Archives: July, 2006

Why Wait to Bomb Iran? Find Out at Cato Unbound!

Gene quotes warmongering Bill Kristol below:

We might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later.

Why wait to bomb Iran? As it happens, the best discussion of this question anywhere is happening right next door at Cato Unbound.

In his reply to Reuel Marc Gerecht’s Kristol-compatible brief for bombing, Edward Luttwak says he is not averse to an in-and-out quick strike to impede the develop of Iranian nukes, if it comes to that in the three or more years it will take Iran to develop the bomb. But, Luttwak says, it may not come to that, because there is plenty to be done in the meantime. Luttwak’s Center for Strategic and International Studies colleague Anthony Cordesman says diplomacy could work, and we should keep doing what we’re doing. Bombing might not actually keep Iran from getting nukes, and even if the U.S. exhausts all non-military options, we should at least wait until we know where the targets are. Cato’s vice president for defense and foreign policy studies Ted Galen Carpenter says bombing Iran might trigger a “massive regional crisis,” and that “America’s troubles with the Islamic world do not yet constitute a war of civilizations,” but attacks “could well produce that result.”

Why wait? Well, those are a few reasons. And containment? Carpenter, for one, argues that if we successfully contained a nuclear Soviet Union and China, we can contain a nuclear Iran. Don’t miss the detailed discussion about the future of American policy for this hotspot in the volatile Middle East.

Ralph Reed and the GOP

Christian Coalition co-founder Ralph Reed lost the Republican primary for lieutenant governor of Georgia yesterday by more than 12 points. After a career at the top of Republican politics – chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, Southeast Regional chairman of Bush-Cheney, one of Time’s 50 future leaders of America – it’s got to be galling to lose a Republican primary for a ceremonial job like lieutenant governor. Reed was tarred by his association with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He became a poster boy for the downward spiral of the Republican Party – the born-again activist with the choirboy face who helped transform the GOP into a religious party and then got caught taking millions of gambling dollars to lobby against rival gambling firms. Makes the K Street Project look positively, well, saintly.

Ralph Reed lost a Republican primary election on the same day the anti-marriage amendment failed to pass in the House of Representatives. Maybe one day we’ll look back on July 18 as the day that the Republican party decided not to be a religious party and started to become once again a broad-based conservative political party.

War without End

Here’s the money quote from the Bill Kristol piece George Will went after yesterday:

“We might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions – and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement.”

And here’s a front pager in today’s Washington Post about neoconservative anger towards the Bush administration because of its newfound restraint in foreign policy. Prominent Iraq hawks like Max Boot and Cakewalk Ken Adelman are upset that their favored tactic, “bomb today for a brighter tomorrow,” no longer commands the respect it once did in Washington.

Now, you could marvel at the brazenness of all this: the same people who helped lead us into the biggest foreign policy disaster in 30 years trying to push another war (or wars) on us without so much as a prefatory “sorry about the whole Iraq thing, old boy.” But the current squawking also strikes me as a useful reminder of how very, very important war is in the neoconservative vision. It is as central to that vision as peace is to the classical liberal vision.

For the neoconservatives, it’s not about Israel. It’s about war. War is a bracing tonic for the national spirit and in all its forms it presents opportunities for national greatness. “Ultimately, American purpose can find its voice only in Washington,” David Brooks once wrote. And Washington’s never louder or more powerful than when it has a war to fight.

In 1997, Fred Barnes pouted about the “ennui” accompanying that decade’s peace and prosperity:

“The last great moment in Washington was Desert Storm…. It was exciting to follow and write about … Every press conference, I watched. Desert Storm was all I thought about or talked about. My stories concentrated on President Bush’s heroic role in the war.”

Indeed, for many neoconservatives, the 1990s were about the search for an enemy. Who it was didn’t much matter. That can be seen in this 1996 Foreign Affairs article by Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, in which they seem distinctly unsettled by the apparant lack of anyone for the U.S. to fight:

“The ubiquitous post-Cold War question – where is the threat? – is thus misconceived. In a world in which peace and American security depend on American power and the will to use it, the main threat the United States faces now and in the future is its own weakness.”

To dispel any notions of weakness, a little therapeutic bombing is sometimes in order. As AEI’s Michael Ledeen apparently put it some years ago:

“Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”

It could be the Serbs. It could be Iraq. If we’re really feeling our oats, it might even be China. Even now, when the United States faces a genuine enemy in Al Qaeda, some neoconservatives are hedging their bets: If we wrap up this war on terror thing too quickly, let’s give great-power conflict a chance.

Who we’re fighting is secondary. That we’re fighting is the main thing. To be a neoconservative is to thrill to the sound of gunfire. (From a nice, safe distance, generally.)

Can Charter Schools Yield Market-Like Results?

That’s a question I was asked over at EdSpresso.com, to which I’ve just fired of the following answer:

Alas, no. In the short term, the charter schooling model lacks some of the essential characteristics of effective markets. I stressed competition in the cited op-ed [about Warren Buffett’s gift to the Gates Foundation], but there are others I couldn’t mention for lack of space. Free-floating prices and at least some direct payment of tuition by parents are two other crucial ingredients. Charters have neither.

Prices are the mechanism by which markets signal quality and encourage providers to offer the services most in demand. Without the ability to set high initial prices for effective innovations, innovation cannot be financed. Hence, the whole process by which markets drive improvements in quality is crippled. If there had never been $1,000 DVD players and cell phones, there would not now be $39 DVD players and “free” cell phones (when purchased with a service plan). On the flip side, when providers do not set their own prices there is no incentive for them to find ways of undercutting their competitors by offering similar quality services at a lower cost, eliminating a key incentive for efficiency. There are still other problems with charter schooling that I haven’t listed here (e.g. the likelihood of re-regulation over time, if history is any guide) so that they do not represent a promising path to market education.

I’d be happy to be proven wrong by the march of events, but that’s the way it looks to me now.

Why Federal Vouchers Are Still a Bad Idea

When president Bush threw the idea of a federal school voucher program into his budget earlier this year, few people noticed and those who did rarely took it seriously. Well, it’s now a bill, though only a bill, and it’s sittin’ there on Capitol Hill…

Many good people in the school choice movement think this is a wonderful thing. Reluctantly, I must disagree. As I wrote in response to the president’s original proposal: federal school vouchers are a bad idea.

The Unseen Sighted in Western Maryland

For supporters of limited government, Bastiat’s What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen summarizes our fundamental lament:

When a government official spends on his own behalf one hundred sous more, this implies that a taxpayer spends on his own behalf one hundred sous the less. But the spending of the government official is seen, because it is done; while that of the taxpayer is not seen, because—alas!—he is prevented from doing it.

This difference leads to bigger government because the electorate is lulled into believing that big government offers great benefits to society while limited government and private decisionmaking offer little. If it were not for government, the thinking goes, people could not respond to emergencies, or the poor and unfortunate would have no protection and assistance, or there would be no economic development and community life.

But once in awhile, we can see what usually goes unseen. Credit my hometown of Washington County, Maryland, for a recent example.

Rising tax receipts resulted in a budget surplus for FY 2006, and the county’s commissioners decided to refund some of that surplus to taxpayers. The local newspaper asked readers to write in, describing what they did with the money. Today’s edition included those letters. Among the uses:

  • Pay for home repairs required after recent flooding.
  • Contribute to the medical fund for an area child with a heart defect.
  • Purchase a bicycle, movie tickets, a dinner and show, and the various goods and services of a local festival.

How about that? People will make sensible and altruistic decisions with their money, without the orchestrations of government

Free Riders

I was watching the news and found rather disturbing the complaints of the journalists, who were shocked that U.S. law did not simply offer people in danger a free ride to safety at taxpayer expense. The U.S. Embassy in Lebanon was asking those who were being evacuated at taxpayer expense to sign a promissory note to reimburse the government for the evacuation. Some of the interviewed evacuees insisted that they be whisked away at taxpayer expense. (Those who complained about the lack of comfort on the ship were especially annoying. One complained that “My parents thought it was a cruise ship and it was definitely not a cruise ship.” Hey, sorry!) Under the theory that everything should be free, the government has announced that people who visit or live in dangerous places and are evacuated at taxpayer expense will not be charged a penny.

People who go to dangerous places (and Lebanon has been on that list for quite some time, both as a matter of common sense and as a matter of State Department designation) shouldn’t expect to be rescued from danger at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer.

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