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An embrace of sovereignty

President Donald Trump has released a new National Security Strategy (NSS) outlining his views on the security challenges facing the United States – and how his administration plans to address them. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the document is its emphasis on and commitment to U.S. sovereignty.

Trump’s NSS mentions some variant of “sovereignty” 24 times (most related to U.S. sovereignty and the sovereignty of U.S. allies). President Barack Obama’s first NSS, by comparison, mentioned some variant of “sovereignty” just nine times (many related to postwar Iraq’s sovereignty); President George W. Bush’s first NSS, only twice.

In an age characterized by integrated international trade, multinational corporations, transnational terrorism, supranational organizations (the United Nations, European Union and International Criminal Court), and global information networks that are oblivious to borders, sovereignty – the notion that a nation-state has the right, responsibility, capacity and will to determine what happens within and on its borders – seems almost quaint. But it pays to recall that sovereignty has served as the very foundation of international order for centuries. Trump seems intent on reasserting the importance of sovereignty in the defense and promotion of U.S. interests – and in the maintenance of some semblance of international order.


Trump’s focus on sovereignty has been part of his presidency from the very beginning. His inaugural address, for instance, defended “the right of all nations to put their own interests first” and argued that America “must protect our borders.”

A month later, his speech to a joint session of Congress vowed to “respect the … rights of all nations” so long as they “respect our rights as a nation also.”

In Poland last July, Trump noted that “Americans, Poles and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty.” And he argued that “a strong alliance of free, sovereign and independent nations” is “the best defense for our freedoms and for our interests.”

During his U.N. speech last September, he noted that the United Nations was founded on the notion that “diverse nations could cooperate to protect their sovereignty, preserve their security and promote their prosperity.” He also urged nations to “embrace their sovereignty,” explained that his administration would “expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation,” argued that “strong, sovereign nations allow individuals to flourish in the fullness of the life intended by God,” called on the United Nations become “an effective partner in confronting threats to sovereignty, security and prosperity,” and bluntly declared that America is “renewing” what he described as the “founding principle of sovereignty” – that “our government’s first duty is to its people.”

During his address before the National Assembly of Korea last November, Trump praised the United States and ROK as “nations that respect our citizens, cherish our liberty, treasure our sovereignty and control our own destiny.”

In his address to the APEC Summit in November, he declared that organizations like the World Trade Organization “can only function properly when all members follow the rules and respect the sovereign rights of every member.” He warned that America “will no longer … enter into large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible.” And he promised that his administration “will never ask our partners to surrender their sovereignty.”

In December, the president criticized past policies that “surrendered our sovereignty to foreign bureaucrats in faraway and distant capitals” and reiterated his support for “strong, sovereign and independent nations that respect their citizens and respect their neighbors.”

That brings us back to Trump’s NSS, which argues that key to addressing the threats America faces is “a world of strong, sovereign and independent nations” -- and most pointedly a strong, sovereign and independent America.

The Trump NSS flatly declares his administration is committed to “defending America’s sovereignty without apology,” “strengthening our sovereignty,” defending “our sovereign right to determine who should enter our country,” and resisting movements that “undermine sovereign governments.” Toward that end, Trump’s NSS vows to help “partner states … confront nonstate threats and strengthen their sovereignty,” “help South Asian nations maintain their sovereignty,” collaborate with “the NATO alliance of free and sovereign states … to protect our mutual interests, sovereignty and values,” ensure that “sovereign African states … are integrated into the world economy,” and confront China, which has “expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others.”

And the document puts supranational organizations on notice: “The United States will not cede sovereignty to those that claim authority over American citizens and are in conflict with our constitutional framework.”


This recommitment to sovereignty is worthy of applause. Recent decades have seen a multi-pronged assault on the nation-state system and on the very notion of sovereignty – a worrisome development that represents a threat to U.S. interests and to the liberal international order the United States forged after World War II.

Just glance at the headlines: ISIS is trying to maim and murder its way toward a borderless caliphate. In Libya, Yemen and Somalia, stateless groups and sectarian armies have declared competing zones of authority. Afghanistan is increasingly a figment of cartographers’ imaginations. Russia has deployed troops scrubbed of insignia to wage anonymous warfare against Ukraine. China is building artificial islands in brazen defiance of the sovereignty of its neighbors. After decades of deferring their borders and finances to the EU, many European nations have awoken to realize they have control over neither. Disparate governments and groups are using cyberspace to delete the very notion of nationhood.

These threats to sovereignty can be grouped under three broad headings: transnationalism, supranationalism and postnationalism.

Transnational groups thrive on chaos within a nation-state or region. Their goal is to erode the nation-state system from below. Consider the words of al-Qaida leader Ayman al Zawahiri, who wants to create a geopolitical power that “does not recognize nation-state, national links or the borders imposed by occupiers.” ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi calls on his followers to “trample the idol of nationalism” and “destroy the idol of democracy.” In a sense, the war on terror is an outgrowth of nation-states failing or refusing to live up to the responsibilities of sovereignty, thus allowing transnational movements like ISIS and al-Qaida to exploit the resulting openings.

If transnationalism erodes the nation-state system from below, supranationalism whittles away at it from above. Examples of supranationalism are organizations like the UN, EU and ICC. Writing about the Yugoslav civil war, William Pfaff argues that supranational organizations like the United Nations and European Community (forerunner to the EU) “proved an obstacle to action by inhibiting individual national action and rationalizing the refusal to act nationally.” Something similar happened more recently in Syria. The resulting vacuum fueled the rise of ISIS.

Moreover, the United Nations has watered down the principle of sovereignty by not holding nation-states accountable for their actions. In 2003, the U.N. Security Council took eight weeks to approve a resolution requiring Saddam Hussein to comply with existing resolutions – and then failed to enforce it. In 2010, North Korea torpedoed a South Korean ship in international waters. All the United Nations mustered in response was a pathetic report condemning the attack without mentioning -- let alone punishing – the attacker. In 2012, the Syrian government reopened the Pandora’s box of chemical warfare. The U.N. responded with a farcical disarmament deal that not only failed to disarm Bashar Assad, but ensconced him as essential to carrying out the deal.

The irony is that while U.N. bodies fail to constrain the enemies of international order, they are eager to constrain legitimate, sovereign nation-states: The Washington Post reported in November that the ICC’s chief prosecutor is seeking “an investigation into alleged war crimes perpetrated by U.S. military forces and the CIA in Afghanistan.” The ICC has no authority to take such action since the United States is not party to the ICC treaty, but that hasn’t stopped ICC prosecutors from lunging at U.S. sovereignty.

Finally, postnationalism envisions a world beyond the nation-state. One of the main drivers of postnationalism is globalization, the term used to describe today’s highly integrated global economic system. To be sure, the United States has benefited from globalization. In fact, some contend globalization is just another word for Americanization, and they may be right. After all, President Harry Truman advocated that “the whole world adopt the American system” of free markets, free government and free trade. And the Truman administration declared in NSC-68 that the goal of America’s postwar foreign policy would be “to foster a world environment in which the American system can survive and flourish” and “to develop a healthy international community.” The operative word here is “international” – between nations, not beyond nations.

Post-nationalists trust that globalization’s economic and commercial connections will do what the nation-state used to do: enforce norms of behavior, promote stability, and protect individuals and interests from threat. Regrettably, this doesn’t work in practice. After all, when ISIS tears through Iraq and Paris, when Beijing tries to poach international waterways, when Putin’s unmarked armies dismember Ukraine, when al-Qaida maims Manhattan, the victims don’t turn to multinational corporations for help. They turn to nation-states – usually the most powerful nation-state.

That would be the United States, which has defended the nation-state system by resisting these movements throughout its history:

The United States has always opposed transnational movements. Yesterday, it was the “long, twilight struggle” against communism. Today, it’s the generational struggle against jihadism. As to postnationalism and supranationalism, consider America’s founding documents. The Founders announced their independence by declaring it was time for “one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another” and wrote a constitution expressly for “the people of the United States.” The Federalist Papers speak of “our country,” “dangers from abroad” and nations with “opposite interests.” In short, the founders believed in sovereignty, independence and borders.

Yes, Americans have looked beyond borders to pursue close bonds with people of goodwill – witness America’s friendships with such diverse places as Israel and India, Germany and Japan, France and the Philippines, Canada and Korea, Britain and Bahrain – but always in a state-to-state context. And yes, the United States helped found the United Nations. But according to the U.N. Charter, the main goal of its founders was not to encroach upon the sovereignty of members-in-good-standing or to create a supranational government, but rather to protect the “sovereign equality” and “political independence” of nation-states – something Trump has emphasized.

The United States was born into the nation-state system, raised in it, grew to master and shape it, and today benefits from it and thrives in it. If the nation-state ceases to be the main organizing structure for the world – if the rights and responsibilities of sovereignty continue to be eroded – there is no guarantee the United States will have the same position it enjoys today.

Trump’s NSS seems alert to that danger.

USS Indianapolis survivor passes away

One of the 317 survivors of USS Indianapolis, America’s worst naval disaster, died March 20 in Monongah, W.Va. Sam Lopez, a member of American Legion Post 31, was 93.

After Lopez and his crewmates completed a secret mission — delivering components for the atomic bomb — a Japanese submarine hit and sunk the ship in 12 minutes on July 30, 1945. Of the nearly 1,200 crew on board, about 300 went down with the ship.

Those who escaped were thrust into darkness and oil-slicked waters. Four days slowly passed as men floated in the Pacific Ocean awaiting rescue, hoping not to be devoured by sharks. Roughly one-fourth of the original crew were finally rescued and brought to safety.

With Lopez’s death, the number of Indianapolis survivors is now 17.

Lopez, who was awarded the Purple Heart, attended ship reunions with his former crewmates. Last year, only seven USS Indianapolis survivors attended the event.

'The one thing that I am most proud of'

Izzy Abbass was at the Department of Veterans Affairs VISN 2 Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention in Canandaigua, N.Y., when VA debuted the texting aspect of its Veterans Crisis Line in late 2011.

It made sense for him to be there. The Army Desert Storm veteran and member of American Legion Post 178 in Denver had been instrumental in pairing up wireless communications companies with VA to help the text system go online.

“I remember being up there, and they had a guy (text the line) who was back from Afghanistan for about 72 hours, and they were on the phone with him for three and a half hours,” Abbass said. “It turns out he was in a closet with a gun with his family in the house. I’m just thankful that he had the wherewithal to text in and get help. I was glad there was a way that people could get help.”

In May 2009 Abbass – who has worked in the wireless and telecommunications sector for more than two decades – was at a trade show when he began talking to other wireless providers about getting involved with VA’s suicide prevention efforts.

“I had no idea how the overall concept would work,” Abbass said. “But to a person, every carrier said ‘Yes, we would do this. Tell us what we need to do and we’ll support you.’”

Over the next two years Abbass worked with VA at the VISN level and then nationally – and with wireless providers – to help develop the program. Abbass was able to negotiate with all of the wireless carriers to not charge a cent for texts to and from the crisis line, as well as getting them to agree to exempt VA from having to provide an opt-out response to veterans using the line.

Abbass also talked with Jan Kemp, who served as VA’s National Mental Health Program Director for Suicide Prevention from 2007 until 2014, and other VA leadership during the process who shared with him a mobile app that was being developed along those lines. But Abbass continued to stress the need for a text feature in the Veterans Crisis Line.

“’This is an ocean liner you’ve got coming in here. What you need is a life preserver,’” Abbass said he told VA leadership. “Because if you’re spiraling out of control … you’re not going to have the wherewithal to find a hot spot, make sure you have data connection, download this mobile app … answer 17 questions and then get help. What you need is an immediate lifeline to somebody that can help you and keep you from going over the edge.”

Abbass was successful in getting his point made to VA, and in November 2011 the Text Help Line was launched. With contacts made numbering above 40,000 and with millions of text messages exchanged via the Veterans Crisis Line since its launch, the line has obviously made an impact.

“I give the VA credit all the time,” Abbass said. “They turned around on a dime. It’s really an amazing system.”

Now, Abbass would like to see awareness about the Text Help Line continue to grow – with help from The American Legion. “The Crisis Line, and especially the texting (aspect), has been one of the best-kept secrets,” he said. “These current conflict veterans … the way they communicate is primarily with texts. I think there’s an opportunity for members of the Legion to be an ad (for the program). I think that kind of an effort to support what the VA is doing and to push awareness of this would cause a lot of people to go out and seek help.”

Abbass said being a part of making the Text Help Line happen is “the one thing that I am most proud of (among his efforts helping veterans). I just think back to that airman who was texting in and at the end of his rope in a closet. I just want more awareness (for the line).”

To use the Veterans Crisis Line text feature, simply text to 838255.

Veterans outreach headed to Corona, Calif.

American Legion national staff and Department of California Legionnnaires are partnering for a district revitalization and veterans outreach effort April 5-7 in Corona, Calif. Veterans in the area are invited to visit the post to learn about Legion programs and potential benefits available to them.

The effort will take place from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. April 5-6 and from 9 a.m.-noon April 7 at Joe Dominguez American Legion Post 742, 1557 Yorba St., Corona.

A county veterans service officer will be available all three days to assist with Department of Veterans Affairs-related issues and other veterans benefits questions.

Was your post named for a World War I veteran?

The U.S. World War One Centennial Commission (WW1CC) is seeking information about American Legion posts named in honor of a local or national World War I veteran, along with stories of his or her service, photographs and/or other historical information. WW1CC will endeavor to honor these posts by publicizing this information on its website and in its electronic Dispatch newsletter. Please note: any information received will be maintained by the commission and will become part of the U.S. government's historical records/archives upon the expiry of its mandate. The point of contact is David W. Hamon, VSO/military director for the commission, at or (540) 379-8584.

WW1CC has also created a special landing page for veterans, history lovers, family members, friends and community members. At, visitors will find "tiles," easy to access and read, in order to educate, commemorate and honor the Great War, as per the commission's congressional mandate and charter.

The American Legion is a Commemorative Partner of the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission.

'Greatest Legislation' exhibit travels to Montana

The Montana Military Museum at Fort William Henry Harrison in Helena welcomes “The Greatest Legislation: An American Legion Centennial Salute to the GI Bill” from March 28 through April 26. The multimedia traveling exhibit features illustrated panels, touch-screen video kiosks and rare artifacts that depict the crisis, drama, solution, effects and ongoing success of the GI Bill.

An opening reception to welcome the exhibit is planned for March 28 at 6 p.m. at the museum. The reception will include remarks from American Legion 100th Anniversary Honorary Committee member Diane Carlson Evans of Helena, who on Feb. 27 received the organization’s prestigious Patriot Award in Washington, D.C. Refreshments will be served.

Drafted by American Legion Past National Commander Harry W. Colmery in December 1943 at a time when medically disabled World War II GIs were returning to their communities at a rate of about 75,000 per month, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 was written to provide unemployed veterans support in a difficult economic time. The long-term effect of the GI Bill was to transform the U.S. economy and culture for decades to come.

The GI Bill is often characterized as the most significant social legislation of the 20th century. It is credited for preventing an economic catastrophe after World War II, making homeownership a reasonable expectation for average Americans, educating millions of veterans, and creating an incentive to serve in the military so valuable that the United States has operated as an all-volunteer force since 1973.

“The ongoing story of the GI Bill, and how it has influenced the growth and strength of our nation, spans every generation of The American Legion – from the World War I veterans who originally drafted it and fought for its passage to the post-9/11 era that uses it today,” American Legion 100th Anniversary Observance Committee Chairman and Past National Commander David K. Rehbein said. “This traveling exhibit is an excellent opportunity for communities throughout the country to learn about the roots of this American Legion initiative and understand the power of participatory citizenship in government.”

The traveling exhibit is part of The American Legion’s centennial program. It debuted at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, was presented at the Student Veterans of America national convention in San Antonio and most recently completed a two-month installation at Bob Hope Patriotic Hall in Los Angeles.

Gold medals galore for Team USA

The U.S. led the way with 36 medals, including 13 golds, in the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, March 9-18.

Former servicemembers on Team USA had a hand in three of those gold medals. The U.S. sled hockey team closed out the games with a third straight gold medal, defeating Canada 2-1 in the championship game. The American hockey team includes six former servicemembers in Ralph DeQuebec (Marines; Denver.); Travis Dodson (Marines; Deming, N.M.); Jen Lee (Army; San Francisco); Luke McDermott (Marines; Westerlo, N.Y., and a member of American Legion Post 291 in Greenville, N.Y.); Josh Misiewicz (Marines; La Grange, Ill.); and Rico Roman (Army; Portland, Ore.). Dodson and Misiewicz each scored three goals during the games, tied for fourth on the team. McDermott added two goals and Roman scored once as Team USA won its five games by a combined 40-2 score.

Also winning gold were Dan Cnossen (Navy; Topeka, Kan.) in the men’s 7.5K sitting biathlon and Andy Soule (Kerrville, Tex.) in the men’s 1.1K sitting cross country.

Cnossen added four silver medals (12.5K sitting biathlon, 15K sitting biathlon, 7.5K sitting cross country and 15K sitting cross country) and a bronze (1.1K sprint cross country) while Soule added a bronze in the 12.5K sitting biathlon.

American Legion helps family of eight recover from house fire

Nothing was amiss when Ivan Redhorn left his home with his two oldest children late afternoon on Jan. 10, in Great Falls, Mont. When he returned a short time later from dropping his children off at youth camp and picking up his wife, Shavonne, from work, he was greeted at the front door to a home filled with black smoke. There was a fire in the basement.

“I felt like life just crumbled. I didn’t know where to turn,” said Ivan, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a combat medic. “We sat in our car and watched the fire take over.”

No one was home when the fire started. However, Ivan and Shavonne, along with their six children, lost all of their possessions.

The American Red Cross provided shelter the first night since the Redhorns recently moved to Great Falls and were hours away from their parents in Browning, Mont. It was through Red Cross that Ivan was informed of who he could turn to for further assistance – The American Legion.

The Redhorns immediately called American Legion Post 341 Commander and Adjutant Kim Kay McCarty Martin. After meeting in person and identifying their needs, Martin helped the family fill out an American Legion Temporary Financial Assistance (TFA) application and provided a roof over their heads until permanent housing was available. “Once I knew they had these kids we didn’t want them being cold, so I called the department (for support until the TFA grant arrived),” Martin said.

Post 341 and the Department of Montana paid for temporary housing for a week “so we weren’t staying in our car,” Shavonne said. “(The American Legion) was a blessing.” While living in temporary housing, the Redhorns found a new rental home and soon moved in; the TFA grant paid for the security deposit.

“I know that (The American Legion) cares enough to help us in any and every aspect of our life. Having turmoil like this, The American Legion was almost like a hero for me,” Ivan said. “The American Legion eased our financial burden and worry with their assistance to help us.”

TFA is National Commander Denise H. Rohan’s fundraising project. TFA awards cash grants to American Legion-eligible veterans, with minor children in the home, to help meet the cost of shelter, food, utilities, clothing and medical expenses in a time of need. Donate to the Commander's Charity Fund to support TFA here.

“With TFA, you know (the veteran and their family) needs are going to be taken care of,” Martin said.

Besides support from TFA, Martin knew the Redhorn family still needed financial assistance to recover everything they lost in the fire. So Post 341 did something they’ve never done before – held a fundraiser.

“Some of us veterans have been in their spot. Not because of a house fire but because of being financially strapped,” Martin said. The idea of holding a fundraiser was like, ‘Oh yeah, we have to help them.’ Our thinking was, ‘You’re a veteran, we’re going to help you.’”

Post members went to local businesses that supported veterans in the past to ask for donations in food and for the silent auction. Because Post 341 doesn’t have a home, the fundraiser was held at a local church where post members were able to make dinner in the kitchen (Indian tacos on frybread and spaghetti with homemade sauce) and hold a 50/50 raffle. The fundraiser also served as an opportunity for Martin to share with the community about TFA and how it can support other eligible veterans in need.

“TFA here (in Great Falls) is by word of mouth so hopefully it will keep spreading, and we’ll be able to help more veterans that are financially strapped,” she said.

In the end, Post 341’s fundraiser raised $1,500 for the Redhorn family.

“This was our way of giving back … being able to provide for a veteran,” Martin said.

Ivan and Shavonne used the money to purchase clothes, beds, bedding and other household furniture.

“We thank The American Legion for everything they have done for our family,” Ivan said. “The American Legion is now a part of our family.”

Ivan joined The American Legion after initially meeting with Martin. She shared who The American Legion is and how Post 341 serves its community and asked him to be a part of it all. Through his experience as a Blackfeet Tribal veterans service officer in Browning, Ivan said he hopes to become an American Legion service officer to help his fellow comrades as his way of giving back.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Ivan said. “If my parents were here, they would be very thankful. Just knowing The American Legion came and assisted their son, their soldier in a time of need.”

Georgia post leading renovation efforts for veteran's home

“Veterans helping veterans” is a slogan the members of Willie B. Hatcher American Legion Post 516 live by.

Members of the post in McDonough, Ga., along with Post 305 in Hampton and other volunteers, are working on renovating the home of 82-year-old Army veteran Atlas King and his wife in Hampton.

Post 516 Commander Alton Head said the renovations will include installing a new roof, central heat and air and insulation, lowering the ceilings, updating the kitchen and doing some landscaping.

“It’s almost a rebuilding,” Head said.

It’s not the first time the post has helped renovate a veteran’s home. Last year, post members and other volunteers renovated the home of 75-year-old Army veteran John Green in Barnesville, Ga.

Head said press coverage of that and similar work leads to more opportunities for the post to help others. “Most of the time when people are referred to us, they’ll say, ‘We saw where you helped out here, can you help us?’” he said.

He said that, when post members are working on a house, they’ll put a sign in the front yard that reads, “Veterans helping veterans.” It’s just one part of how Post 516 — the Department of Georgia’s Fourth District Post of the Year — is living up to the Legion’s four pillars.

And the efforts are being returned. Head said the Barnesville police chief is going to be installing the roof on the Kings’ house, and membership at Post 516 “is growing by leaps and bounds.”

“People want to get involved, especially veterans,” Head said.

American Legion invites Little Rock, Ark., area veterans to discuss VA care

The American Legion invites all Little Rock, Ark., area veterans and their family members to a town hall meeting to discuss their VA care.

The meeting will be held on March 26 at 7 p.m., at American Legion Post 1, 325 W. 29th Street, North Little Rock, AR 72114.

The town hall is one of many events that The American Legion will conduct around the United States this year. The American Legion hosts these events to hear feedback from veterans about the quality of health care they receive at their local VA health care facility.

Staff from The American Legion National Headquarters in Washington, D.C., American Legion Department of Arkansas and representatives from VA and members of the Arkansas congressional delegation will be in attendance.

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