Archives: 03/2011

Voices on the AT&T - T-Mobile Merger

News that AT&T plans a purchase of T-Mobile has brought out a lot of commentary.

On the TechLiberationFront blog, Larry Downes critiqued the emotional reaction of some advocates for government-managed communications.

On the TechLiberationFront blog, Jerry Brito noted how the deal highlights the artificial spectrum scarcity created by the Federal Communications Commission.

And on the TechLiberationFront blog, Adam Thierer catalogued a series of thoughts on various aspects of the merger.

Picking up a theme? That’s right: the federal government should not try to manage the development of the communications marketplace.

Offensive Goals, Defensive Tactics

Early Sunday, allied warplanes, including U.S. air force fighters, destroyed a column of Libyan tanks and other vehicles set to attack the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Monday the rebels drove forty miles down the coast to Ajdabiya, where they were pushed back by government forces employing rocket and tank fire. According to the New York Times, allied warplanes flew overhead but didn’t attack.

Why provide air support in one situation and not the other?

It appears that the coalition’s rules of engagement allow the former because it is seen as consistent with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973’s authorization of force to protect civilians. The latter counts as close air support, which is not authorized.

In essence, we are helping the rebels when they defend towns but not when they try to take them. It now seems unlikely that either side can win under those circumstances. So, rhetoric about ousting Gaddafi notwithstanding, our policy serves to stalemate the civil war, effectively severing Libya. That seems a recipe for a long stay.

This mismatch of means and ends results from the pretense that we are intervening to stop violence rather than taking a side in a civil war. The fact that coalition-building encouraged the pretense does not make it smart. The Secretary of State argues that our actions will pressure Qaddafi’s supporters in Tripoli to oust him. But it’s not clear why our rigorously defensive stance would embolden them. Having stayed loyal weeks ago, when the regime was shakier, they are unlikely to quit now.

I would have preferred for the United States to stay out of this civil war but for intelligence support and advice to the rebels. If we can disengage and leave the bombing to the Europeans, I hope we do so. But whoever is taking the lead should acknowledge that they are sponsoring rebels aiming to overthrow Qadaffi and adopt a policy that does more than defend them. The allies should give the rebels close air support and maybe strategic bombing. If that means abusing the words of the U.N. resolution, so be it. If it costs the support of the Arab League and whoever else supports air strikes based on the pretense that they are purely humanitarian, it’s probably a trade worth making.

I still naively hope for a Congress that at least would force public consideration of these issues through exercise of its constitutional powers.

Rand Paul’s Balanced Budget Plan

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has released a detailed plan that would balance the federal budget in five years. Paul’s plan would achieve balance by halting and reversing the historic rise in federal spending. Taxes would not be increased, but revenues would steadily increase as the economy recovers.

The following charts compare Paul’s plan versus President Obama’s recent budget submission for fiscal 2012:

While Obama intends to continue spending at a historically high level, Paul would reduce spending as a share of the economy. Paul takes the scalpel to all areas of federal spending, including discretionary, defense, and mandatory. However, it is not a radical plan. In fact, it’s a practical, common sense budget that recognizes that the federal government’s growth has become unsustainable, and thus a threat to our economic well-being and future living standards.

President Obama’s Cognitive Dissonance on Trade with Latin America

As President Obama flies from Brazil to Chile today and then on to El Salvador later this week, trade and jobs have been a major theme of his trip. So far the tour has been a public relations success, but it also highlights the contradictions in the president’s trade policy toward our Latin American neighbors.

One contradiction is that the president says nice things about trade agreements in the abstract, but he has so far refused to show leadership when it really matters. In an op-ed in USAToday on Friday, as he was about to depart for Brazil, the president wrote:

Thanks in part to our trade agreements across the region, we now export three times as much to Latin America as we do to China, and our exports to the region — which are growing faster than our exports to the rest of the world — will soon support more than 2 million jobs here in the United States.

Yet nowhere in the 900-word article did the president even mention “Colombia” and “Panama,” two countries that have already signed trade agreements with the United States but are waiting for the president to ask Congress to actually vote on them. The Colombia agreement alone would stimulate an extra $1 billion a year in U.S. exports. (See our recent Cato study.)

Yet because his labor-union allies oppose both agreements, President Obama could not bring himself to even mention them in a major article on Latin American trade, exports, and jobs. More than passing strange.

A second contradiction is that the president talks a lot about reducing barriers to trade in other countries, but hardly ever acknowledges remaining trade barriers in the United States. No other country would like to hear that acknowledgment more than Brazil, whose producers face high U.S. barriers to some of their most important exports.

In a speech yesterday in Rio de Janeiro, the president told his hosts:

In a global economy, the United States and Brazil should expand trade, expand investment, so that we create new jobs and new opportunities in both of our nations. And that’s why we’re working to break down barriers to doing business. That’s why we’re building closer relationships between our workers and our entrepreneurs.

Our commercial relations with Brazil could be even closer if the United States did not maintain high trade barriers against such major Brazilian exports as sugar, ethanol, steel, and orange juice. Brazil would also export more cotton and soybeans if the U.S. government did not so heavily subsidize our own production.

If President Obama has been working to break down those U.S.-imposed barriers to U.S.-Brazilian trade, I somehow missed the news.

Schools for Misrule Reviewed

Today was a banner day for my new book on legal academia, Schools for Misrule. It was reviewed at the Wall Street Journal by John McGinnis, professor of law at Northwestern, and at the Weekly Standard by George Leef, director of research at the North Carolina-based John Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. (One or both reviews may be behind subscriber screens.) Both reviews were highly favorable.

McGinnis:

American law schools wield more social influence than any other part of the American university. In ‘Schools for Misrule,’ Walter Olson offers a fine dissection of these strangely powerful institutions. One of his themes is that law professors serve the interests of the legal profession above all else; they seek to enlarge the scope of the law, creating more work for lawyers even as the changes themselves impose more costs on society.

Leef:

At most law schools—and emphatically at elite ones such as Obama’s Harvard—students are immersed in a bath of statist theories that rationalize ever-expanding government control over nearly every aspect of life. … They learn that the concepts of limited government and federalism are outmoded antiques that merely defend unjust privilege. … Schools for Misrule explains how most of the damaging ideas that lawyers, politicians, and judges are eager to fasten upon society originate in our law schools. …

The most recent explosion of legal activism involves making the United States subject to international law. Olson notes that at a New York University Law School symposium, speakers declared that international law requires nations to guarantee all people the right to health, education, “decent” work, and freedom from “severe social exclusion.” Columbia has created a campaign called “Bring Human Rights Home,” which is intended to generate pressure to make American policies consonant with the collectivist notions of “the international community.”

For readers who’d like to hear more about the ideas in the book, I’ll be giving lunchtime talks tomorrow (Tuesday) at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. and on Thursday at the Heartland Institute in Chicago. And on Thursday night I’m scheduled to appear on one of radio’s premier discussion shows, WGN’s Extension 720 with Milt Rosenberg. The book as of this afternoon had reached #1,009 in the Amazon standings, #1 in the One-L category, #2 in Legal Education (following an LSAT prep book), and #7 in Law (with only one policy-oriented book, The New Jim Crow, ahead of it; the others are true-crime and student-prep books).

Weinberger/Powell Doctrine R.I.P.

This morning at the Skeptics, I blogged about a series of questions raised by the ongoing military operations against Libya. But I left room for one big question: Is the Weinberger/Powell Doctrine dead?

Actually, it isn’t a question. It’s a statement: the doctrine that sought to prevent the United States from engaging in risky and counterproductive missions that had nothing to do with protecting U.S. vital interests (e.g. Lebanon 1983; Somalia, 1991; and Kosovo, 1999) is dead. Shovel dirt on it.

To review, the doctrine was first coined by Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, in a speech at the National Press Club in 1984. Weinberger was aided by a rising military officer, Colin Powell, who later adapted the concepts for his own purposes as National Security Adviser for Reagan and later as Chairman of the JCS under George H.W. Bush. The essential elements boil down to five key questions:

  1. Is there a compelling national interest at stake?
  2. Have the costs and consequences of intervention been considered?
  3. Have we exhausted all available options for resolving the problem, i.e. is force a last resort?
  4. Is there a clear and achievable military mission, and therefore a well-defined end state?
  5. Is there strong public support - both domestic and international - for the operation?

The current operations over Libya fail on at least four counts.

There is no compelling U.S. national interest at stake. The rationale for the mission is purely humanitarian: stopping violence against civilians. Whenever the United States involves itself in such missions, it inevitably raises questions about why we are intervening in this case, and not in others.

The costs and consequences have not been considered or debated. The claim that it will be quick and easy is belied by troubling parallels to Iraq, not the least of which is the divided nature of Libyan society, and the possibility – indeed, likelihood – that in the event of regime collapse a long-term nation-building project will be required to prevent reprisal attacks against former regime supporters.

The mission is not clearly defined, and we do not have a clear understanding of an end state. In the run-up to last week’s UNSC resolution, a number of observers pointed out that a no-fly zone alone was unlikely to halt Qaddafi’s advance on rebel positions. The resolution went one step further, allowing for attacks against forces on the ground. But the danger to civilians will persist for some time (see above), and that seemingly discrete object in fact allows for a very long-term mission, at a time when U.S. forces remain in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are also engaged in numerous other missions around the globe.

There is some public support for the mission, but I’m most interested in domestic opinion, and I’m most troubled by the Obama administration’s failure to obtain congressional approval for war. There was time for such an initiative, but the administration chose to dedicate its attention to the UN building in New York, not the U.S. Capitol at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. If members of Congress had been asked in advance, they might well have given approval, but someone up there would have asked at least two crucial questions: How long will this take? And how much will it cost?

I will allow that the military option might have been the only thing remaining in the policy toolbox to halt Qaddafi’s advance on rebel positions, but that doesn’t answer the question of why the U.S. military should have been involved (with no vital U.S. interest at stake, and with the U.S. military busy elsewhere, it should not have been), and it also doesn’t address the more troubling question about the long-term ramifications of said military action, even if the best-case scenario of Qaddafi’s speedy ouster plays out.

It goes too far to claim that the Libyan intervention killed the Weinberger/Powell doctrine. It was already dead, or at least very sick. But I see President Obama’s latest decision as a clear indication that the relative wisdom and prudence of the Reagan/Bush I years is but a distant memory.

Monday Links

  • The New Health Care Law: What a Difference a Year Makes,” featuring a keynote address from constitutional attorney and counsel in Florida v. HHS David Rivkin, and panels including economist and former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Cato director of health policy Michael F. Cannon and vice president for legal affairs Roger Pilon, and many more, begins at 1pm Eastern today. Please join us as we stream the event at our new live events hub, or watch on Facebook. If you prefer television, the forum will be broadcast live on C-SPAN 2.
  • “The next time gun-control advocates point to violence in Mexico and call for more restrictions on gun sales or a revived assault-weapons ban, they should consider that the problem may not be with the laws on the books, but with those who enforce them.”
  • The Bush administration far underestimated the divide between Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish Iraqis before 2003–the Obama administration may be making the same type of mistake in Libya.
  • The U.S. military currently far exceeds its legitimate function of national defense: