Why Won’t Obama Curb the TSA?

Published April 29th, 2011 by tcarpenter

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.

Ground Zero “Mosque” Opposition: Some Thoughts

Published August 29th, 2010 by tcarpenter

I haven’t weighed-in on the “ground zero mosque” controversy before, although some of my colleagues at the Cato Institute have done so on both sides of the issue.  However, the tone of the opposition to the building of the mosque (actually a multi-functional Islamic cultural center) makes me increasingly uneasy.  

First of all, while most opponents of the Cordoba House project acknowledge that there is a legal right to buid the center, and insist that their objection to it is based solely on the lack of “decency” of erecting a symbol of Islam on that site, their actions often belie such assurances.  After all, the initial action  that opponents took was to try to get the New York City government to deny a building permit.   That didn’t exactly show respect for the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment.

Second, opponents almost always stress the “hallowed ground” aspect of the proposed site for the center–some 2 1/2 blocks from ground zero.   But there are several problems with that argument.  Most notably, there are already two other (smaller) mosques and several other religious buildings in the immediate area–not to mention shops, restaurants, and porno outlets.  Do opponents of the new Cordoba House want those structures to be bulldozed?  They don’t appear to advocate that step.  So why the outrage over this project?

Third, while some of the opposition to the building of Cordoba House reflects genuine anguish on the part of people who lost friends or relatives on 9-11, and for whom the sight of a major Islamic center so close to ground zero would be a cause of further pain, there is something much broader–and uglier–at work.  The “proximity to ground zero” argument does not explain why there have been equally virulent campaigns against proposed mosques and other Islamic structures in such places as Tennessee, Wisconsin, Florida, and Virginia.  What’s the justification in those cases?  Proximity to the Grand Old Opry, Lambeau Field, the Manassas battlefield, and Disney World?  No, those campaigns reveal an underlying religious bigotry.  Muslims may be the latest targets of that intolerance, but they’re hardly the only ones.  In earlier periods, Jews, Mormons, and other religious minorities experienced similar discrimination.

Finally, those who spew vitriol in response to the Cordoba House project need to understand that they are playing with social and foreign policy dynamite.  Contrary to some hawks who would like nothing better than a holy war against Islam, the United States is not at war with all Muslims.  We are at war with a small faction of radical Muslims.  But moderate Muslims in the United States and around the world are watching the Cordoba House controversy.  And some moderate Muslims are already being radicalized because of their anger at the opposition to that project.

Critics need to understand that an ill-advised position on this issue could help lead to a disastrous self-fulfilling prophecy in which most Muslims, both here and abroad, do end up hating the United States and becoming mortal enemies of this country.  The consequences of that kind of religious war are too horrible to contemplate.  Even those Americans who do not like many of the values put forth by Islam, and I count myself among them, need to stand up for the principle of religious tolerance embodied in the First Amendment.  That is both the prudent thing to do and the morally right thing to do.

Security Gestapo Strikes Again

Published June 25th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Just when you think that the guardians of airport security, the TSA (Terminally Stupid Agency), can’t get any more obnoxious in the way that it treats hapless airline passengers, along comes this little gem.  The arrogant TSA bureaucrats have now moved beyond frisking grandmothers and small children as possible terrorists and are now humiliating amputees as part of the airport screening process.  Ah, our tax dollars at work.  Our civil liberties RIP.

My Least Favorite Cheney

Published March 7th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Vice President Dick Cheney always impressed me as the most dangerous and vicious member of the Bush administration.  He seemed to regard war as the answer to every foreign policy problem, and his contempt for the Constitution and civil liberties was legendary.

But his daughter, Liz Cheney, seems determined to outdo her father with respect to both of those repulsive attitudes.  She is fast becoming my least favorite Cheney.

Her organization, which has become a prominent lobbyist for war with Iran, has now taken dead aim at supposed terrorist sympathizers in the Obama administration.   Television ads are now running attacking the president for appointing officials to the Justice Department who had previously served as defense counsels–or even just peripheral members of defense teams–for accused terrorist suspects.  Smearing those attorneys as the “Al Qaeda Seven,” the ad implies that such legal work should disqualify them from appointments to office.

That is a “guilt by association” attack that would have made Senator Joseph McCarthy (who was notorious for such tactics) blush.  And it is an especially ugly tactic in this case.  Lawyers are expected to be willing to defend even odious individuals, and they routinely do so.  That is part of the code of their profession.  It is appallingly unfair to hold that duty against them, much less to imply that they endorse the values of those individuals.  Moreover, just because someone is accused  of being a terrorist does not necessarily mean that the person is one.  That’s why our justice system requires fair trials–and defense attorneys.

If the logic of Liz Cheney and her cohorts was correct, John Adams, America’s second president, should have been disqualified from ever holding any office of trust.  After all, he was the defense lawyer for the British Redcoats involved in the Boston Massacre.  Got an acquittal, too.  Wonder what Liz and her smear artists have to say about that episode?

The good news is that decent conservatives have rebuked Cheney for her odious tactics.  People should not have their patriotism or integrity impugned because they uphold the core principles of our legal system.  That she would do so says all we need to know about Liz Cheney and her neoconservative associates.

More Idiocy From the TSA

Published January 16th, 2010 by tcarpenter

Just when you think the “security” measures at the airports can’t get any more absurd, along comes this gem.  It seems that the latest terrorist suspect is an 8-year-old Cub Scout, Michael “Mikey” Hicks.   The practitioners of security theater (taking highly visible measures to make travelers feel safer without actually making them safer) are alert to the dire menace that he poses.  They might have failed to stop the underwear bomber from getting on the plane, despite numerous warning signals, but they’re not about to ignore this lethal threat.  Little Mikey is on their watch list, and they subject the poor kid to a pat down whenever he and his parents try to fly.  Apparently, he has the same name as a real terror suspect.  But wouldn’t you think that reasonably intelligent adults could figure out that an 8-year-old is not the person they’re looking for?  Oh, wait… we’re talking about the TSA, where no intelligent adults need apply.

Afghanistan: The Graveyard of Empires

Published September 7th, 2009 by tcarpenter

Last week, I published an article in The National Interest Online about the folly of engaging in nation building in Afghanistan.  Following the 9-11 attacks, I strongly supported military action in Afghanistan to punish al Qaeda and the Taliban regime that gave the terrorist organization a safe haven from which to plan that dastardly attack.   But I also warned that we should not try to remake Afghanistan into a modern, stable, democratic country–in other words, try to pursue a utopian nation-building crusade.  Yet, during the Bush years, we gradually drifted into exactly that sort of mission.  And, unfortunately, the Obama administration seems to be escalating that effort.

The reality is that Afghanistan is not going to become a Central Asian version of Arizona–or even Arkansas–no matter how long we stay, how much money we spend, and how many American lives we sacrifice.   The country is not called “the graveyard of empires” for nothing.  Invaders from Alexander the Great to the Soviet Union discovered that it was impossible to subdue that fractious society.  Now, the United States seems determined to make the same foolish error. 

We have to adopt realistic objectives.  It is possible to further disrupt and weaken al Qaeda.  But we must learn to treat that terrorist threat as a chronic, but manageable, security problem, not an overpowering threat that requires a definitive victory with a surrender ceremony (which isn’t going to happen anyway).   And it certainly doesn’t require us to (somehow) get the people of Afghanistan to become good 21st century democratic capitalists committed to gender equality.   That won’t happen for generations–if it ever does.

Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, we need an exit strategy, not the escalation strategy that the Obama administration is giving us.  On September 14, my colleague Malou Innocent and I will be publishing a Cato Institute White Paper giving a detailed analysis of the current situation and outlining such an exit strategy.  Please stay tuned.

Another Episode of Hysteria In The “War on Terror.”

Published July 26th, 2009 by tcarpenter

The Bush administration apparently considered sending in the army to invade Buffalo.  Yes, the one in New York state.  The supposed justification was the need to apprehend a handful of terrorist plotters.  Never mind that federal law since the late 1870s explicitly prohibits using the military for domestic law enforcement.  Never mind that the terrorists in question were both small in number and decidedly low in IQ.  Never mind that we have the FBI as well as state and local law enforcement personnel to handle such matters, and that in this case they were clearly more than sufficient to deal with the alleged threat. 

Several Bush administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney (big surprise there!) wanted to send in the troops.  That would have been the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to squash an ant.  Had Cheney’s advice been followed, the main thing that would have been squashed was the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law.

I never thought I would say this, but thank the fates that George W. Bush was president.  As bad as he was–and he was truly dreadful on numerous issues–he was better than many of the people around him.  If someone like Cheney had been president, we would have had U.S. soldiers occupying American cities.  

The Bill of Rights definitely dodged some bullets during the previous administration.  Let’s hope the current one proves to be a lot better on that front.

Keep an Eye on Pakistan

Published May 11th, 2009 by tcarpenter

The situation in Pakistan is becoming increasingly ugly.  Taliban forces and their Al Qaeda allies have gained control over significant chunks of Pakistan along that country’s border with Afghanistan.  The feckless government in Islamabad, after unsuccessfully attempting an appeasement policy, has now apparently reversed course and is confronting the militants with a major military offensive.  The bottom line is that Pakistan is an extremely fragile country with a growing radical Islamic insurgency.  At the very least, those developments complicate America’s already beleaguered mission next door in Afghanistan, where the Obama administration is beefing-up the U.S. military presence.  And we need to ponder a possible worst-case scenario: Pakistan completely unraveling and the militants getting control of that country’s nuclear arsenal.  While the risk of Pakistan becoming the South Asian version of Somalia is still relatively remote, that possibility cannot be ruled out.

My colleague Malou Innocent recently published an excellent study on this extremely complicated situation.  She spent several weeks last year in Pakistan as part of her research, and her analysis is the best relatively short treatment I’ve seen of this crucial and difficult issue.

NATO’s Sop to Obama

Published April 12th, 2009 by tcarpenter

President Obama came away from last week’s NATO summit in Strasbourg hailing the outcome as a great victory for U.S. foreign policy.  He professed to be especially pleased with promises made by the allies regarding the mission in Afghanistan.  Yet the European members of NATO gave him next to nothing.  He asked for a substantial number of additional combat troops to supplement the surge of American troops he announced last month.  Instead, the European allies agreed to send a mere 5,000 personnel, none of whom will be combat forces.  Moreover, the bulk of that number (3,000) will be sent just temporarily to assist the Afghan government in the upcoming elections.  The rest consist mainly of police and military trainers and wannabe nation-building bureaucrats.

These anemic gestures continue the lack of seriousness on the part of the NATO allies that I’ve written about here and here.  During the Cold War, NATO was a credible security organization–although even then the Europeans underinvested in defense and liked to have the U.S. bear a disproportionate amount of the burdens.  Now, though, the alliance has become a bad joke.  NATO has just celebrated its 60th birthday, and Washington should take stepts to make sure that it’s the last birthday.  NATO has become a very bad bargain for America, and we should terminate our involvement in this increasingly disfunctional alliance.

The TSA’s Latest Idiocy

Published March 21st, 2009 by tcarpenter

In his farewell speech to Congress in 1951, General Douglas MacArthur intoned that “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”  Likewise, bad policy ideas never die.  Unfortunately, they never fade away either.  They just get recycled.  The latest example is the decision by the Transportation Security Administration to resume random screenings of airport passengers at the gate.  After massive complaints from the public, the TSA abandoned that absurd practice several years ago.

Of all the post-9-11 airport “safety” measures, the random screenings were the most intrusive and useless.  All too many instances arose in which the randomly selected passenger turned out to be a toddler or a 90-year-old woman in a wheelchair.  As if there was even a snowball’s chance in Hell that such individuals were possible terrorists.  My colleague Doug Bandow has a good piece on that practice. 

Most of the TSA’s measures at airports are designed to show activity rather than have any real relevance to stopping terrorism, and the random searches were the most blatant examples of activity for the sake of activity.  Why America’s security bureaucrats have decided to bring back that useless policy is anyone’s guess.   Perhaps TSA really stands for Terminally Stupid Actions.