Ron DeSantis’ Mushy Foreign Policy

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, currently the highest-polling potential challenger to Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is trying to work out a foreign policy platform in public. The NYT devotes two articles today—both with bylines by Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Swan—to his most recent effort.

DeSantis Calls Putin a ‘War Criminal,’ Clarifying Earlier Comment on Ukraine

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida this week clarified his description of the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” and said that Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, was a “war criminal” who should be “held accountable.”

Mr. DeSantis, a Republican who is expected to announce a presidential campaign in the coming months, made his latest comments in an interview with the British broadcaster Piers Morgan, who shared them with The New York Post and Fox News, both owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Last week, Mr. DeSantis made one of the most significant statements of the 2024 presidential campaign to date, to the influential Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has criticized the Biden administration’s approach to Ukraine. “While the U.S. has many vital national interests,” Mr. DeSantis said in his statement, “becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.”

Mr. DeSantis did not mention Mr. Putin then and criticized President Biden’s policy as a “blank check” to Ukraine with no clear objectives, one that distracts from U.S. problems.

The line about a “territorial dispute” was heavily criticized by foreign policy hawks, as well as Republicans in Congress and, privately, some Republican donors. It also put Mr. DeSantis’s views more in line with those of former President Donald J. Trump.

But Mr. DeSantis used an apparently lengthy interview with Mr. Morgan early this week to clarify his statement to Mr. Carlson.

“I think he is a war criminal,” Mr. DeSantis said of Mr. Putin, for whom the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant related to war crimes. “I don’t know about that route,” he said of the arrest warrant, “but I do think that he should be held accountable.”

To Mr. Morgan, Mr. DeSantis insisted that his comment about a “territorial dispute” had been “mischaracterized,” but he acknowledged he could have been clearer.

“Obviously, Russia invaded” in 2022, Mr. DeSantis said. “That was wrong. They invaded Crimea and took that in 2014 — that was wrong.”

The change appeared not to have been lost on Mr. Carlson. Just hours after Mr. DeSantis’s new comments about Mr. Putin were made public, Mr. Carlson attacked what he said were people who give in to the news media, asserting that they are forced “to repeat whatever childish slogan they’ve come up with this week.” In a mocking voice, he said, “Vladimir Putin is a war criminal.”

While he was a congressman from Florida, Mr. DeSantis faulted President Obama’s administration for not doing more, as Russia annexed Crimea.

“What I’m referring to is where the fighting is going on now, which is that eastern border region, Donbas, and then Crimea,” Mr. DeSantis said. He added, “There’s a lot of ethnic Russians there. So, that’s some difficult fighting, and that’s what I was referring to, and so it wasn’t that I thought Russia had a right to that, and so if I should have made that more clear, I could have done it.”

But he added, “I think the larger point is, OK, Russia is not showing the ability to take over Ukraine, to topple the government or certainly to threaten NATO. That’s a good thing. I just don’t think that’s a sufficient interest for us to escalate more involvement. I would not want to see American troops involved there. But the idea that I think somehow Russia was justified” in invading is “nonsense.”

He added that he did not believe that the conflict would end with “Putin being victorious. I do not think the Ukrainian government is going to be toppled by him, and I think that’s a good thing.”

Mr. DeSantis’s stance on Russia has been of significant interest to Republicans looking for an alternative to Mr. Trump. A large swath of Republican voters have come to say that the U.S. is providing too much support for Ukraine.

Stipulating that DeSantis is an opportunist, even by the standards of politicians seeking to be President, I tend not to be overly harsh of contenders’ clumsy early attempts to formulate and articulate a foreign policy agenda. With the exception of those with long service in that sphere, most candidates either stumble along early in the journey or articulate an incredibly simplistic agenda. Interestingly, the other piece (by Jonathan Swan, Maggie Haberman and Kitty Bennett) argues that DeSantis is in the former camp:

The DeSantis Foreign Policy: Hard Power, but With a High Bar

When Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida made headlines recently by undercutting U.S. support for Ukraine, Republican hawks, many of whom cling to him as their only hope to defeat former President Donald J. Trump, wondered if they had misread him as an ideological ally.

Mr. DeSantis ditched his previous backing for Ukraine to align himself with the increasingly nationalistic Republican base, which he will need to win the 2024 presidential primary if he runs. But he was never the committed internationalist that some old-guard Republicans had wanted or imagined him to be.

Until now, Mr. DeSantis served as a Rorschach test for Republicans. There was, conveniently, something in his record to please each of the party’s ideological factions, and he had every incentive to be all things to all Republicans for as long as he could get away with it.

Hawks had claimed Mr. DeSantis as their own for his fervent support of Israel and his denunciations of China, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. And restraint-oriented Republicans had claimed Mr. DeSantis for his 2013 decision, as a congressman, to break with Republican hawks and oppose President Barack Obama’s requests to intervene militarily in Syria.

Yet, despite his policy shifts and inconsistencies — this week, he said he had failed to make himself clear on Ukraine and called President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia a “war criminal” — Mr. DeSantis’s worldview is not a mystery.

Unusually for a governor, Mr. DeSantis, whose spokeswoman declined interview requests, has a long paper trail on foreign policy. A close reading of more than 200 of his speeches, votes, writings and television commentaries over the past decade, as well as interviews with his peers, reveal the makings of a DeSantis Doctrine.

‘Just a Jacksonian’

Tucked between the campaign boilerplate in Mr. DeSantis’s new book, “The Courage to Be Free,” is a short chapter describing how his service in Iraq, as an officer in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, reinforced his doubts about former President George W. Bush’s “messianic impulse.”

“Bush sketched out a view for American foreign policy that constituted Wilsonianism on steroids,” Mr. DeSantis writes, referring to former President Woodrow Wilson’s idealistic liberal internationalism after World War I. He recalls his reaction to a line in Mr. Bush’s second inaugural address: “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.”

“I remember being stunned,” Mr. DeSantis writes. “Does the survival of American liberty depend on whether liberty succeeds in Djibouti?”

Mr. DeSantis’s analysis of Mr. Bush’s attempt to use the military to “socially engineer a foreign society” is the sort of thing one hears from conservative elites who call themselves Jacksonians, after President Andrew Jackson, the 19th-century populist. Though The New York Times could find no public record of the Florida governor describing himself as a Jacksonian, the word kept coming up in interviews with people who know Mr. DeSantis.

“I think he’s kind of dead-center where Republican voters are, which is to say that he’s neither an isolationist nor a neoconservative, he’s just a Jacksonian,” said David Reaboi, a conservative national security strategist whom Mr. DeSantis has hosted at the governor’s mansion.

Mr. Reaboi was referring to a 1999 essay by the academic Walter Russell Mead, “The Jacksonian Tradition and American Foreign Policy,” which is still in heavy circulation on the intellectual right. It defines a Jacksonian as having a narrow conception of the U.S. national interest: protection of its territory, its people, its hard assets and its commercial interests overseas.

A Jacksonian does not dream of implanting “American values” on foreign soil. He or she believes that if the U.S. military is to be deployed, it should use as much force as necessary to achieve a quick, clearly defined “victory,” with as few American casualties as possible. A Jacksonian cares little about lopsided casualty counts — so long as they’re in America’s favor — or about international law.

Unlike Mr. Trump, a fellow Jacksonian but one who operates on pure instinct and would never dream of suffering through a foreign policy treatise, Mr. DeSantis has read deeply and has formed a philosophy about America’s place in the world. But you will rarely hear Mr. DeSantis invoke abstract values to justify the use of force — as some of his potential 2024 rivals and current party leaders have done.

He has not framed the Ukraine war as a battle for “freedom,” as former Vice President Mike Pence has done, or as a mission to defend the post-World War II international security framework, as Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, has done. If Mr. DeSantis is elected president, there is unlikely to be any more Biden-esque talk of “autocracies versus democracies.” In Mr. DeSantis’s framing, these are the idealistic mutterings of a “Wilsonian.”

More than two decades ago, Walter Russell Mead argued that there are four impulses that have governed American foreign policy over the years , all of which compete for control. Two of them, Jacksonian and Wilsonian, are described above. The other two are Jeffersonian—essentially, the peacenik version of the Jacksonians, eschewing foreign entanglements because it will corrupt Americn democracy—and the Hamiltonians, who are the Realist counterpart to the Wilsonians, promoting an active foreign policy to further US economic power rather than spread American values.

It may well be that DeSantis—who, despite his many flaws is an educated man who has had plenty of occasion to think about US foreign policy—is instinctively Jacksonian. A tendency toward isolationism and non-interventionism if let alone combined with responding with righteous fury when crossed is not uncommon among Southerners who have served in the military. It is not, however, a foreign policy agenda.

None of the four themes in Mead’s model are, by the way. Like it or not, the United States is a global superpower and has been for more than a century. It has competing interests all over the world that require complicated trade-offs.

I couldn’t place President Biden into one of the four camps. Indeed, like most Presidents, I think he sees foreign policy as a distraction from his domestic agenda. His general foreign policy instinct—going back to at least the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait—has been a cautious reluctance to intervene. We’ve seen that in his slow ratcheting up of support for Ukraine pursuant to last year’s invasion by Russia. While I have quibbles with his decisions on that score, his overall handling of that crisis has been masterful—serving Wilsonian “world order” goals, Hamiltonian economic ones, and Wilsonian “smiting the enemy” goals nicely. Only the Jeffersonians, who kvetch that this plays into the hands of the military-industrial complex and takes money that could be distributed to the poor, are upset.

There is certainly a Jeffersonian strain among the Republican nominating electorate, just as there is among the Democratic nominating electorate. Indeed, the latter is historically larger. Part of what we’re seeing here is simply the increasing tendency of both parties—but especially the GOP—to reflexively oppose the policy of the other party’s President.

Getting Paid for Internet Content

Last Sunday, I highlighted a lawsuit against the Internet Archive by four publishing houses , claiming that their copying of books into digital form violated their copyrights. I awoke this morning to news that a federal judge had ruled in favor of the publishers.

AP (“Judge rules online archive’s book service violated copyright“):

A federal judge has sided with four publishers who sued an online archive over its unauthorized scanning of millions of copyrighted works and offering them for free to the public. Judge John G. Koeltl of U.S. District Court in Manhattan ruled that the Internet Archive was producing “derivative” works that required permission of the copyright holder.

The Archive was not transforming the books in question into something new, but simply scanning them and lending them as ebooks from its web site.

“An ebook recast from a print book is a paradigmatic example of a derivative work,” Koeltl wrote.

The Archive, which announced it would appeal Friday’s decision, has said its actions were protected by fair use laws and has long had a broader mission of making information widely available, a common factor in legal cases involving online copyright.

“Libraries are more than the customer service departments for corporate database products,” Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle wrote in a blog post Friday. “For democracy to thrive at global scale, libraries must be able to sustain their historic role in society — owning, preserving, and lending books. This ruling is a blow for libraries, readers, and authors and we plan to appeal it.”


In a statement Friday, the head of the trade group the Association of American Publishers, praised the court decision as an “unequivocal affirmation of the Copyright Act and respect for established precedent.

“In rejecting convoluted arguments from the defendant, the Court has underscored the importance of authors, publishers, and lawful markets in a global society and global economy. Copying and distributing what is not yours is not innovative — or even difficult — but it is wrong,” said Maria Pallante, the association’s president and CEO.

As much as I support the idea of the Internet Archive, I tend to think the judge got it right here. An internet-based library, like a physical library, should have to pay rightsholders for their content. Surely there’s a way to do that.

At the other extreme, though, is this:

LA Times (“California bill would force Big Tech to pay for news content“):

In the latest attempt by legislators to rein in Silicon Valley, a measure has been introduced in California that would force tech companies such as Facebook and Google to pay publishers for news content from which their platforms profit.

The California Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, announced by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) on Monday, if approved, would direct digital advertising giants to pay news outlets a “journalism usage fee” when they sell advertising alongside news content. Additionally, the bill would require publishers to invest 70% of the profits from that fee in journalism jobs.

The bill has strong support from news advocacy groups including the California News Publishers Assn. and the News/Media Alliance. (The Los Angeles Times is a member of both organizations and supports the proposed legislation.)

“Big Tech has become the de facto gatekeeper of journalism and is using its dominance to set rules for how news content is displayed, prioritized and monetized,” said CNPA Chairperson Emily Charrier. “Our members are the sources of that journalism, and they deserve to be paid fair market value for news they originate.”

The California measure is similar to a federal bill introduced last year that would allow publishers to collectively bargain for payments from tech companies that have news content on their platforms.

News/Media Alliance Executive Vice President Danielle Coffey said she hopes Congress reintroduces legislation at the federal level “to give news publishers across the U.S. the same ability to be fairly compensated by the dominant tech platforms.”

Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms, and Google declined to comment on the proposed California bill but have opposed the federal bill.

Meta published a statement via Twitter in December that said it would “consider removing news from our platform altogether” if federal lawmakers moved ahead with the legislation, and that “publishers and broadcasters put their content on our platform themselves because it benefits their bottom line.”

Wicks said she wanted to improve on the federal legislation, which went the route of altering antitrust laws, to be more inclusive of smaller newspapers and focus on the basic issue of paying publishers for content.

“What we’re sort of trying to do here really is level the playing field,” Wicks said. “We just want to make sure that work [of publishers] is honored in a way as opposed to being exploited by Facebook or Google or others who repurpose that content without paying for part of it.”

Unlike on Google’s platform, which aggregates content from news sources, Facebook’s users are the ones reposting news content to its site. Even so, Wicks said Facebook still bears responsibility for how the algorithm promotes content and displays it in a way that might keep users on the platform rather than clicking through links.

Wicks was inspired by the success of similar legislation passed in Australia in early 2021, which led to digital platforms paying nearly $140 million to Australian news organizations in its first year, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.  One Australian publisher estimated tech money could fund up to 30% of editorial salaries, the CJR reported.

As someone on both sides of this equation—a content producer as well as one who relies on others’ content—this strikes me as nuts.

As noted in the report, the business models of Google and Facebook are different. While they’re both data mining operations, the former is an advertising company that creates value by organizing the Internet while the latter is a social media company that allows people to share content. And they both simultaneously add value to content creators and make it harder for them to make money.

For years, Google was far and away OTB’s biggest referer and Facebook was right up there. Over time, Google’s search algorithms changed and OTB became much less prominent in their results. And Facebook made it next to impossible to automatically post our content there, so I largely stopped trying. That’s frustrating, but it’s not like either of them owe me referrals. (Not that it much matters; I stopped selling ads or even bothering to monitor traffic levels years ago.)

Unlike the Internet Archive, though, both Google and Facebook don’t simply scrape articles from sites. If I want to read a news article I find on either platform, I have to follow a link to the original platform.

Here’s what Google News is showing as I compose this post:

It’s not a particularly well-curated list of news that interests me but it’s tailored to where I live. It’s true that, if I just want to scan the headlines, there’s no need to visit the sites of the New York Times, NBC News, or the other sources from which the Google News “front page” is crafted. But the page is filled with links directly to those stories—some of which are likely paywalled—and even branded with the names and logos of the content providers. Why should Google have to pay for this?

Facebook is weirder since the content I see on my home page is posted by people I follow and determined by an algorithm I don’t understand. But to the extent news content is posted, it’s the same thing: a link to the original source with whether photo, headline, and excerpt the site generates. So, for example, if someone were to post a link to the aforementioned OTB post from last Sunday, they would get this:

To be sure, most people would just comment on the titular question without bothering to click through and read the article. But, hell, people do that here, too.

It seems to me that, if publishers think Google, Facebook, and other sites are depriving them of revenue through their aggregation practices, they should be able to opt out. If, say, the LA Times doesn’t want its stories indexed by Google or shared on Facebook, they should be able to fill out a form on those sites and, after some verification that it’s a legitimate request, the site’s algorithms would ensure those sites are excluded.