Senate Armed Services Committee Acts to Shore Up U.S. Defenses

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved a version of the fiscal year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act July 21 that would increase the Pentagon’s budget $25 billion over President Joe Biden’s request.

With this increase, the defense budget would reach $740 billion, a 5.1% bump over the $704 billion appropriated in fiscal year 2021.

The bipartisan National Defense Strategy Commission that evaluated the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy recommended this increase. This increase also aligns with The Heritage Foundation’s recommendation of growing defense spending between 3% and 5% above inflation. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation)

Inflation was projected to be 2.2% percent in 2022. That number is now low given the recent inflation jumps seen in May and June of 2021 and general inflationary pressure. This means about half of the proposed increase will go to inflation.

Early signs indicate this budget increase enabled the Senate Armed Services Committee to address many of the military’s list of unfunded priorities.

Required by law, unfunded priority lists help Congress understand what each branch of the military needs but that had to be “left on the cutting room floor” due to budgetary constraints.

This move demonstrates that the Senate Armed Services Committee—in a bipartisan manner—is committed to confronting the rising threat of China and increasingly belligerent Russian behavior. In fact, the increase was approved by the massive margin of 25-to-1, with only Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., voting against it.

However, there are still multiple obstacles before Congress enacts this increase. The National Defense Authorization Act only authorizes defense funding and policy, and the House of Representatives still must approve their version of the bill, which then must be reconciled with the Senate version.

Considering that the Senate National Defense Authorization Act was approved with the wide bipartisan margin of 23-to-3, there is hope that the House of Representatives will follow the Senate’s footsteps and work in a bipartisan fashion.

Beyond the National Defense Authorization Act, the money still needs to be appropriated before getting to the Pentagon.

In the appropriations committees, lawmakers are embroiled with the Biden administration’s enormous budget proposal that would massively increase the budget of every federal agency that does not handle the security of our nation.

Further complicating the picture, the appropriations consideration comes in addition to the multi-trillion infrastructure package that is being discussed as part of budget reconciliation instructions.

Congress needs to address the Biden administration’s overall budget and infrastructure package that has serious issues. This includes properly prioritizing national defense by reducing non-defense discretionary and mandatory spending.

To avoid the damaging effects of short-term appropriations that do not allow the military to change its programs., Congress would ideally accomplish this work before the start of the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, 2021.

Despite the long road ahead, this initial step shows that the Senate Armed Services Committee is taking seriously its responsibilities to build the military for the current environment of great power competition.  

The passage of the Senate National Defense Authorization Act is a laudable step toward properly funding national defense and seriously addressing the challenges posed by China and Russia. Now, the rest of Congress needs to build on the Senate Armed Services Committee’s good work.

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Democracy Movement in Belarus Deserves America’s Support

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya visited Washington last week and conveyed an unambiguous message; namely, that “it’s high time for democratic countries to unite and show their teeth.”

In remarks at the Victims of Communism Memorial, Tsikhanouskaya explained:

This memorial … in no small part is dedicated to Belarusians. …

Indeed, Belarusians found themselves captured in an autocratic cage. This cage is partially a legacy of communism. But the [regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko] only made its walls stronger.

Tsikhanouskaya has become the face of the democratic movement as an opposition leader in Belarus over the past year. She did not intend for that to happen, but only decided to run for Belarusian president after her husband, Siarhei Tsikhanousky, was disqualified from doing so after being arrested for organizing pro-democracy protests.

Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994 and has been dubbed by some as the last dictator in Europe, has brutally cracked down on the protesters, with an increasing number of Belarusians suffering from arrests and beatings in response to their peaceful protests.

According to the latest Country Reports on Human Rights Practices by the State Department:

Belarus is an authoritarian state. Citizens were unable to choose their government through free and fair elections.

Since 1994, [Lukashenko] has consolidated his rule over all institutions and undermined the rule of law through authoritarian means, including manipulated elections and arbitrary decrees. …

Authorities at all levels generally operated with impunity and always failed to take steps to prosecute or punish officials in the government or security forces who committed human rights abuses.

Concerning Belarus’ economic governance, The Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Economic Freedom reports that Belarus is ranked 43rd among 45 countries in the Europe region, with its overall score below the regional and world averages. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)

The index further notes that courts are subservient to the president, who appoints Supreme Court justices with the approval of the rubber-stamp parliament. The state controls more than 70 percent of the economy, feeding widespread corruption, exacerbated by a severe lack of transparency and accountability.

Unfortunately, the suffering of the Belarusian people inflicted by the brutal, freedom-defying tyranny does not appear to be ending anytime soon.

The United States cannot overlook Belarusians, who have been risking their lives for freedom. Ensuring U.S. solidarity with the pro-democracy movement and support for the people of Belarus matter more than ever.

As Heritage Foundation analyst Alexis Mracheck recently noted, a strong case can be made that it is in America’s foreign-policy interest to work closely with Europe, and especially with Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, to promote freedom in Belarus.

Given that these like-minded and willing allies of the U.S. border on Belarus and know the country best, strategizing with them about what practical course of action to take regarding the future of Belarus would be desirable.

In that vein, it’s also welcome and encouraging to see that four members of Congress—Democrats Bill Keating of Massachusetts and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, and Republicans Chris Smith of New Jersey and Joe Wilson of South Carolina—this month launched a bipartisan caucus of “Friends of Belarus” in the House of Representatives to send “a message to the world that the U.S. supports those who strive for freedom facing oppression.”

Smith, who authored the Democracy and Human Rights in Belarus bill passed by Congress in 2020, highlighted that “we support the courageous people of Belarus, who deserve true democracy and are fighting against Europe’s last dictator … and his accomplice, Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

Indeed, now’s the time for the U.S. to stand firmly with the Belarusian people who aspire for freedom and democracy.

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Inside a Chinese Internment Camp

On Christmas Day in 2020, one Uyghur advocate in the United States was devastated to learn that her sister had been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Gulshan Abbas was a retired medical doctor in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government is launching a brutal crackdown on the Uyghur Muslim population. Detained by authorities since 2018, her sister, Rushan, believes that she was taken as a punishment for Rushan’s advocacy work in the United States speaking out against human rights abuses in China.

Now, the Associated Press has caught a glimpse of what detainment in Xinjiang’s internment camps might look like for Gulshan and the 1.8 to 3 million other Uyghurs being held captive. On a state-led tour, the Associated Press reporters were taken to Urumqi No. 3 Detention Center, one of the more than 380 detention facilities in Xinjiang.

Twice as large as Vatican City and big enough to hold 10,000 people, Chinese authorities deny it was ever a “re-education” camp. But old news reports prove that the Chinese government itself formerly referred to the facility as a “Vocational Skills Education and Training Center.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise; the ruling Chinese Communist Party is often caught in its attempts to cover and manipulate the facts.

Gordon Chang joined Tony Perkins on “Washington Watch” to discuss why the Chinese government allowed the Associated Press to tour the center. He called it “damage control.”

Chang believes the Chinese government is “trying to get back in control of the message. But I mean, this is a massive detention center … It covers over two hundred and twenty acres … and it’s just one of many.” Notably, the Associated Press reporters were not allowed to speak to any Uyghur detainees.

The Associated Press report comes amid the Chinese government’s ongoing smear campaigns against foreign news outlets who dare to report the truth about what’s happening in Xinjiang.

Chang believes, “We are going to see more of these public relations campaigns and they’re going to become less and less credible. So right now, I think most people around the world who have thought about this realize the enormity of China’s crimes.”

And the nearly unfathomable scale of the crackdown is made more tragic considering what we learn from survivors of Xinjiang’s internment camps. Chang notes, “We have heard from people who have been in those facilities who’ve been released. We’ve heard from people who have relatives in those facilities. And these stories are just horrible. I mean, horrific.”

Tursunay Ziyawudun, a survivor, recently shared her story at the 2021 International Religious Freedom Summit.

She recounted traumatic abuses by camp guards, saying, “Once they took me out alongside a young woman in her 20s. Next to the camp police officers, there was a man in a suit, wearing a mask over his mouth. I can’t even remember what time of night it was. They raped the young women. Three Han police officers raped me as well.”

Conditions were so bad, Ziyawudun said some women “lost their minds in the camp.”

At the end of the day, the Associated Press’ government-led tour of a camp revealed very little. But the world already knows more than enough. We know the scale of the issue. We know the “crimes” that can get Uyghurs detained are often simple religious acts. We know that survivors allege systemic rape occurs in the camps. This is more than enough for the world to act.

This article was originally published on frc.org.

The Daily Signal publishes a variety of perspectives. Nothing written here is to be construed as representing the views of The Heritage Foundation.

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Louisiana Congressman Gets COVID-19 for Second Time

Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., said Sunday that he, his wife, and his son all tested positive for COVID-19.

“I have COVID, Becca has COVID, my son has COVID,” Higgins wrote on Facebook, adding that he and his wife had already tested positive for the virus early in 2020.

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“Becca and I have had COVID before, early on, in January 2020, before the world really knew what it was,” Higgins wrote. “So, this is our second experience with the [Chinese Communist Party] biological attack weaponized virus … and this episode is far more challenging.”

Though there is increasing evidence that the virus may have come from a virology lab in Wuhan, China, there is no evidence that the Chinese government purposefully created it as a biological weapon.

Higgins added that the virus has “required all of my devoted energy,” and that their “prognosis is positive” while requesting privacy and asking for prayers. It is not clear whether he and his family were previously vaccinated.

Higgins is the second congressman to test positive in the past week. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., tested positive July 19 despite getting vaccinated, saying in a statement that he was experiencing mild symptoms while quarantining.

The recent positives in Congress appeared amid a nationwide increase in cases. They spiked over 50% in a week just days ago, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said is fueled by the spread of the more contagious delta variant.

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As Ortega Looks to Extend Dictatorship in Nicaragua, US and Allies Must Ratchet Up Sanctions

In 1979, socialist guerrilla leader Daniel Ortega led his Sandinista National Liberation Front in overthrowing the authoritarian regime of Anastasio Somoza, whose family had held power in Nicaragua for more than four decades.

Ortega has held power there now for 26 of the past 42 years, wielded significant political influence in his years out of power, and is up for reelection for his fourth consecutive five-year term in November.

Cracking down on the political opposition, the Nicaraguan caudillo is determined to hold onto power at all costs.

Ortega initially headed a provisional, unelected Sandinista-led government in Nicaragua for 11 years, from 1979 to 1990. The CIA World Factbook reports that,  after democracy was restored, Ortega lost free and fair elections in 1990, 1996, and 2001. 

Ortega finally regained the presidency, with only 38 percent of the vote, in 2006, according to Reuters.  His reelections in 2011 and most recently in 2016, were marred by voting irregularities and claims of fraud. 

As the Guardian reported, the political opposition described the 2016 election as “the most rigged contest in the four decades since the Sandinista leader first came to power.”

In his 15 years in power since 2006, Ortega—along with his wife, Rosario Murillo, who has been vice president since 2017—has amassed complete control over the government, the security forces, the media, and key sectors of the economy.

Since 2018, the country has been locked in a political crisis provoked by the Ortegas’ brutal tactical response to peaceful anti-government protests. Several senior officials in the authoritarian regime have been sanctioned by the U.S. government for corruption and violations of human rights.

Nevertheless, Ortega, 75, and Murillo, 70, are laying the groundwork to win another five-year term in office in this year’s elections in November. Writing in The Miami Herald, Andres Oppenheimer described the Ortega-Murillo strategy to prevail again this fall as simply to “ban the opposition.”

By the end of June, The Washington Post reported, the Ortega regime had charged and arrested all of the major opposition presidential candidates on the left and the right, including the leading candidate, Cristiana Chamorro, the daughter of still-popular former President Violeta Chamorro.

Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti.  The Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Economic Freedom has recorded steadily lower scores for the country since Ortega returned to power in 2006 and began to reimplement his socialist policies.

The Index reports:

Nicaragua’s economy remains mostly unfree this year [2021] as it has been for more than a decade.

If market-based democracy is ever restored in Nicaragua, the first step needed to resuscitate economic freedom will be a complete overhaul of the country’s rule-of-law institutions to protect property rights, establish a transparent and reliable judicial system, and expunge the many forms of corruption that flourish under an authoritarian and socialist system.

In the meantime, the Biden administration has imposed additional sanctions in the wake of the June arrests.  It can, and should, take further steps to inflict economic consequences on the regime, as should the other Western powers.

The deeply corrupt and barbaric Ortega-Murillo dictatorship is far worse than the Somoza dictatorship the Sandinistas overthrew more than four decades ago. 

The Nicaraguan people are suffering not only from weak rule of law and a lack of economic and political freedom, but from the government’s denial of their basic individual liberties and human rights.

Lee Edwards, an expert at The Heritage Foundation on communism, has cited Ortega as a prime example “of the lust for power and control that characterizes socialism.”

The Biden administration has taken some steps, but it needs to dig deeper into the U.S. diplomatic, legal, and financial toolbox to ramp up the pressure until the Ortegas are gone.

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