The Chinese Air Force's Super Weapon: Beware the J-11D Fighter

The Buzz

China has conducted the first test flight of a new, upgraded version of its J-11 fighter jet.

According to Russian media outlets, which cited unnamed Chinese reports, on Wednesday the People’s Liberation Army Air Force conducted the first flight tests of its J-11D fighter aircraft. The plane is an upgraded version of the J-11B fighter jets, which themselves are copies of the Russian-made Sukhoi Su-27.

According to the reports, the new J-11D incorporates a number of technologies from China’s J-16 fighter jets. Both planes are manufactured by the Chinese company, Shenyang Aircraft Corp, and the J-16 is believed to have incorporated some technologies from the J-11. However, the J-16 is a multi-role strike fighter.

Perhaps most  notable of the J11-D’s upgrades is that it reportedly incorporates the J-16’s advanced  Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. When the PLAAF first took delivery of the J-16 in April of last year, Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer wrote in Popular Science that:

The most important upgrade to the J-16 is an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, which is more powerful than the slotted array radars that the Su-30 and JH-7A have. The AESA radar allows the J-16 to intercept enemy aircraft at longer ranges than either of its predecessors, and to attack multiple surface targets simultaneously. The AESA radar would also be datalinked to other Chinese platforms, including unmanned vehicles, to increase their situational awareness.

This AESA upgrade significantly enhances the J-11D’s capabilities over those of its predecessors. In fact, pointing to the AESA upgrades, some analysts have said the new J-11Ds could be China’s version of the Sukhoi Su-35s, which is Russia’s most deadly fighter jet. In fact, some U.S. military officials have told The National Interest the F-15C Eagle and Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet “would both have their hands full” in combat against the Su-35.

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Besides the AESA radar upgrade, Russia Today reports that the new J-11D uses more composite materials and boasts more air-to-air missiles like the PL-10 and PL-15 than did earlier versions of the plane. It also has a new in-flight refueling arrangement that is similar to the J-15.

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Also very notable is that according to some sources, the new J-11D is powered by two WS-10A engines, which are indigenous engines. For all its rapid advances, Chinese aerospace companies have continued to struggle to make high-powered engines that are reliable.

Below is a YouTube video that purportedly shows the Wednesday maiden test flight of the new J-11D.


Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.  

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

The Vietnam War in 40 Quotes

The Buzz

Last month, I did a series of posts commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of U.S. combat troops in Vietnam on March 8, 1965. Today marks another significant date in the Vietnam War: the fortieth anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. To mark that anniversary, here are forty quotes that tell the story of the Vietnam War:

“All men are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”—The first lines of the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence, issued on September 2, 1945, quoting the American Declaration of Independence.

“You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and I will win.” —Viet Minh leader Ho Chi Minh in awarning to French colonialists in 1946.

“Our long-term objectives are… to see installed a self-governing nationalist state which will be friendly to the US… We have an immediate interest in maintaining in power a friendly French Government, to assist in the furtherance of our aims in Europe. This immediate and vital interest has in consequence taken precedence over active steps looking toward the realization of our objectives in Indochina.” —Department of State, “Policy Statement on Indochina,” issued on September 27, 1948, explaining why the United States supported French policy in Vietnam even though U.S. officials believed it ran counter to their long-term objectives for the region.

“You have a row of dominoes set up; you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is that it will go over very quickly.” —President Dwight D. Eisenhower speaking at a press conference on April 7, 1954.

“Well, Lyndon, they may be every bit as intelligent as you say, but I’d feel a whole lot better if just one of them had run for sheriff once.” —House Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-TX) speaking to Lyndon B. Johnson in January 1961 after the newly inaugurated vice president extolled the brilliance of the members of President John F. Kennedy’s new cabinet.

“Now we have a problem in trying to make our power credible, and Vietnam looks like the place.” —President John Kennedy in a June 1961 interview with the New York Times reporter James Reston.

If the Buddhists wish to have another barbecue, I’ll gladly supply the gasoline and a match.” —Tran Le Xuan, better known as Madame Nhu or “the Dragon Lady,” dismissing the fact that Buddhist monks had set themselves on fire in the summer of 1963 to protest the rule of her brother-in-law, South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, for whom she acted as an unofficial first lady.

“I don’t think that unless a greater effort is made by the government to win popular support that the war can be won out there. In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisors, but they have to win it, the people of Vietnam, against the communists.” —President John Kennedy in a televised interview with Walter Cronkite on September 2, 1963.

“I am not going to lose Vietnam. I am not going to be the president who saw Southeast Asia go the way China went.” —Newly inaugurated President Lyndon Johnson at a White House meeting on November 24, 1963 responding to U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. telling him that Vietnam “would go under any day if we don’t do something.”

“There is nothing in the resolution, as I read it, that contemplates [sending American armies to Vietnam]. I agree with the Senator that that is the last thing we would want to do. However, the language of the resolution would not prevent it. It would authorize whatever the Commander in Chief feels is necessary.” —Senator William Fulbright (D-AR) during the Senate debate on August 6, 1964 over the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

“I believe this resolution to be a historic mistake. I believe that within the next century, future generations will look with dismay and great disappointment upon a Congress which is now about to mistake such a historic mistake.”—Senator Wayne Morse (D-OR) on the Senate’s impending vote to adopt the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on August 7, 1964.

“We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” —President Lyndon Johnson in a speech at Akron University on October 21, 1964, two weeks before the presidential election.

“We do this [escalating U.S. military involvement in Vietnam] in order to slow down aggression. We do this to increase the confidence of the brave people of South Vietnam who have bravely born this brutal battle for so many years with so many casualties. And we do this to convince the leaders of North Vietnam—and all who seek to share their conquest—of a simple fact: We will not be defeated. We will not grow tired. We will not withdraw either openly or under the cloak of a meaningless agreement.”—President Lyndon Johnson, speaking to the nation on April 7, 1965 explaining his decision to send U.S. combat troops to Vietnam.

“My solution to the problem would be to tell them frankly that they’ve got to draw in their horns and stop their aggression or we’re going to bomb them back into the Stone Ages.” —General Curtis E. LeMay, in his book Mission With LeMay, 1965.

“I think we have all underestimated the seriousness of this situation. Like giving cobalt treatment to a terminal cancer case. I think a long protracted war will disclose our weakness, not our strength.”—Deputy Secretary of State George W. Ball answering President Lyndon Johnson’s question at a White House meeting on July 21, 1965 about whether the United States could win a war in the “jungle rice-paddies” of Vietnam.

“It’s silly talking about how many years we will have to spend in the jungles of Vietnam when we could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it and still be home for Christmas.” —Ronald Reagan, October 10, 1965, interview with the Fresno Bee during his California gubernatorial campaign.

“Declare the United States the winner and begin de-escalation.”—Senator George Aiken (R-VT) offering advice to President Lyndon Johnson on October 19, 1966 on how to handle the politics of reducing the U.S. commitment in Vietnam.

“We seem bent upon saving the Vietnamese from Ho Chi Minh, even if we have to kill them and demolish their country to do it. I do not intend to remain silent in the face of what I regard as a policy of madness which, sooner or later, will envelop my son and American youth by the millions for years to come.” —Senator George McGovern (D-SD) speaking on the Senate floor on April 25, 1967.

“We are fighting a war with no front lines, since the enemy hides among the people, in the jungles and mountains, and uses covertly border areas of neutral countries. One cannot measure [our] progress by lines on a map.”—General William C. Westmoreland, the commander of all U.S. military forces in Vietnam, in a speech to a joint session of Congresson April 28, 1967.

“There may be a limit beyond which many Americans and much of the world will not permit the United States to go. The picture of the world’s greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1,000 non-combatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny, backward nation into submission on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one.” —Robert McNamara in a memo to President Lyndon Johnson on May 19, 1967.

“Hey, Hey LBJ, How many kids did you kill today?” —A protest chant that first became popular in late 1967.

“We have reached an important point where the end begins to come into view.” —General William C. Westmoreland speaking to the National Press Club on November 21, 1967 as part of a Johnson administration effort to shore up sagging public support for the war.

“It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” —AP correspondent Peter Arnett quoting a U.S. major on the decision to bomb and shell Ben Tre on February 7, 1968 after Viet Cong forces overran the city in the Mekong Delta forty-five miles south of Saigon during the Tet Offensive.

“For it seems now more certain than ever, that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past.” —Walter Cronkite in an editorial at the close of the CBS Evening News broadcast on February 27, 1968 reporting on what he had learned on a trip to Vietnam in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive.

“Our objective in South Vietnam has never been the annihilation of the enemy. It has been to bring about a recognition in Hanoi that its objective—taking over the South by force—could not be achieved.” —President Lyndon Johnson in a nationwide address on March 31, 1968 explaining his decision to halt the bombing of North Vietnam.

“I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party as your President.” —President Lyndon Johnson telling the nation on March 31, 1968 that he would not seek reelection.

“The commitment of five hundred thousand Americans has settled the issue of the importance of Vietnam. For what is involved now is confidence in American promises.”—Incoming National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger writing in the January 1969 issue of Foreign Affairs.

“The time has come when the United States, in our relations with all of our Asian friends, be quite emphatic on two points: One, that we will keep our treaty commitments… but, two, that as far as the problems of internal security are concerned, as far as the problems of military defense, except for the threat of a major power involving nuclear weapons, that the United States is going to encourage and has a right to expect that this problem will be increasingly handled by, and the responsibility for it taken by, the Asian nations themselves.”—President Richard M. Nixon speaking at an informal press conference on Guam on July 25, 1969 setting forth what becomes known as the Nixon Doctrine.

“I refuse to believe that a little fourth-rate power like North Vietnam doesn’t have a breaking point.” —National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger speaking in July 1969 to NSC aides as he charged them with developing a punitive military strategy that would coerce North Vietnam into negotiating on American terms.

“And so tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support.” —President Richard Nixon in his address to the nation on the war in Vietnam on November 3, 1969.

“Let us understand: North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.”—President Richard Nixon in hisaddress to the nation on the war in Vietnam on November 3, 1969.

“If, when the chips are down, the world’s most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.”—President Richard Nixon in a nationwide address on April 30, 1970 explaining his decision to invade Cambodia.

“This war has already stretched the generation gap so wide that it threatens to pull the country apart.” —Senator Frank Church (D-ID) speaking on the Senate floor on May 13, 1970.

“The United States, which brought these actions to enjoin publication in the New York Times and in the Washington Post of certain classified material, has not met the ‘heavy burden of showing justification for the enforcement of such a [prior] restraint.’” —U.S. Supreme Court rulingon June 30, 1971 overturning the injunction barring the New York Timesand the Washington Post from publishing the Pentagon Papers.

“The bastards have never been bombed like they’re going to be bombed this time.” —President Richard Nixon to White House Chief of Staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman and Attorney General John Mitchell on April 4, 1972 in deciding to launch what would become known as Operation Linebacker,a massive escalation in the war effort that that included mining Haiphong harbor, blockading the North Vietnamese coast, and launching a massive new bombing campaign against North Vietnam.

“Come home to the affirmation that we have a dream. Come home to the conviction that we can move our country forward.”—Senator George McGovern (D-SD) in his address accepting the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention on July 14, 1972.

“We believe that peace is at hand.” —National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger speaking at a White House press conference about theParis Peace negotiations on October 26, 1972, two weeks before the presidential election.

“I have asked for this radio and television time tonight for the purpose of announcing that we today have concluded an agreement to end the war and bring peace with honor in Vietnam and in Southeast Asia.”—Richard Nixoninforming the American public in a nationwide address on January 23, 1973 that the United States had reached agreement with North Vietnam on the Paris Peace Accords.

“Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned. As I see it, the time has come to look forward to an agenda for the future, to unify, to bind up the Nation’s wounds, and to restore its health and its optimistic self-confidence…. We, of course, are saddened indeed by the events in Indochina. But these events, tragic as they are, portend neither the end of the world nor of America’s leadership in the world.” —President Gerald R. Ford in a speech at Tulane University on April 23, 1975.

“During the day on Monday, Washington time, the airport at Saigon came under persistent rocket as well as artillery fire and was effectively closed. The military situation in the area deteriorated rapidly. I therefore ordered the evacuation of all American personnel remaining in South Vietnam.” —President Gerald Ford’s statement announcing the evacuation of United States personnel from the Republic of Vietnam on April 29, 1975.

This piece first appeared in CFR's blog The Water's Edge here

Rachael Kauss and Alex Laplaza assisted in the preparation of this post.

TopicsThe Vietnam War RegionsAsia

Asia's Economic Miracle: Dead and Buried?

The Buzz

East Asia's path to industrial success is well-trodden, first by Japan, then the four tigers and now China. It combines Soviet-style financial repression and urban industrialization with a mercantilist focus on exports and protecting home champions. Buy local, sell global. This is the formula for How Asia Works. Can South, Central and Southeast Asian nations follow the East Asian convoy?

John Lee at the Hudson Institute has his doubts, citing two awkward realities that face latecomers and laggards.

First, robotics is tilting the advantage to capital-intensive rather than labor-intensive economies. 'Premature non-industrialization' is already here; it is becoming harder for poor countries to get rich the traditional way. The onset of peak manufacturing comes earlier now.

The second problem Lee identifies is one of simple demographic scale. In 1970, Japan, Korea and Taiwan collectively had 150 million people and exported goods to about 400 million wealthier Western consumers. Today, globalization has reversed the balance. Lee reckons there are 1 billion affluent consumers worldwide, but 2 billion striving to serve them and that's just in East Asia alone. The field is getting more crowded as India, Latin American and African nations join the export game.

Their biggest challenge is China. It is, uniquely, both an affluent domestic consumer market and a ferociously competitive exporter. China's scale economies, eager workforce and expertise are hard for the global supply chain to escape, other than for very low-end manufacturing like textiles. As China progresses, it may be closing the industrialization gate behind it. It is embracing automation to become the world's biggest robot importer. But Beijing naturally wants an automation industry for itself and targets an advanced domestic equipment base by 2025. When China makes the machines that make the machines that replace humans, workers of the world will unite in worry.

With such intense focus on corporate competitiveness and the interests of capital, it is not surprising that China's overseas developmental assistance is also businesslike.

Informed Chinese experts tell me that Chinese firms expect to scoop 93-94% of the contract value of all projects funded by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) plus the Chinese unilateral initiatives (like Silk Road Fund) combined. By Goldman Sachs' calculation, local expectations for China's newly re-combined train-making monopoly assume a clean sweep at home and an heroic 55% share of all railway rolling stock bought overseas in the next five years. These firms expect a bonanza of construction in which Chinese money, materials, management and manpower can build grand overseas projects. Foreign firms will have to settle for spillover business, in the form of subcontracts.

Indonesia's development minister, for one, is relaxed. The AIIB will focus on big-ticket items like coal-fired power stations, he reckons, which complements the World Bank's work in poverty reduction and public healthcare and the Asian Development Bank's focus on irrigation and rural roads. In other words, China will build big things; other agencies will do little things. The irony is that the early breakthroughs China itself made (partly with World Bank advice) were in the 'small' stuff: democratizing literacy, improving sanitation, and opening opportunity for women. Before it started pouring concrete, China got the basics right first.

No doubt the Chinese would love to sell expensive bullet trains to India, say, but if they were truly interested in assisting India's development, they should share their admirable experience in schooling girls. Would India listen? Narendra Modi does understand that his country risks being 'hollowed out' or de-industrialized unless his own 'Make in India' project succeeds. His trade deficit with China is soaring. India imports high-tech equipment while its exports to China read like the cargo manifest of a 19th century sailing ship.

China isn't alone in its single-minded pursuit of turnkey infrastructure projects. Building factories is, after all, easier than building 'institutional capabilities.' The ADB has long been accused of favouring Japanese construction firms. Russia has become a nuclear one-stop shop, financing, building and even operating nuclear power stations worldwide. Moscow is not particularly interested in transferring skills.

These are commercial transactions after all, not charity. Shen Dingli crisply explains that recent comparisons with the Marshall Plan are totally misguided. China is not granting aid nor should partner countries expect it. Instead this is a 'win-win' business arrangement. Certainly China's SOEs will win big. And shiny new highways and power plants and railways are welcome everywhere. But the bills will need to be paid.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

TopicsEconomics RegionsAsia

The U.S. Military's Fighter Aircraft Crisis: What Comes After the F-35?

The Buzz

Earlier this year, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert said that he believed that the F/A-XX, the Navy’s planned eventual follow-on to the F-35C, would be "optionally manned". On April 15 at the Sea-Air-Space conference, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus leaned further forward, noting how he believed that "the F-35 should be, and almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly.” At the same time, Mabus announced that he would be establishing a new post of deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for unmanned systems—a secretary of drones, so to speak. That evening, Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman John McCain said that “I hope the sentiments expressed by Secretary Mabus… will be reflected in the Navy's future programmatic decisions.” For as the senator knows, that’s where the actual plans depart from the strategic narrative. The program is still focused on manned aviation, and that questionably supports future strategic needs.

Maybe drones can’t do everything. The US Air Force is mostly enthused about drones, with a corporate position that long-endurance surveillance should be automated. The service is replacing U-2 Dragon Ladies with MQ-4 Global Hawks, and reducing its fleet of MC-12 Liberties, while continuing to buy MQ-9 Reapers. This drone strike-fighter business, though, USAF Chief of Staff General Mark Welch might call a bunch of hooey. At Defense One’s event last Wednesday, the chief insisted that the USAF’s follow-on to the F-35A would absolutely be manned, as “having the human brain as a sensor in combat is still immensely important.” As Sam Lagrone noted, while the SecNav mentioned strike—attacking targets on land or on the waves—he pointedly did not address combat in the air. But John Stillion of the CSBA has recently argued that even beyond-visual-range (BVR) aerial combat can be partly automated, with hunting-dog drones scouting and shooting for manned fighters coming up from behind. 

Let’s get back to those manned fighters for a moment. With several wars underway for over thirteen years now, the Navy has been flying its Hornets, As through Fs, far more than planned—about 350 hours annually. The A through D early-model Hornets are thus wearing out faster than planned—about 40 aircraft annually. The Navy is not buying F-18Es and Fs at nearly that rate, so the number of all Hornets in combat service has been dropping—to now only 44 aircraft per ship. Production of those F-35Cs—expressly meant to replace the F-18As through Ds—has of course been delayed. Worse, at the prices charged, the Navy would need to raid the Air Force’s budget to fill its decks with even as many planes as it has now. (Lockheed Martin insists that the price will eventually close on that of the Super Hornet, but is providing no guarantees.) Thus, the Navy wants to continue buying Super Hornets for a few more years until the C-model of the Lightning II is actually at full-rate production.

In short, the Navy believes that it needs long-range drones in the long run, but more short-range manned strike fighters in the short run. Maybe that's not cognitive dissonance, but it’s still a problem.

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As I heard a retired carrier admiral say recently, with squadrons of J-20s coming eastbound, a supercarrier in the China Seas might need all 44 of those F-18s just to defend itself. In most models of modern aerial combat, a friend at Lockheed Martin once told me, “everybody dies.” Stealth or not, it’s hard to hide jet exhaust, the skies are pretty open, and infrared search-and-tracking systems are improving. While all-aspect BVR missiles worked very badly in the Vietnam War, they now account for most of the air-to-air kills. There's hardly any opportunity these days to merge to dogfight, or even disengage. So carriers might blow through fighters and pilots pretty fast. If the ships can stay afloat through such a bloody battle in the western Pacific, they’d need replacement aircraft pronto. 

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The trouble is that Boeing and Lockheed have about zero surge capacity for fighters, and training new jet jockeys can take years. That’s where drones come back in. Training a drone pilot takes a fraction of that time. Building a drone is cheaper and should be quicker too. So long as they are taken out and flown occasionally, drones can be stockpiled as a war reserve. And if there’s common ground in the Hendrix-McGrath supercarrier debate, it’s agreement that the Navy needs to buy a lot of really long-range drones, whether as bombers, missile sherpas, or long-range scouts. Moreover, it needs those aircraft now, so that the fleet can practice and experiment operationally with massed manned-unmanned teaming in the air. Just don’t tell me that money is short: the Navy first mastered carrier operations in the 1930s.

With Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute, McGrath was recently lamenting the Navy’s seemingly steadfast decision to retire Northrop Grumman’s X-47B demonstrator drone. The plane has had a brilliant test program: it launches from carrierstakes fuel from tankers, and lands on carriers. Other drones have been dropping bombs and shooting missiles for all of those thirteen years of war. Maybe at this point, rather than flying the tails off the Hornets, groaning again about the state of the JSF program, or complaining about sequestration, the Navy could move out smartly. By de-emphasizing manned aviation sooner—whether F-18s or F-35s—the Navy could accelerate its UCLASS program. Four prospective contractors—BoeingLockheed,Northrop, and General Atomics—are lined up with prototypes. One or two of those companies ought to be building the real ones, and sooner than later.

James Hasík is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security where this piece first appeared.

Image: Wikimedia/Boeing. 



Upside-Down Congressional Involvement in Foreign Affairs

Paul Pillar

The role that the U.S. Congress has assumed for itself as a player in foreign policy exhibits an odd and indefensible pattern these days. Senator Chris Murphy calls it a "double standard," although that might be too mild a term. On one hand there are vigorous efforts to insert Congress into the negotiation of an agreement on Iran's nuclear program. The efforts extend even to attempts to interfere in the details of what is being negotiated, as reflected in a string of amendments being considered in debate in the Senate this week on a bill laying out a procedure for Congress to pass a quick judgment on the agreement. On the other hand there is inaction, with little or no prospect of any action, on an authorization for the use of military force against the so-called Islamic State.

That combination is exactly the opposite of the roles Congress should play, taking into account first principles of when and why the people's representatives ought to weigh in on the conduct of the nation's foreign relations. Going to war is probably the most consequential thing the nation can do overseas. It entails substantial costs to the nation, and as recent experience should remind us, carries the risk of far greater costs, both human and material, than may have been anticipated at the outset. It is quite appropriate for such a departure not to be left solely in the hands of the executive.

The impending nuclear agreement with Iran entails none of those things. No Americans are being put in danger. There is no risk of being dragged into wider or longer commitments to pacify, occupy, or do something else to land overseas. There is no drain on American taxpayers; in fact, to the extent that completion of the agreement will lead to lessening of economic sanctions on Iran, it will entail lifting of what has also been an economic burden on the United States. As the subject of a complicated international negotiation that involves several other states and in which compromises on all sides are essential, for national legislatures to intervene in the details with specific requirements or demands is simply a recipe for failure of the negotiations. It is entirely appropriate for this agreement, like the great majority of international agreements that the United States makes, to be a matter of executive action until fulfillment of the terms of the agreement requires legislative action.

Several reasons account for the inappropriate reverse nature of where Congress is weighing in and where it isn't. Debate about the nuclear deal and about the bill bearing Senator Corker's name isn't really about Congressional prerogatives, especially given that the bill is not necessary for Congress to express itself however it wants about the substance of whatever agreement emerges from the negotiations. It instead has been about whether opponents of any agreement with Iran would be able to use a procedural mechanism for increasing their chances of killing the deal. This is reflected in the current grumbling by diehard opponents of an agreement who see that the current version of the Corker bill does not give them as much of a chance for doing that as they had hoped.

The inaction on an authorization for the use of military force has a couple of explanations. The more respectable one is the inherent difficulty of crafting suitable language when the intended purpose of the military action is not as simple and straightforward as, say, defeating another nation-state. Instead the purpose involves a terrorist phenomenon in which both the geographic and temporal extent of what needs to be done is uncertain. It is hard to come up with a legally precise formula that gives the executive the authority it needs to do something effective but also imposes meaningful limits, in terms of time and place, on the military operations. The draft resolution that the administration sent to Capitol Hill has some questionable language; fixes to it will be necessary but difficult. The difficulty is not a reason not to try.

Not trying gets to the second explanation for the inaction, which is political pusillanimity. Members of Congress realize that taking a stand on such things involves taking a risk, Some members feel burned either for opposing one Persian Gulf war that turned out to be a smashing victory, or for authorizing another Persian Gulf war that turned out to be a costly mess. It's easier for them just not to commit themselves and to stay quiet while the White House asserts executive authority and uses military force anyway. And that posture is a cop-out.

TopicsCongress Iran War RegionsUnited States