Tag Archive for 'obama-administration'



The Debt Ceiling and Washington’s Political Pornography

Published July 12th, 2011 by tcarpenter

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.

 

 

 

Is Iraq’s New Boss the Same as the Old Boss?

Published February 27th, 2011 by tcarpenter

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.

Yet Another Sleazy U.S. Foreign Client

Published December 31st, 2010 by tcarpenter

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.

Bipartisan Economic Mess

Published August 7th, 2010 by tcarpenter

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.

How Not to Handle North Korea

Published October 29th, 2009 by tcarpenter

I have a new article in the National Interest Online about the speech by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates during his recent visit to East Asia.  His comments inadvertently underscored why U.S. foreign policy is such a mess.  In one speech, he 1) made the North Korean nuclear crisis more dangerous, 2) greatly reduced the chances that China will exert itself to help solve the crisis, and 3) gave U.S. allies Japan and South Korea a green light to continue underinvesting in their own defense while free-riding on U.S. efforts.  Other than that, it was a brilliant speech.

Gates is reputed to be the foreign policy “adult” in the Obama administration.  If that’s true, we’re all in deep trouble.

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.

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.

Hillary Gets One Right

Published February 18th, 2009 by tcarpenter

I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton or her foreign policy views.  In the past, she has far too often been an advocate of U.S. military intervention in situations that have nothing to do with the security or well being of this country.  Her support for meddling in the civil wars in Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s were prime examples, as was her later endorsement of the congressional measure authorizing President George W. Bush to use force in Iraq.

But she has made the correct decision regarding her first trip abroad as secretary of state.  Instead of going to Europe, as most of her predecessors did, or going to the Middle East–a region that gets far too much attention from American foreign policy officials, she chose to go to East Asia.  Secretary Clinton is in the middle of that trip, having already made a stops in Japan and Indonesia.  Next, she travels to China and South Korea.

East Asia is already a crucial region for the United States, both diplomatically and economically, and it is likely to become more so in the coming decades.  My colleague, Leon Hadar, makes a strong case for giving that region a higher priority on the U.S. foreign policy agenda instead of obsessing over every development in the Middle East.  It’s refreshing to see signs that the Obama administration may be developing a more rational set of priorities.

The only other step Secretary Clinton should have taken was to put India on her itinerary.  In many respects, that country should be as important as China–perhaps even more so–to the United States.  Nevertheless, her first move as the steward of U.S. foreign policy has been a competent one.

The Fire Next Door: Drug Violence in Mexico

Published February 4th, 2009 by tcarpenter

While U.S. leaders focus on Afghanistan, Iran, and other problems in distant regions, there is an alarming security threat brewing right next door.  Violence in Mexico, mostly related to the trade in illegal drugs, is spiraliing out of control.  Even worse, it is apparent that the drug traffickers are winning their fight against the Mexican government.  The situation on our southern border has grown so bad that even the Marines at Camp Pendleton in southern California are now barred from spending their leave time in neighboring Tijuana because the city is too dangerous.

The drug violence in Mexico, and how it is spilling across the border into our own country, is the subject of my new policy study for the Cato Institute.  You can access it here.