Good Trump: WH opens offshore waters to drilling, cuts security aid to Pakistan

There is a little policy being made amid the scat-flinging with Steve Bannon and the occasional odd tweet about his “button” being bigger than Kim Jong Un’s.

I like both decisions here, neither one of which would have happened under President Hillary, needless to say. They present contrasting pitfalls potentially for Trump, though. In the case of offshore drilling, the policy is sound but the politics are dicey. In the case of cutting aid to Pakistan, the politics are solid but the policy is a risk.

Drill, baby, drill:

The Trump administration said Thursday it would allow new offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all United States coastal waters, giving energy companies access to drilling rights off California for the first time in decades and opening more than a billion acres in the Arctic and along the Eastern Seaboard…

“We’re embarking on a new path for energy dominance in America, particularly on offshore,” Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary, said Thursday as he unveiled the drilling plan. “This is a clear difference between energy weakness and energy dominance. We are going to become the strongest energy superpower.”…

Interior officials said they intended to hold 47 lease sales between 2019 and 2024, including 19 off the coast of Alaska and 12 in the Gulf of Mexico. Seven areas offered for new drilling would be in Pacific waters off California, where drilling has been off limits since a 1969 oil spill near Santa Barbara.

“Energy superpower” is the same term an S&P analyst used today to describe America’s exploding shale industry, predicting that the U.S. will be a top-10 global oil exporter by the end of Trump’s term. Today’s decision makes that even more likely. The catch: Although righties love the idea of more drilling, voters in coastal states like North Carolina and Florida tend not to because it poses environmental risks (right, BP?) and damages tourism. A 2016 poll of Florida found support for offshore drilling at 32/47, a steep decline from the 44/39 split of two years earlier. Rick Scott, normally a Trump ally, put out a statement today noting that “I have asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration.” North Carolina and Florida are both crucially important to Trump in 2020 and he has no margin for error in the latter given the influx of Democratic-leaning Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria. Maybe it won’t matter, as the new drilling policy is still 18 months away from being finalized and many years away from drilling actually beginning in the new waters given the lack of infrastructure out there right now. But it’s a risk politically.

Not so risky politically? Cutting aid to our favorite double-dealing Islamic “ally,” Pakistan:

The suspension includes an estimated $1.1 billion in Coalition Support Funds for Pakistan, which is provided by the Pentagon to help pay the costs of the country’s counterterror operations.

The Trump administration had delayed $255 million in State Department aid until Pakistan did more to crack down on terrorism. Relations between the United States and Pakistan have deteriorated since the summer, when President Trump accused the country of giving “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror.”

American officials had also demanded access to a militant who was captured by Pakistani forces during the rescue of a Canadian-American family in October. The militant was a member of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network, but Pakistan rejected the Americans’ request.

Americans have been digesting stories about Pakistan’s treachery in supporting the Taliban and similar cretins like the Haqqanis since 9/11. Ten years later, Bin Laden’s hideout was discovered just a few miles from Pakistan’s national military academy in Abbottabad. The Pakistani cities of Quetta and Peshawar remain safe havens for Taliban leaders even now, according to the U.S. military. No one’s going to cry over Trump turning off the spigot.

Great politics. The problem: As I say, Pakistan is a double-dealer. They do cooperate on some security matters. It was Pakistani intelligence, the ISI, that helped capture Khaled Sheikh Mohammed in 2003. They’ve let us use Pakistani bases for U.S. drones that target jihadis in Waziristan. They coordinate with us to some extent on Afghan security and their own nuclear security. Yanking their money makes them more likely to become a single-dealer on behalf of the bad guys, which would not be a good result for the U.S. The question, simply put, is how much it’s worth to America to continue to bribe them for partial cooperation. Trump is gambling that cutting the money will sober them up and bend them to our will. It might not work out that way, especially with Pakistan increasingly friendly to China. What does Trump do if they start closing roads and airspace that allow the U.S. to access Afghanistan? How much of the Danegeld do you want to pay to them, knowing that some of the money will be used to undermine American interests even as part of it advances them?

Here’s Rand Paul making the case for cutting aid. It’s not just about counterterrorism, he argues, it’s about values.