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.
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.
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.
I’ve long argued that the mission in Afghanistan has morphed from a limited, focused effort to damage al-Qaeda into a foolish and expensive–in both blood and treasure–nation-building crusade. But there is now evidence that we are spending billions of tax dollars and risking the lives of our soldiers to protect the biggest concentration of pedophiles in the world. Please read this article and then tell me if you think the war in Afghanistan is worth it.
The campaigns are well underway for the midterm congressional elections, and the vast quantities of hot air being vented could explain the extraordinarily high temperatures most the country has been experiencing this summer. One of the most irritating features of this campaign season is the apparent GOP assumption that Americans have been afflicted by collective amnesia. Republican officials and propagandists repeatedly savage the Obama administration for the ongoing Great Recession.
Some of their criticisms are valid. The 2009 prediction by the head of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors that the unemployment rate would be kept below 8 percent was spectacularly off the mark. The $700 billion “stimulus package” was a combination of the usual pork-barrel spending and utterly goofy spending schemes. And the apparent intentions of the administration and the Democrats in Congress to let most of the Bush tax cuts (one of the few good things that dreadful administration did) expire could well make an already very bad recession even worse.
But Republican partisans apparently want everyone to forget about when this recession began and who was running economic policy when it did. Obama’s policies have been unwise, at best, but he did inherit a colossal economic mess when he took office. Republicans act as though the recession began on January 20, 2009. But the plunge was underway well before then. The residential housing market started to collapse in 2006 and 2007, and the economy officially went into recession in December 2007. The financial system began to melt down in mid-2008, intensifying the downturn.
All of this happened with a Republican White House and GOP appointees in charge of the Federal Reserve, the Department of the Treasury, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. One would like to see at least a little acknowledgment of responsibility for the debacle instead of the current cynical, partisan effort to put all the blame on the Democrats and the Obama administration.
The Great Recession is a bipartisan economic tragedy. Republicans were primarily responsible for its onset, and the Democrats have managed to make a bad situation even worse.
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.
President Obama will address the American people on Tuesday night regarding Afghanistan. Reports have leaked out over the past week that he will announce that he is sending additional troops into that quagmire. The only question seems to be whether he will send 30,000, 40,000 or some number in between. That is, frankly, not a very important issue. And for all of his talk about “off ramps” for the United States if the Afghan government does not meet certain policy targets or “benchmarks,” the reality is that he is escalating our commitment. Since Obama has repeatedly asserted that the war in Afghanistan is a war of necessity, not a war of choice, his talk of off ramps is largely a bluff–and the Afghans probably know it.
I am in the process of co-writing a book that includes a chapter on America’s disastrous war in Vietnam. I’m the first to acknowledge the hazards of equating one historical event with a development in a different setting and time period. In fact, the tendency of U.S. leaders to view every conflict in the world over the last 60 years through the prism of the failure to stem Nazi aggression in the 1930s has been a major cause of policy disasters like Vietnam and Iraq. And I don’t want to imply that what Obama is doing is exactly the same as the foolish strategy that the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations adopted in Southeast Asia during the 1960s. But there are a couple of very disturbing similiarities. In both cases, U.S. leaders opted to try to rescue a failing war by sending in more troops. And in both cases, Washington found itself desperately searching for a “credible” leader who could serve as an effective partner in the war effort. The United States never found such a leader in Vietnam. From the first client, Ngo Dinh Diem, to the last leader of South Vietnam, Nguyen Van Thieu, American policymakers were frustrated by a parade of repressive, corrupt, and ineffectual political figures. Now, doesn’t that sound more than a little like the problem the Bush and Obama administrations have encountered with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his government?
That fact alone suggests that our Afghanistan mission is not likely to turn out well.
Instead of escalating, Obama should move to rapidly draw-down our forces and narrow the mission to one of trying to harrass Al Qaeda and keep it off balance. My colleague, Malou Innocent, and I published a Cato Institute White Paper, “Escaping the Graveyard of Empires,” describing how to achieve that goal without pursuing the futile objective of nation-building in Afghanistan.