% of the nation’s total economic output by 2030.  President Trump promised to eliminate the deficit in 8 years but what we’ve seen is a nearly 50 percent increase.

Let’s tell Washington to take the debt seriously and beware a bad surprise.

To listen to the audio:

David Davenport: Coronavirus and the National Debt

The Democrats’ Go Big or Go Home Problem (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) February 18, 2020

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Have you noticed the Democrats’ new message? It’s “go big or go home.” Elizabeth Warren says we need “big structural change.” Bernie Sanders agrees, saying no “half measures.” Nearly all the candidates have jumped on the bandwagon, favoring Medicare for all, free college and a massive Green New Deal.

But there’s a problem: Americans don’t trust big government.

A Pew Research study showed that only 17 percent trust government to do what is right. 75 percent believe trust in the federal government is shrinking. A new book titled “Good Enough for Government Work,” argues the American people do not trust government officials, finding their programs inefficient and ineffective.

Republicans should be the party of incremental change. Their climate change ideas about innovation, research and plastic waste are a great example.

According to the American people, the era of big government should be over.

To listen to the audio:

David Davenport: The Democrats’ Go Big Or Go Home Problem

Trump Won Impeachment on Both Law and Politics (National radio commentary, Salem/Townhall) February 10, 2020

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It turns out Nancy Pelosi was right on one thing: The Democrats should not have pursued impeachment in an election year. Now, President Trump has won on both the law and the politics of the impeachment battle.

The 2020 election will again be about turning out a candidate’s base, rather than winning the middle. Trump, especially, has devoted himself fully to turning out and winning his base. Meanwhile, the Democrats—split between progressives and moderates—are still looking for their base.

Without question, the Democrats’ move to impeach the president has stirred up Trump’s base more than theirs. The Trump team successfully argued that the relatively weak impeachment case brought in an election year was, in effect, an effort to take away the people’s vote. On the heels of impeachment, the president’s approval rating is up.

Democrats now face a high price for their political miscalculation.

To listen to the audio:

David Davenport: Trump Won Impeachment on Both Law and Politics

Democrats Have a ‘Go Big or Go Home’ Problem (Washington Examiner) February 6, 2020

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The fact that Democrats could not even deliver timely results of their own Iowa caucuses underscores their larger problem. They have become the party of big, structural changes led by government in a time when people lack confidence and trust in big government.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren likes to talk about the need for “big, structural change” to our domestic policies. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is right with her, denouncing “half measures” and arguing, as he did in a recent commercial, “America is best when we strive to do big things.” Nearly all of the Democratic candidates have jumped on the “go big or go home” bandwagon, with calls for “Medicare for all,” free college, a revolutionary and expensive Green New Deal, and huge tax increases on the wealthy. Apparently, Democrats have concluded that if policy proposals are not blockbuster, then they are merely lackluster. Their pitch is not President John F. Kennedy’s “we can do better” call for improvement, but rather President Franklin Roosevelt’s plea for a revolutionary New Deal.

The problem is that the public increasingly distrusts big government. A Pew Research Center study published last year showed that only 17% of people trust the government to do what is right, while 75% believe that trust in the federal government is shrinking. Examining trust in various leadership groups, government officials came in dead last, behind scientists and educators, but even trailing journalists and business leaders.

Political scientist Amy Lerman, in her 2019 book Good Enough for Government Work, reached a similar conclusion, while also providing some insight into why this is the case. She asserts, “The tendency of Americans to associate ‘public’ with ineffective, inefficient, and low-quality services is a central feature of our modern political culture.” They figure if the government cannot even manage the long lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles, why should you trust other government programs? Lerman notes that there is greater confidence in privately run programs than in the government, even when the research would indicate otherwise.

Here, then, is an opportunity for Republicans to promote not only private solutions to public problems (charter schools, private health insurance, even private prisons) but also to demonstrate that smaller, targeted government policies will be more effective than the Democrats’ big, structural changes. A good example is the recent Republican climate change proposals that stress “innovation” rather than the Democrats’ massive Green New Deal. Republican ideas include planting a trillion trees to address carbon dioxide, providing tax breaks for research, and curbs on plastics. Meanwhile, Democrats want to reinvent the entire economy to address climate change at a cost of trillions of dollars. Research would suggest that average people would not trust that kind of megasolution.

California is in the midst of another one of these structural versus incremental change battles regarding its need for more housing. Senate Bill 50 would have forced cities and counties to permit denser housing developments, especially near urban transit centers. Taller buildings and more houses on lots were the state’s one-size-fits-all solution to override local zoning laws and increase housing. However, there were other, more targeted alternatives, such as streamlining the permitting process and reducing the infrastructure costs for new housing. In the end, enough Democrats who represented suburban districts joined with Republicans to defeat it for now, but it will likely return in some form. Again, the question is whether the state should, in effect, reinvent local zoning or whether smaller, more targeted alternatives were a better choice.

Peter Drucker, the late management guru, used to say that low-cost probes generally make more sense than betting the farm on some big idea. Democrats, however, prefer to use a crisis as a basis for revolutionary change. Republicans’ message in 2020 and beyond, should argue that a series of innovations and policy tweaks targeted at the real problems are a much better way to develop policy than big structural changes.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the co-author, with Gordon Lloyd, of How Public Policy Became War, published May 7.

To view the column at the Washington Examiner”