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Posts tagged ‘Foreign Policy’

What’s on the Second Term Foreign Policy Agenda?

By Taylor Marvin

Congratulations rural Pakistanis! Not to worry, the drone strike that just killed you was ordered by a Democratic president!

That’s not to say Barack Obama’s reelection isn’t worth celebrating, even from a strict foreign policy perspective. Mitt Romney’s inability to complete routine feel-good foreign tours without pissing off entire host countries and overwhelming unpopularity abroad hinted a Romney administration’s relations with allies would be rocky, and his fundamentally hawkish worldview suggested that he would be more likely to, intentionally or inadvertently, lead the US into a costly war. Barack Obama is also more open to rational defense cuts than Romney, who insisted on growing military spending for no reason beyond ill-defined ideals of “strength” — and Virginia Electoral College votes.

While it is a mistake to insist that there is no difference between an Obama and Romney administrations’ foreign policy, they, of course, share the same broad political philosophy: both favor American intervention into foreign conflicts while shying away from unpopular, electorally-damaging boots-on-the-ground wars; both judge the immediate benefits of counter-terror drone strikes to be worth their long-term perception costs; and both have expressed an inability to concede to the end of American global hegemony, especially in the Western Pacific. Of course, blaming the candidates — or parties — for this shared consensus is putting the cart before the horse; the Democrats and Republicans share the same broad national security platform because it is popular. In the aftermath of Iraq most voters may shy away from blatant neoconservative talk, but as the Obama administration’s war in Libya shows, interventions are palatable to the public, if they come at low enough direct cost. For all the protests of libertarians drone strikes are popular, because Americans fear terrorism and really don’t care about civilian casualties abroad.

So the drone strikes and broad interpretation of the American military’s role in the world are here to stay. This shouldn’t be a shock, and isn’t a reason to support a third party. American third parties on the left are deeply amateurish, and libertarians are worse: Conor Friedersdorf’s protest vote for Gary Johnson on civil liberties only illustrates that he cares more about hundreds of Pakistanis killed in drone strikes than the hundreds of thousands of needless deaths repealing Obamacare and an austerity-driven recession would cause among his own country’s poor. Foreign policy rarely changes in meaningful ways between administrations not because “both parties are the same”, but because their consensus is popular, to the extent that the electorate cares. This isn’t to say bold policymakers can’t dramatically shift US foreign policy, but the path dependency and electoral considerations that guide their actions are very limiting.

But what does this mean for Obama’s second term? The administration will be unlikely to meaningfully deviate from the course set during Obama’s first term: drone strikes will continue, and the administration may pursue a low-cost intervention — think Libya, not Syria — if the opportunity presents itself. But a second term does offer Obama the opportunity to devote more time to foreign policy issues. Second term presidents usually focus on foreign affairs more than during their first term, when their domestic agenda dominates. This will be especially true for Obama. Barring a conservative come to God moment, Republicans in Congress will likely double down on obstructionism, a tactic that conservatives will perceive to be validated by expected low turnout midterm election gains in 2014. Given this obstructionism, the Obama administration is unlikely to successfully pursue any major domestic goals, like a comprehensive climate change package that included a carbon tax.

So where could the Obama administration turn its attention? An Israeli-Palestinian peace plan is a non-starter; the division in the Palestinian government, Israel’s move to the right, and the US’ deteriorating ability to position itself as an ‘honest broker’ make progress unlikely. Obama gives every indication of ignoring Latin America in his second term as much as he did during his first; to be fair, it’s not clear what real good an increased US presence in the region would bring. US-Russian relations are chilly, but unlikely to improve. Worse, Obama is also unlikely to meaningfully alter America’s policy towards China; the administration’s largely meaningless Asia Pivot means that the mixed strategy of both engagement and containment — with all of its problems — will continue. This is a major disappointment, and positive action by Obama towards China would be a pleasant surprise.

One rational goal for Obama’s second term would be pursuing an accord with Iran. Obama is better positioned than any recent president to successfully improve the US-Iranian relationship.  George W. Bush sacrificed the prospect of any worthwhile diplomacy with his pointless “Axis of Evil” speech and the invasion of Iraq, and Clinton’s dual containment policy, while justified by Iran’s support for terrorism, only maintained the status quo. Domestically, Obama’s record of brutal sanctions buys him political cover to offer a real carrot to the Iranian regime, which is a required part of any successful deal. Though I believe that these sanctions are ultimately damaging to the prospect of favorable long-term change within Iranian society, they are also another potential carrot.

The prospect of progress on the Iranian side is less certain. Openness to dialog on the Iranian side is not enough: after all, in the late 1990s Khatami was open to reforming the US-Iranian relationship, but was unable to overcome conservative opposition within the Iranian regime and ended his tenure with little influence. Today it’s unclear if there is anyone within the regime willing to pursue a Grand Bargain, or if they can outmaneuver conservatives. However, the tensions between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, as well as Ahmadinejad’s impending departure, suggest that the situation within the Iranian government is more fluid than any time since the 2009 election. Whether this is a positive sign remains to be seen.

Also important is Obama’s perceived opposition to military strikes. Barack Obama is less likely to initiate strikes than a Romney presidency would have been, and less likely to cooperate with an Israeli attempt to coerce the US by launching a military strike unilaterally, and then calling for US assistance. It is likely that hardliners within the Iranian regime prefer strikes to very damaging sanctions, as military strikes would mobilize Iranian opposition to the US and Israel and strengthen their position within the regime. If strikes are perceived as less likely in an Obama second term, the potential domestic political payoff from refusing a negotiated settlement are lower. Since the Iranians know the US will not attempt to overthrow the regime a war is survivable, and the prospect of strikes less of a stick than US hawks suggest.

While these signs aren’t favorable per se, there’s no reason the Obama administration shouldn’t devote a major part of their foreign policy agenda during their second term towards Iran. Sanctions impose an enormous, ongoing human cost, and should be ended as soon as possible. The nuclear issue is in desperate need of a resolution  and the the US-Iranian conflict is a resource-sink that should be resolved, if possible. Obama’s second term is as good an opportunity as any.

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I Read the Green Party’s Foreign Policy Platform

By Taylor Marvin

At Salon, Matt Stoller has a deliberately provocative piece outlining what he calls “the progressive case against Obama”. Stoller lists the left’s arguments with the Obama presidency, and concludes that voters who don’t live in swing states and have little influence on the presidential election should support a third party protest vote. In Stoller’s eyes this act of liberal protest is important, because “saying no to evil in 2012 will help us understand who is willing to say no to evil when it really matters.” I won’t get into the practical arguments against encouraging progressives to support alternative candidates, even with Stoller’s unconvincing cavet that only those outside of swing states throw away their vote. But third parties’ policies beyond a few pet issues are generally myopically idealistic, at best. While this doesn’t dismiss the very real problems with the common Democratic and Republican policy consensus, it makes them difficult to take seriously.

Stoller’s criticism of the Obama presidency’s “evil” focuses on domestic policy; the only foreign policy issue Stoller mentions is the counter-terrorism drone campaign. But Stoller’s lucky to not highlight foreign policy, because the foreign policy platform of the left’s leading alternative to the Democratic Party is an incoherent confusion. I’m talking, of course, about the Green Party.

The Green Party’s platform is problematic for numerous reasons, but perhaps worse is the insistence on reducing complex problems down to idealized solutions with a clear delineation between good and evil. Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t allow for such idealism or moral clarity. Notably, the Green Party foreign policy platform endorses the UN’s right to “intervene in a nation-state engaged in genocidal acts or in its persistent violation and denial of the human rights of an ethnic or religious group within its boundaries, and the right to protect the victims of such acts.” But five items down, the platform rejects the US’ right to “pre-emptive invasion of another country on the grounds that the other country harbors, trains, equips and funds a terrorist cell.” See the problem here? Foreign military intervention motivated by the desire to remove or coerce a terrorist-supporting regime is no different from military intervention to prevent genocide. For all the ideological space between the typically liberal defenders of the Responsibility to Protect and conservatives in favor of a hawkish anti-terrorism agenda, military interventions are risky and costly strategies whatever the motivation. Genocides and human rights violations are often popular with non-targeted social groups and regime supporters; these groups are likely to violently resist a outsider’s attempt to remove their privileges. As Erica Chenoweth noted today, contrary to common knowledge genocides most often take place within civil wars. Halting the genocide means taking a side in an ongoing civil war and terminating the conflict by winning it, likely not what the Green Party’s supporters have in mind. When outsiders have successfully halted genocide it typically requires an extensive ground invasion, like in World War II or the 1978 Cambodian-Vietnamese War. Interestingly  in spite of its insistance that the US has a right, through the UN, to invade human rights abusing states, the document does not mention the word “Syria”. (Or course, the Republican platform’s mild call for a “transition” to a post-Assad government is just as bad.)

How to “intervene in a nation-state engaged in genocidal acts”. Cambodian-Vietnamese war, via Wikimedia.

The Green Party’s inability to recognize that the ideals of a “just war” to prevent genocide do not magic away the intractable problems of escalation and post-conflict governance is a major blind spot, and one that severely damages their purported non-interventionist credibility. As analyst Andrew Exum noted when discussing liberal interventionist calls for intervention in Syria, “when it comes to post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction, most liberal interventionists are no better than most neoconservatives.” It’s possible to argue that the horrors of genocide and massive human rights violation warrant risky and violent military actions to stop them. But insisting on the meaningless distinction that military intervention is right when targeting human rights violators and wrong when tackling terrorism sponsors is no attempt to engage this difficult argument.

Like the youthfully naive supporters of the Kony 2012 movement, Green’s idealism appears to blind them to the violent realities of the foreign interventions they do support. The Green Party platform calls for phasing out the majority of US military bases abroad, without recognizing that it is the US’ extensive network of overseas bases that allow it to quickly project military power — without these bases, you can’t fight wars to halt genocide.

Similarly, the platform’s nuclear policy is misinformed at best. Aside from calling for abolishing all US nuclear weapons, the Green Party calls for a US declaration of a no-first-use policy without recognizing that countries that do have a stated no-first-use policy — China, India, and North Korea — all lack robust second strike capability: no-first-use isn’t a statement of morality, but rather a purely diplomatic first-strike deterrence. The Greens also call for the US to “dismantle all nuclear warheads from their missiles”. This presumably requires phasing out ballistic missile submarines, which are by far the most stabilizing leg of the nuclear triad. Arms control advocates should instead be calling for greater reliance on submarine-launched ballistic missiles and phasing out land-based ones: the Green Party has it precisely opposite.

There are parts of the domestic policy platform that have real appeal: the US should reduce its defense expenditures, and should end the Cuban embargo. But the Green Party, like other third parties, demolishes its appeal with a confused mix of ill-researched foreign policy prescriptions. Worst of all is the platform’s flirtation with 9/11 trutherism: the domestic security section begins with a call for a “complete, thorough, impartial, and independent investigation of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, including the role of the administration of George W, Bush, various US based corporations and interests, and other nations and third parties.” Shame aside, pandering to conspiracy theorist dilutes the credibility of the Greens’ good ideas.

Even if there’s so much wrong with the Green Party’s foreign policy, are they worth a protest vote? The problem is that a protest vote is a single signal. It’s difficult for protest voters to only endorse only part of a third party’s platform, because this nuance is often lost when the signal reaches policymakers. Conor Friedersdorf may see his vote for Gary Johnson as a protest against the drone war and intervention in Libya, but it’s also a signal that his vote supports disastrous economic policy and mass unemployment. Friedersdorf may argue that Johnson’s economic libertarianism doesn’t matter, because, unlike foreign policy, domestic policy is largely dictated by Congress, not the president. But these two arenas aren’t so easily separable: if the protest of a protest vote means anything at all, it’s the signal that matters. Friedersdorf’s recognition of this signal is explicit in a followup post: “Causes are best advanced by signalling to politicians and their partisans that specific behavior will end up costing them winnable votes.” Daniel Larison, who also leans towards Johnson, makes a similar point: “The purpose of voting third party on foreign policy grounds is to register a protest against at least some aspects of the bipartisan consensus on foreign policy”. But this attitude misunderstands signaling, and overestimates the receptiveness of its audience. For ever politician that reads Friedersdorf’s vote for Johnson as an incentive to oppose the drone war, another will see an electoral reward for gutting social services. Protest vote signals don’t allow for nuance, particularly if they aren’t cast by major columnists who can spend thousands of words explaining just what issue their third party vote is, in fact, protesting. If a protest vote for the Green Party is a signal towards politicians to move towards the left on vital but neglected issues like climate change, it’s also in favor of idealistic military interventions and bad nuclear policy.

Dreams of a Comforting Future

By Taylor Marvin

At Ordinary Gentlemen, Nob Akimoto admirably strives to create a theoretical case for Mitt Romney’s proposed foreign policy, one that rests on the belief that the US must continue to exert hegemony over as much of the world as possible:

“The United States and its interests are most secure when it has a preponderance of military power. In short: a unipolar world is the safest world. US foreign policy in turn should be about the maintenance of unipolarity as much as possible.”

This argument is nearly identical to one offered in the foreign policy section of the Romney campaign website:

“When America is strong, the world is safer. It is only American power—conceived in the broadest terms—that can provide the foundation for an international system that ensures the security and prosperity of the United States and our friends and allies.”

The United States was able to enjoy a unipolar world for the last two decades primarily because it was the only existing great power left standing, rather than particularly adept statesmanship. The first wave of nations to industrialize and consequently create militaries capable of creating true regional hegemonies and projecting limited power on a global scale destroyed these capabilities in the two European world wars of the early 20th century. Of the second wave of industrializing powers, only the US and USSR’s industrial bases and consequently military might survived the Second World War. By 1990 the US was left the sole global power as the USSR’s inability to grow its non-defense domestic economy and manage political dissent ended its great power status. What’s important to realize is that while the US attained global hegemonic power partially through “exceptional” traits — an ocean’s worth of distance separating it from any rival, for instance — the unipolar world of the era between 1990 and maybe 2020 was mostly due to external factors the US had little influence over: European powers’ propensity for destructive wars and imperial overreach, Japan’s self-defeating aggressiveness, and the Soviets’ inability to manage their domestic economy.

Romney and his fellow neo-conservative travelers appear to have misinterpreted the United States’ asent to mastery of a unipolar world to mean that the only thing standing between America and perpetual unipolarity is will: only a “strong” America — and the Romney campaign reads strength only as hegemony — can preserve the postwar international system.

It may be true that a multipolar world will not be as amenable to the open and globalized system of the post-war era. But it is not clear that America has any real power to preserve the current unipolar world order at all. Today a third wave of industrialized countries with rapidly increasing military capabilities are emerging and, in a world where industrial and information technology is rapidly disseminated, the basis for great power status is increasingly population, not technological and social infrastructure. China and India both have much larger populations than the United States; while the United States will retain global military superiority over these countries for decades to come, it is silly to think that a country with both a population and economy many times larger than America’s will not be able to exert control over its own region. Unless these rising powers are hampered by insurmountable internal weaknesses like the USSR there is no reason to think it is possible — or desirable, if you admit that economic growth and associated rising standards of living abroad are good for humanity in general — for the United States to preserve a unipolar system.

Basing foreign policy around the idea that maintaining the unipolar world is essential is magical thinking, and is a recipe for a more dangerous future. The United States should not chart impossible courses. Barring an unforeseen upset, China will become the dominant power in East Asia in the foreseeable future. Attempting to prevent or delay this shift is unlikely to succeed at acceptable cost, and will only convince future generations of Chinese leaders that the current international system is hostile and worth combating.

With many missteps the United States managed the transition from a bipolar world to today’s unipolar one. If it cannot admit that a multipolar world is coming, it will be unable to peacefully manage this future transition.

Why Do Americans Underestimate the Iranian Government?

By Taylor Marvin

The New York Times recently published a problematic fluff piece that takes a speculative look at how national borders could change in the future, predicting 11 major border changes in the near future. It hard to know how seriously to take these predictions; while authors Frank Jacobs and Parag Khanna argue that “we appear on the brink of [a] nation-state baby boom” they decline to go into the specifics of their forecasts at all. Stephen Saideman runs through the list and casts doubt on nearly all of Jacobs and Khanna’s forecasts.

In their entry on the prospect of a ‘Greater Azerbaijan’, Jacobs and Khanna mention offhand that “Iran has the potential to dominate the region, but it is also at risk of internal implosion.” As Saideman notes, this “risk” isn’t likely at all — Iran has no major successions movements, and is governed by a stable and reasonably domestically popular regime. But this offhand remark is interesting because, beyond being simply ill-informed, it reflects the common belief among foreign policy-minded Americans that the Iranian regime is on the cusp of collapse. While the recent removal of the cultish Iranian opposition militia group MEK from the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations is partially due to MEK’s propensity to pay off the influential, it is difficult to argue that the group would have found such a receptive audience in Washington if policymakers didn’t seem to believe that its delusional quest to overthrow the government of Iran had a chance of succeeding.

On a similar note, policymakers in Washington and the American media continue to misunderstand the 2009 Iranian Green Movement, and continue to believe that it was a violent revolutionary movement that failed to overthrow the government only because the Obama administration was too cowardly to arm it. As Daniel Larison has repeatedly noted, the Movement’s protesters were offended by an unfair election, not the supremacy of the unelected supreme leadership itself, and the Green Movement was never the revolutionary force American neoconservatives fantasized it to be. The regime itself remains broadly popular within Iran, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s brand of combatively self-assured populism is generally well received by conservative and rural audiences. Contrary to these beliefs, Iran is not a failed state, its government faces no major internal security threats, and the history of the Green Movement does not suggest that a mass popular uprising is only waiting on American support to sweep away the regime and usher in an America-friendly democracy.

If the perception of a weak regime is incorrect, why is it so prevalent in Washington and the American media? Partially due to neoconservatives’ own biases — they want the same kind of democratic uprising in Iran as they fantasized would erupt in Iraq after an American-led invasion. As any reasonable observer must realize that there’s no way to overthrow the government at an acceptable military cost without the cooperation of the Iranian population, hawkish advocates of regime change need an unstable regime and revolutionary populace to even pretend their schemes are workable. Many American commenters also (reasonably) favor their own democracy, and have trouble recognizing that authoritarian governments can be just as successful at attracting the nationalistic loyalty of their own citizens as democratic ones; this bias is at least partially responsible for the ridiculous idea that Iranian citizens would respond to bombing by helpfully overthrowing their government, not raging against the people killing their neighbors. Another possible bias: while the Iranian diaspora in the US isn’t particularly politically influential, prominent Iranian-Americas tend to come from prosperous families that fled the country immediately after the fall of the Shah’s government and can be expected to be more opposed to the current government than the average Iranian living in Iran, affecting American policymakers’ own assessment of the regime’s stability.

Americans tend to view authoritarian states as either monolithic titans [today: China] or wobbly edifices on the verge of democratic revolution. Of course, the truth tends to fall between these two extremes. But underestimating the governing capacity of the Iranian regime and misunderstanding its internal politics is dangerous because it breeds strategies dependent on these misconceptions’ accuracy. Many Americans likely wouldn’t mind if Iran suffered an “internal implosion” but it isn’t likely to happen, and the widespread belief that it is is a recipe for bad policies.

Sympathy for the JSF

By Taylor Marvin

F-35B in testing. Lockheed Martin photo.

In Foreign Policy, Wilson Wheeler calls for the cancellation of the troubled F-35 program:

“If the F-35’s performance were spectacular, it might be worth the cost and wait. But it is not. Even if the aircraft lived up to its original specifications — and it will not — it would be a huge disappointment. The reason it is such a mediocrity also explains why it is unaffordable and, for years to come, unobtainable.”

The F-35 program is a disaster, and one that will haunt the US defense-industrial complex for decades. Two decades into development, incredibly, there’s still a major chance the program won’t succeed: when naval analyst Raymond Pritchett recently called the program not too big to fail but “way too big to ever possibly succeed,” he wasn’t exaggerating.

Maybe the F-35 program is on the cusp of finally coming together. But even if the JSF program does result in anywhere near the number of planes its architects intend, the opportunity costs are enormous. The F-35 program is currently 38 percent of all current DoD procurement (via Galrahn). That’s a mind-boggling chunk of the Pentagon’s budget, and one that would buy a lot of weapons systems nowhere near as risky as the JSF. The F-35 isn’t a good plane, and its bloat snuffed out a lot of potentially better, less comprehensive alternatives over the last two decades.

But calls to cancel the mammoth program aren’t ultimately going anywhere. “Too big to succeed” aside, the JSF really is to big to fail — no one in the tangled Pentagon bureaucracy is going to gut a program they’ve invested 20 years in, and Congress isn’t either. As the only manned US multirole fighter aircraft currently under development, the F-35 is the only game in town — optimistic talk of more capable drones aside, if the USAF wants to buy new non-legacy fighter airframes before the 2040s it has to be the F-35. The Navy’s nascent F/A-XX program and open Super Hornet production lines gives it greater flexibility, but a next generation Navy fighter that isn’t the F-35C won’t arrive until the 2030s, at the earliest.

Cutting the JSF program would force the US military to rely on F/A-18E/Fs and F-15 C/Es through the first half of the 20th century, at least. While these alternatives are capable aircraft, no amount of upgrades will change the fact that these non-stealthy fighters are based on airframes designed four decades ago. Modernization aside, the American defense community is right to be worried the mid-century competitiveness and deterrence value of aircraft with roots in the 1970s, especially when Russian and China are both embarking on ambitious fifth-generation development efforts. Similarly, while rapid advances in air defense radar means that the F-35s moderate level of stealthing will lose effectiveness through its delayed lifetime, it’s hard to argue that non-stealthy Super Hornets and Strike Eagles are a better strike option in a world where advanced air defense is rapidly proliferating.

Whether the F-35 will be competitive with its bigger, and likely significantly more affordable, Russian and Chinese rivals is another, and contentious, question. But if the F-35 is canceled the only real option is to rely on legacy platforms until advanced, air-to-air capable drones come online. Whether that’s a less risky option than sticking with the F-35 is debatable, but it is difficult to imagine the Pentagon or congress taking such a drastic change of course.

Anyway, normative discussions of the F-35 family’s strategic utility are useless at this point. Rumors of large cuts aside, the Pentagon has invested to much into the JSF to seriously consider major downsizes to the program, and the massive opportunity costs of a decade of serious F-35 development have eaten up funds that conceivably would have otherwise gone to other, less ambitious manned fighter projects. At least in the medium-term, US tactical airpower lives and dies on the success of the F-35. Even the controversial F-35B — the Marine Corp’s short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) variant — isn’t likely to be cut. Major defense procurement initiatives get canceled after spending billions in development costs all the time, but the JSF program’s multi-service nature will likely insulate the Marine’s specific variant from elimination.

F-35B test landing. Lockheed Martin photo.

F-35B test landing. Lockheed Martin photo.

The Marines’ F-35B is the most troubled, and vulnerable, variant. How useful is it? Looking strictly at it’s abilities, it’s difficult to justify its 300 million per aircraft flyaway cost. But there’s reason to suspect that the F-35B’s STOVL capabilities are important.

Last year I defended the F-35B as an important component of future American airpower:

“However, the F-35B is a valuable program and shouldn’t  be cut. It’s certainly true that cutting military spending that’s far, far beyond what is needed to defend the country and dangerously swells that national debt for no benefit is an issue of pressing importance. Also, all the criticisms of the F-35B are true — it will be more expensive and less capable than its sister variants. However, advocates of the F-35B are stressing the wrong attributes of the aircraft because it hints at an uncomfortable truth: the value of STOVL is that it decentralizes US military assets that probably aren’t survivable in a major conflict.”

Nuclear aircraft carriers are a remarkably versatile platform for projecting power, and will remain so through this century (the fact that the Chinese Navy is investing considerable effort in acquiring their own flattops is a sign that they don’t see big carriers becoming obsolete any time soon). But there’s increasing skepticism about large carriers survivability in a major war. Rapidly improving Chinese anti-access/area-denial weapons like the DF-21 D anti-ship ballistic missile stand a reasonable chance of successfully destroying any US carrier that strays within range. Carrier battle groups field impressive defenses, but it’s unlikely that they would be able to successfully counter large numbers of ballistic anti-ship missiles — it will always be easier to saturate an existing missile defense system than build one capable of countering advanced threats. Chinese A2/AD capabilities will make the US hesitant to commit a vulnerable carrier to a crisis in the South China Sea, or at least force the US Navy to remain 3,000 km offshore, outside the range of Chinese ASBMs. Of course, amphibious assault ships aren’t anywhere near expendable. But if the United States deems it prudent to possess the ability to operate in a contested Western Pacific, naval fighters able to operate off smaller ships are valuable. It’s unlikely that US threats to operate CVNs within the range of ASBMs will ever be credible. The F-35B isn’t a magic bullet, but its STOVL capability is valuable. Whether that’s worth the cost is another discussion.

The real takeaway from the JSF fiasco is that advances in anti-air defenses and AA/AD strategies and exponentially increasing complexity is making all ambitious aircraft development programs more expensive. Baselining a multirole aircraft built for three services around a supersonic STOVL variant was an unfortunate idea, and the F-35 is a uniquely bad program. But the root causes of the slowly ongoing F-35 disaster aren’t unique, and the hour’s too late for regrets.

Update 9/15/2015: I added a link to an October 2011 post by Raymond Pritchett, who earlier argued that an independent Marine STOVL fighter likely would have been cut. I should cited him in the original post; my apologies.