Tag: founders

The Seat-Warming Senate

With Gov. Deval Patrick’s appointment of longtime Kennedy courtier Paul Kirk to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s seat in the U.S. Senate, there are now at least three close aides holding on to Senate seats while their states go through the formality of an election. The governor of Delaware appointed Joe Biden’s longtime friend and former chief of staff to fill the rest of his term in the Senate. Can you name him? It is generally thought that he is obligingly holding on to the seat until Biden’s son Beau gets back from National Guard service and is able to run to succeed his father. And in Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist named his former chief of staff to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Mel Martinez until the 2010 election in which Crist is running for the seat. There are more seat-fillers in the Senate than at the Oscars.

Of course, Kennedy himself took his seat when he attained the age of 30, after it was kept warm for him by family retainer Benjamin A. Smith III.

Meanwhile, as of 2005 there were 18 senators who gained office at least partly through their family ties – sons, daughters, wives, nephews of former senators, governors, presidents, and so on.

The Founders envisioned the Senate as an assembly of wise and accomplished men, chosen for their experience and judiciousness. Political campaigns that favor the handsome, the glib, the panderers, and the best fundraisers are bad enough. But a Senate full of legacies and seat-warmers is especially unfortunate.

From MSNBC to Cato — America’s Top Models

Next Sunday, MSNBC will feature a sort of townhall meeting on how great schools can pull kids out of poverty. Though headlined by Bill Cosby, perhaps the most electrifying panelist will be charter school principal Ben Chavis. On October 2nd at noon, you can come to Cato to see Ben live, and ask him how we can replicate his stunning success. Also joining us will be Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews, who’ll talk about the growing KIPP network of (now 82!) charter schools. Other than perhaps KIPP’s founders, nobody knows more about them than Jay. I’ll be simultaneously acting as cheerleader (I love these schools) and devil’s advocate (I’m skeptical that they can be brought to the masses within the charter sector).

To register, just visit the event page here:  “America’s Top Models: Can the Nation’s Best Charter Schools Be Brought to Scale?”

Incidentally, Ben has been called the most politically incorrect man in America, so Cato disavows all responsibility for any heads that explode during the course of his presentation.

Who’s the Isolationist?

There may be no more vicious epithet from neoconservatives these days than “isolationist.”  One would think the term would mean something like xenophobic no-nothings who want to have nothing to do with the rest of the world.  No trade or immigration.  Little or no cultural exchange and political cooperation.  Autarchy all around.

But no.  ”Isolationist” apparently means something quite different.  Never mind your views of the merits of international engagement.  If you don’t want to kill lots of foreigners in lots of foreign wars you are automatically considered to be an isolationist.

President Bill Clinton called Republican legislators “isolationists” for not wanting to insert the U.S. military into the middle of a complex but strategically irrelevant guerrilla conflict in Kosovo.  (He made the same criticism against them for not supporting even more money for foreign aid, which presumably meant the Heritage Foundation was filled with isolationists at the time). 

But the definition is even broader today.  It means not willing to go to war for any country that clamors for a security guarantee irrespective of its relevance to American security.  At least, that appears to be the definition applied by Sally McNamara of Heritage.

On Monday in National Interest online I criticized the argument advanced by Ms. McNamara and others that alliances and military commitments automatically prevent war.  More specifically, the claim is that  if only the U.S. would bring the country of Georgia into NATO – or simply issue a Membership Action Plan, which neither offers a security promise nor guarantees NATO membership – Moscow would never dare take the risk of attacking Georgia.

History suggests this is a dangerous assumption.  Both World Wars I and II featured alliances that were supposed to prevent conflict but which instead acted as transmission belts of war.  One can argue whether or not the alliances were prudent.  One cannot argue that they prevented conflict as so many people thought (and certainly hoped) they would.

Thus, alliances should be viewed as serious organizations.  A promise to defend another nation should be treated as a momentous undertaking.  And the public should be aware of all of the risks of policies advanced by the nation’s leaders.  This should go double when a nuclear-armed power is involved and treble when the geopolitical stakes are trivial for the U.S. while significant for the opposing state.

For suggesting this Ms. McNamara argues that I am both an isolationist and a neo-isolationist.  (I’m not sure of the difference between the two.  Maybe the latter indicates that she realizes I believe in free trade, increased immigration, and international cooperation, which makes for a curious kind of “isolationism.”  Still, advocating a reduction in military commitments and the consequent risk of war, rather than a policy of galloping about the globe tossing security guarantees hither and yon, apparently means I am at least a “neo-isolationist.”)

Even worse, I am accused of “appeasement” for suggesting that being prepared to trade Washington for Tbilisi is a bad bargain.  Ah, the “A” word.  To count the cost and not support every commitment, no matter how distant or irrelevant, is the same as encouraging the next Adolf Hitler.

Please.

It is time for a serious discussion as to why we have alliances today.  If it isn’t to promote American security, let’s be clear about that.  If NATO is an international social club, or a second European Union, or a global Good Housekeeping seal of sorts, then policymakers should level with the American people who are paying the bills.

Even more so, if the alliance is geared to defending everyone else, then let’s admit that too.  Georgia would not be defending America.  Nor will Albania, Croatia, Estonia, and the other geopolitical titans recently inducted into the NATO fraternity.  The security commitment effectively runs one way.

So for what stakes are NATO expansion advocates willing to risk war with nuclear-armed Russia?  To hope that America’s commitment is never called is no substitute for honestly assessing the risks, interests, and trade-offs at stake.

If none of these considerations is relevant – if failing to constantly add new defense welfare clients is the same as “withdrawing from the world” and giving Hitler a green light – is there any stopping point? Presumably no.  If Georgia is to come in, then presumably Ukraine too.  If Ukraine, how about Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia?  Why not Mongolia, Nepal, and Bhutan?  Maybe go a bit further.  Perhaps Sri Lanka? 

But why stop there?  Should not any nation which desires protection from any other nation be entitled to American protection?  After all, to say no would, in Ms. McNamara’s words, offer “a geo-political victory to Moscow” or someone else, whether Beijing, New Delhi, Ankara, or whoever.  Failing to protect weak states – East Timor, Congo, Belize, and more – would demonstrate that we have failed to learn the lesson that “appeasement simply does not work.”

It is easy to conjure up new missions for the U.S. military.  But the most important question is whether these tasks advance the security of America – this nation, its people, and its system of constitutional liberty.  Scattering security guarantees about the globe as if they were party favors – treating them as a costless panacea to the problem of war – makes America less, not more secure. 

And making that argument does not mean one is an “isolationist” advocating “appeasement.”  Unless the Founders were isolationist appeasers as well.

As George Washington observed in his Farewell Address:

Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

His sentiments apply even more today, when America’s adversaries are pitiful and few, and America’s friends are many and dominant.  The U.S. need not – and should not – withdraw from the world.  But Washington should stop making unnecessary and dangerous military commitments.

The Politicians and the Founders

Both President Obama and Sen. John McCain cited the Founders in their weekly radio addresses today, as they made the case for government actions that would have appalled those Founders. Obama invoked “the indomitable spirit of the first American citizens who made [independence] day possible” in arguing for a federal takeover of education, energy, and health care.

He might have trouble explaining how his policies reflect the spirit of the men who left us such words as these:

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must be happy.

Were we directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want bread.

A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.

Meanwhile, McCain called for the American government to more vigorously support the protesters in Iran. What would the Founders say to him?

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible….Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest.

Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.

[America] has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. …Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

Maybe each week there should be three national radio broadcasts: one from the incumbent president, one from the other big-government party, and one reflecting the views of the Founders.