I’ve written a lot recently on the drug violence in Mexico that has taken at least 42,000 lives (and perhaps as many as 52,000) since President Felipe Calderon unleashed the military on the country’s powerful drug cartels in December 2006. The situation there grows steadily more worrisome, and is now having an impact on the Central American countries and on the United States. Yet Washington continues to pursue the failed prohibitionist policy that enriches the drug traffickers–and demands that other countries do so as well. Prohibition didn’t work regarding alcohol in the 1920s, and it’s creating a similar bloody mess this time regarding illegal drugs. One might expect political leaders to learn from the mistakes of the past, but apparently that’s expecting too much.
Watching the negotiations in Washington about whether to raise the ceiling on the national debt is like watching a vile form of pornography–if pornography were boring as well as disgusting. Both Republicans and Democrats are engaged in their usual political posturing. The GOP members of Congress dig-in their heels about raising the debt limit, although the overwhelming majority of them had no problem taking that step during the Bush years–or for that matter during the administration of the sainted Ronald Reagan. They are equally adamant about no new taxes. That is an admirable position in principle, but only if serious spending cuts are made to keep the budget from continuing to bleed vast quantities of red ink. Borrowing to cover the shortfall is simply a form of deferred, covert taxation–with the goal of shifting much of the burden onto future generations.
Amazingly, the Obama administration and the congressional Democrats manage to be even a little worse than their Republican colleagues. They habitually portray proposals merely to slow the jaw-dropping growth in federal spending as brutal “cuts” that would devastate essential programs and put Grandma and Grandpa out on the street without their Social Security checks. Whenever the Dems propose so-called spending cuts, they are little more than paper promises to slow the rate of increase in spending in the out years–i.e., 5 to 10 years in the future. Experience has shown that promises of spending restraint in the mists of the distant future almost never become reality.
Both parties play their cynical games while the country careens toward national bankruptcy. If the massive budget deficit is not reduced through real (and substantial) cuts–which means cutting military spending, Social Security and Medicare–the United States could be Greece in another decade or two. Our children and grandchildren will not think kindly of us if that happens. But not to worry. The Republicans and Democrats in the 2020s will be busy blaming each other for the debacle.
My colleague Doug Bandow has a terrific article on the Huffington Post website that is especially appropriate for Memorial Day. He makes a compelling case that contrary to the platitudes that we will hear this weekend about how “freedom is not free,” and that we owe our freedoms to those who died in America’s wars, the truth is much more troubling. The reality is that many of this country’s wars–and nearly all of them since the end of World War II–have had little or nothing to do with defending the freedom of the American people. Instead, the motives ranged from misplaced humanitarianism (e.g., the Balkan wars and Libya), to insane attempts to impose enlightment and democracy on pre-industrial societies (e.g., Afghanistan), to cynical attempts to project U.S. power for dubious, if not sleazy, motives (e.g., Vietnam and Iraq.)
Doug argues that all too often the political elite in the United States has used American soldiers as nothing more than “gambit pawns” in a global strategic chess match. He’s right. And the best tribute we could give on this Memorial Day to those who have lost their lives in such conflicts (including two good friends of mine in the Vietnam War) is to make sure that our troops are never again sent into harm’s way for frivolous reasons.
The Transportation Security Administration’s outrages against air travelers reached new heights earlier this month with the (very) thorough pat-down of six-year-old Anna Drexel at the New Orleans airport. Not only did that action violate common sense, it violated common decency. The girl’s parents caught the horrific incident on their cell phone video camera, and it immediately went viral on the internet. After being subjected to what one critic later described as the “freedom fondle,” Anna burst into tears. That was hardly a surprise. She had been told repeatedly by her parents and teachers that it was wrong, wrong, wrong for any stranger to touch her in her private places. Anyone, that is, except arrogant, thuggish bureaucrats working for the TSA. Talk about mixed messages!
Angry members of Congress have introduced legislation to bar such procedures on young children in the future. But why should legislation be needed to end the practice–and the TSA’s other offenses against the basic civil liberties of the American people? The TSA is an agency of the executive branch. President Obama is the head of the executive branch. He could order an end to all such abuses with the stroke of his pen on an executive order. Why has he not done so? His failure on this issue is just the latest piece of evidence that all of his rhetoric about “hope and change” in the 2008 presidential campaign was just that–empty rhetoric.
Decent Americans have had more than enough of the TSA’s airport security theater–useless and obnoxious intrusions on our civil liberties in the name of preventing terrorism. If President Obama is too timid or uncaring to rein-in this rogue agency, Congress should do it without further delay.
Are you wondering about what the United States and its allies are getting into by imposing a no-fly zone and launching missile strikes and air strikes against Libya? Are you worried that by attacking the forces of Muammar Gaddafi the Obama administration may have embarked on yet another unnecessary war that could lead to a messy entanglement?
I address those and other matters in a new article in The National Interest Online. The focus of the piece is how Libya is not a cohesive nation-state like most Western countries, but is instead an artificial collection of tribes with a fairly sharp geographic division between the eastern and western parts of the country. America is wandering into another volatile situation, and as usual, our leaders seem utterly clueless about the potential political pitfalls and minefields.
When the Bush administration decided to invade and occupy Iraq, a key stated goal was to bring democracy to that country. But aside from periodic elections with competing parties, the new Iraq is beginning to resemble the old Iraq. In particular, the government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is treating journalists and other critics with intolerance and outright brutality reminiscent of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Disturbing evidence of such repression has been building for at least the past two years, but the developments this week are truly shocking. As with many other countries in the Middle East, demonstrations have broken out in Iraq demanding, among other things, an end to the Maliki government’s rampant corruption. Those demonstrations culminated on Friday with a “Day of Rage.” Although the demonstrations even on that day were mostly peaceful, security forces killed at least 29 participants.
They also rounded up dozens of journalists, writers, photographers, and intellectuals who had been involved in organizing the rallies. Late in the afternoon, the Aldiyar Television station, which had telecast footage of the demonstrations, reported that security forces arrested seven employees, including a director and an anchorman, and closed the studio.
One of the many other journalists arrested that day in Baghdad was Hadi al-Mahhi, who told Washington Post reporter Stephanie McCrummen what happened after soldiers arrested him and several colleagues while they were sitting at an outdoor cafe. The soldiers loaded al-Mahdi and the others into Humvees and drove them to a side street, where they beat them severely. Then, they took them to a former defense ministry building that now houses a unit of the army’s increasingly feared intelligence unit. Mahdi was taken to a room alone, where he was beaten again with clubs, boots and fists. Not satisfied with such garden-variety brutality, they took his shoes off, wet his feet, and administered electric shocks.
This is the new Iraqi democracy for which the United States spent $800 billion and sacrificed nearly 4,500 American lives. An Iraq in which regime opponents are arrested and tortured, in which more than a third of the terrorized Christian community has fled, and in which more and more women are being forced back under the veil by religious zealots. One hopes that the Obama administration learns from the folly of its predecessor and resists the siren calls that we’re now hearing to intervene in Libya and other countries to bring the blessings of democracy to those populations.
I had the misfortune of catching Mike Huckabee’s interview today on ABC’s Good Morning America. When asked about his presidential ambitions for 2012, the former Arkansas governor was cautious, arguing that President Obama would be a formidable candidate. Huckabee then stated that since 1848, only one incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, had ever been defeated for re-election.
Well, he was almost right. Except for George H.W. “Poppy” Bush losing to Bill Clinton in 1992. And Herbert Hoover being defeated by Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. And William Howard Taft losing in 1912. And Grover Cleveland coming up short in 1888. And Benjamin Harrison being ousted from the White House in 1892.
Is it really too much to expect that candidates for the presidency (and let’s remember that Huckabee already ran for the GOP nomination in 2008) know the basics about that office and not make gross factual misstatements on national television?
But one shouldn’t really be surprised. The probable GOP presidential field for 2012 thus far looks utterly dismal. The likes of Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney inspire no more confidence than does Mike Huckabee. And then, of course, we have Sarah Palin, whose degree of ignorance on both civil liberties and foreign policy issues is truly breathtaking. Her most recent gaffe occurred when she was asked about the mounting anti-regime demonstrations in the Middle East. Her answer was so utterly incoherent that it was not even certain she was speaking English.
Please. The party that produced Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan should be able to do better than this bunch.
Dealing with an increasingly assertive China is likely to be the biggest challenge the United States will face in the coming decades. It will be difficult to contain and manage the growing differences between the two countries, but it’s essential to get the relationship right. If disagreements get out of hand, the consequences could be extremely bad, not just for the two countries, but for the global economy and world peace.
My latest thoughts on this difficult and complex relationship can be found in this article.
If honorable Americans haven’t squirmed enough about their government crawling into bed with numerous unsavory regimes and political movements around the world during the Cold War (including the Shah of Iran, African tyrant Mobutu Sese Seko, and the Saudi royal family), we now have evidence of a more recent relationship that may top them all. Since the mid-1990s, Washington has backed the independence of Serbia’s province of Kosovo, a secessionist movement led by the Kosovo Liberation Army, a motley collection of Islamic militants, strident Albanian nationalists, and mafia chieftans. The United States and its NATO allies have helped bring the KLA to power through an air war in 1999 and an ongoing military “peacekeeping mission.”
There was always ample evidence about the odious nature of the KLA, but U.S. officials in both the Clinton and Bush administrations repeatedly downplayed or dismissed that evidence. Now, though, a damning new investigative report commissioned by the Council of Europe presents evidence that the KLA, including Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, systematically killed Serbian prisoners to harvest their organs and sell them on the black market–a horrific war crime by any definition of the term. I discuss that report and its policy implications in greater detail in a new article published in The National Interest.
This episode is a real test for the Obama administration, which constantly touts the importance of moral values in U.S. foreign policy. Let’s see if President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are willing to disown Washington’s ghoulish client in the Balkans. I won’t hold my breath.
Those of you who are worried about the latest spike in tensions between North Korea and South Korea should read the excellent piece by my colleague Doug Bandow in the National Interest Online. Among other things, Doug questions why nearly six decades since the end of the Korean War, the United States is in the middle of a parochial spat between two small nations half-way around the world. He shows why North Korea’s neighbors should be perfectly capable of handling that obnoxious little troublemaker on their own.
The security commitment to South Korea is yet another example of U.S. global obligations that are both obsolete and dangerous. The sooner we get our troops out of harm’s way, the better. We have far more pressing problems much closer to home–including the soaring (and spreading) drug violence next door in Mexico.