Archives: 09/2009

The REAL ID Deadline Is Fake

Some state governments have claimed that a pending compliance deadline for REAL ID requires them to tighten up their driver’s licensing procedures consistent with the 2005 national ID law. (But see this.)

In fact, REAL ID is dead and the deadline is fake. More than a dozen states have statutorily barred themselves from complying, and in a rule published Monday the Department of Homeland Security extended the deadline again. This is the same thing it did last May and could easily do indefinitely.

The republic survives, and will survive quite nicely without this or any national ID law.

Three Felonies a Day

Harvey Silverglate’s new book, Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent, is receiving a good bit of press. L. Gordon Crovitz has a good piece up at the Wall Street Journal discussing federal overcriminalization and how it impacts information technology. National Review Online has an audio interview with Silverglate discussing how federal law often strays from traditional notions of criminal intent, making innocent activity potentially criminal.

Silverglate will be speaking at Cato on Thursday at a book forum with Tim Lynch. Tim’s recent book In the Name of Justice looks at the evolution of strict liability statutes and other developments in criminal law with chapters from prominent legal thinkers. Washington Times columnist Tony Blankley will be serving as guest moderator. Admission is free; registration information is available here, and the event can be watched live at the link.

Finally, a Pro-Trade Proposal on Climate Change

One of the main recommendations in my recent paper on climate change and trade was to reduce trade barriers on “environmental goods and services.” Trade liberalization in this area is slated for special attention in the Doha round of multilateral trade negotiations, but progress there is decidedly unimpressive.

I’m under no illusion that this development had anything to do with my recommendations, but it seems that the 30 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are attempting a trade deal amongst themselves and China to expedite tariff reductions in “climate friendly” goods (more here).  Apparently it is designed to be an incentive to get Beijing on board for a global climate deal, but of course American consumers and businesses would gain from cheaper and better access to green technology, too.

I would, of course, prefer that U.S. lawmakers see the value in reducing tariffs on all goods without waiting for the other OECD members to catch on, but surely this development is better than the alternative.

Who Will Fill the Gap Left by Don Fisher?

Don Fisher, co-founder of the The Gap chain, passed away on Sunday. Not only was Fisher a partner in the construction of a vast retail empire that would make any entrepreneur proud, he was also a partner in funding the expansion of the KIPP chain of charter schools – something that would make any philanthropist proud.

Thanks to the $60 million that he and his wife Doris committed to KIPP’s growth, it now serves 20,000 students in 82 schools across America. In k-12 education, public or private, that level of growth is unusual.

But how can it be sustained? How can those who share Mr. Fisher’s commitment to bringing excellent educational options within reach of all children ensure that his efforts are not simply maintained but expanded? And how can we ensure that not just KIPP but any similarly excellent school can scale up to serve a mass audience? These are questions that the education policy community desperately needs to answer.

Could the U.S. Stop Israel from Bombing Iran?

Last night, Chris Matthews presided over an odd, staccato interview with AEI’s Michael Rubin and Time magazine’s Bob Baer that was enough to make one feel sorry for the interviewees.  Matthews was wildly whipping questions at Rubin and Baer, but they both did an admirable job returning Matthews’ volleys.

One interesting topic that came up was whether the Obama administration should discourage Israel from attacking Iran.  Rubin and Baer agreed that at this point an Israeli attack would be unhelpful and should be discouraged, but Baer noted that our ability to prevent such an attack is “zero.”  They agreed that the likelihood of an Israeli strike in the next year was “greater than 50-50” and Rubin suggested that the Israeli timeline for an attack was “months if not weeks.”

Zbigniew Brzezinski recently broached the subject of Israeli overflight of Iraqi airspace in an unfortunately provocative manner, telling the Daily Beast that the United States ought to make clear to the Israelis that there was a real danger of “a Liberty in reverse,” meaning the prospect that Israeli aircraft overflying Iraq may find themselves under fire from the United States, the de facto owners of Iraqi airspace.  (The Iraqi government that we have helped obtain power almost certainly would be under great pressure to respond militarily to Israeli overflight.)  Neoconservatives predictably pounced on this framing.

Readers interested in the technical questions surrounding a potential Israeli strike can find an optimistic assessment here. [.pdf] But this larger issue of whether the United States could stop Israel from doing something contrary to American interests reminded me of this passage George Kennan wrote about U.S. involvement in the Middle East more generally in 1977.  In The Cloud of Danger, Kennan called on U.S. policymakers to

kennanbring about an early clarification–not just vis-a-vis the Israelis themselves but also vis-a-vis the Arabs–of the limits of our responsibility for Israeli policy.  We have allowed the impression to become established throughout the entire region that we have it in our power to make the Israelis do almost anything we want, and that this being the case, we are really responsible for Israeli policy.  This assumption is reflected in a host of Arab statements.  It is, of course, wholly incorrect.  Not only can we not dictate to the Israelis, who are very well aware of the strength of their bargaining power vis-a-vis us, but it is a real question whether we ought to do it even if we could.  (More about that in a moment.)

[…]

[W]e have allowed ourselves to be maneuvered into a position where each of the two parties believes it can use us for its own ends, where each has the impression that it is primarily through us that its desiderata can be achieved, with the result that we are always first to be blamed, no matter whose ox is gored; and all this in a situation where we actually have very little influence with either party.  Seldom, surely, can a great power have got itself into a more unsound and unnecessary position.

I stand firmly with [George] Ball on the need for an attempt to reach an understanding with the Soviet Union with relation to the larger problems of the region, but not on the details of a possible Arab-Israeli settlement.  That, it seems to me, should be left for direct negotiation between Israel and her Arab neighbors.  Our own role should be confined to assuring that the Israelis are strong enough militarily so that the idea of crushing them by force of arms does not offer promising prospects to anybody, and so that they have an adequate measure of bargaining power in any negotiations on these subjects they may enter into.  But we should not try to tell them, or the Arabs, what the terms of a settlement should be.  It is they, after all, not we, who would have to live with any settlement that might be achieved.  Many of us can think, I am sure, of concessions which, in our personal opinion, it would be wise for the Israelis to make; but for the United States government to take the responsibility of urging them to make such concessions is quite another matter.  There are many who would think, for example, that it would be wise for them to give up the Golan Heights.  They may of course be right.  But how can we be sure?  What would our responsibility be if we urged this upon them and it turned out to be disastrous?

A couple of thoughts.  First, obviously the repeated references to “the Arabs” reflect the book’s authorship pre-1979.  Second, Kennan is clearly uncomfortable with a situation in which a foreign country, fairly pursuing what it perceives to be its own interests, can pull America along for the ride.  (This is a mainstream position in U.S. views of Israel today: the idea that the United States should write Israel a blank check and allow that country to do what it may, with lockstep American support.)  Third, and I think most interesting, is Kennan’s discomfort at the prospect of directing Israel’s foreign policy ourselves.  (This is an increasingly mainstream position in the foreign-policy debate today, where U.S. analysts decide that they can perceive Israeli interests better than the Israelis can, so we should intervene and pressure them to act as we think they should.)

Kennan recognized that the Israelis, unlike the United States, live in a rough neighborhood and that they simply have different national interests than we do.  But the idea that we ought to demand various concessions from the Israelis, or attempt to dictate their foreign policy to them, appears to have horrified Kennan.  Decisions about Israeli security could have serious consequences for the people who live there, and for Kennan this seems to have been a strong argument for putting the weight of costs and benefits squarely on the shoulders of the Israelis themselves, beyond the (unlikely, even in 1977) prospect of Israel being militarily overrun.

To listen to the Matthews-Baer-Rubin discussion today, the Israelis are preparing to do something contrary to U.S. national interests about which we can do nothing.  As Kennan wrote, “Seldom, surely, can a great power have got itself into a more unsound and unnecessary position.”

More Fear-Mongering Claptrap from Max Boot

Max Boot, fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and perhaps one of America’s most radical neo-imperialists, eight years ago this month likened the Afghan mission to British colonial rule:

Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets…This was supposed to be ‘for the good of the natives,’ a phrase that once made progressives snort in derision, but may be taken more seriously after the left’s conversion (or, rather, reversion) in the 1990s to the cause of ‘humanitarian’ interventions. [emphasis mine]

Just yesterday, this “stay-the-course” proponent said President Obama should fight on in Afghanistan and properly resource the counterinsurgency mission. Sadly, Boot’s arguments are so faulty and disjointed that it is difficult to decide where to begin first. Here I go…

Boot believes that the coalition should properly resource the war effort. What does that even mean? What Boot neglects to tell his readers is that our current policy requires more troops than we could ever send. The metric for successful counterinsurgency missions suggested by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps would require 200,000 counterinsurgents in southern Afghanistan alone, and upwards of 650,000 in the country as a whole, for upwards of 12 to 14 years—not including the last eight. The time and resources required for assisting Afghanistan would not be accomplished within costs acceptable to American and NATO publics.

Another critical point that Boot fails to disclose is how recklessly ambitious the current mission is. The cost in blood and treasure that we would have to incur—coming on top of what we have already paid—far outweighs any possible benefits, even accepting the most optimistic estimates for the likelihood of success. The United States does not have the patience, cultural knowledge, or legitimacy to transform what is a deeply divided, poverty stricken, tribal-based society into a self-sufficient, non-corrupt, and stable electoral democracy. And even if Americans did commit several hundred thousand troops and decades of armed nation-building, success would hardly be guaranteed, especially in a country notoriously suspicious of outsiders and largely devoid of central authority. Western powers could invest hundreds of thousands of troops and twice or three times the materiel and money and still not create a functioning state. Even in the unlikely event that we forged a stable Afghanistan, al Qaeda might simply reposition its presence into other regions of the world.

Of course, America could narrow its objectives in Afghanistan to degrading al Qaeda’s capabilities. But Boot pooh-poohs this alternative, arguing, “Vice President Joe Biden favors a smaller-scale strategy that would employ high-tech weapons and special forces to kill terrorists from afar. But such a strategy has rarely, if ever, succeeded.” Boot’s example of where such a strategy has not succeeded? “It has been employed by Israel against Hamas and Hezbollah. The result: Hamas controls Gaza, and Hezbollah controls southern Lebanon. It has been employed by the U.S. in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The result: The Taliban controls western Pakistan and large swaths of eastern and southern Afghanistan.”

Equating the United States vis-à-vis al Qaeda to Israel vis-à-vis Hezbollah is a stretch. For one, the two political and security situations are wildly dissimilar. Afghanistan presents a liberation insurgency that includes indigenous groups attempting to expel a foreign occupier, while Hezbollah is a national insurgency of indigenous groups attempting to control the government of Lebanon. Moreover, one could make the argument that Hezbollah presents a pressing existential threat to Israel, whereas al Qaeda presents nothing in the way of an existential threat to the United States.

In addition, the strategy that Boot casually dismisses, that of targeting key militant conspirators, had a far-reaching effect in Iraq, and, according to authoritative sources, was quite possibly the biggest factor in reducing violence there. These operations were highly classified direct action activities, dubbed “collaborative warfare,” which combined intelligence intercepts with precision strikes to eliminate key insurgent leaders of the Shia and Sunni insurgency. Bob Woodward accounts these techniques in his book The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008.

Overall, I couldn’t disagree with Boot more. Instead of increasing troops, America should scale back its military presence. Rather than trying to protect Afghan villages from the Taliban, the United States should concentrate on al Qaeda cells in Pakistan through surgical tactic such as special forces operations, intelligence sharing, and Predator missile attacks when necessary. Whether al Qaeda coalesces in Sudan, in Yemen, or in Miami, Florida, our policy should not be to redesign a people’s way of life or tinker with the importance of their communal identity. Yet that is what Boot wants us to do in Afghanistan.

Sadly, people like Boot have lost sight of a crucial question: not about whether a state-building mission in Afghanistan is achievable, but whether it constitutes a vital U.S. national security interest. Central Asia holds little intrinsic strategic value to the United States, and America’s security will not necessarily be endangered even if an oppressive political faction takes over portions of Afghan territory. Given Afghanistan’s numerous challenges, and the fact that a protracted guerrilla war will weaken Western powers militarily and economically, the fundamental objective should be to get out of Afghanistan.

Nanny State Doesn’t Like Competition - the English Version

A previous post by David Boaz poked fun at bureaucrats in Michigan for threatening a woman for the ostensible crime of keeping an eye on her neighbors’ kids without a government permit. English bureaucrats are equally clueless, badgering two women who take turns caring for each other’s kids. The common theme, of course, is that bureaucrats lack common sense – but the real lesson is that this is the inevitable consequence of government intervention (especially when politicians say they are “doing it for the children). The BBC reports:

England’s Children’s Minister wants a review of the case of two police officers told they were breaking the law, caring for each other’s children.

Ofsted said the arrangement contravened the Childcare Act because it lasted for longer than two hours a day, and constituted receiving “a reward”.

It said the women would have to be registered as childminders.

…Ms Shepherd, who serves with Thames Valley Police, recalled: “A lady came to the front door and she identified herself as being from Ofsted. She said a complaint had been made that I was illegally childminding.

“I was just shocked - I thought they were a bit confused about the arrangement between us. So I invited her in and told her situation - the arrangement between Lucy and I - and I was shocked when she told me I was breaking the law.”

…Minister for Children, Schools and Families Vernon Coaker insisted the Childcare Act 2006 was in place “to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all children”.