Tag: Richard Lugar

The President Has an Opportunity on Afghanistan. Will He Use It?

AP Photo/David Guttenfelder

There are not going to be many better opportunities to change course in Afghanistan than the one presented by the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. It may be worth highlighting how ripe an opportunity this is:

  1. The politics on the Hill are changing. It probably comes as no surprise that Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Jim McGovern (D-MA) would like to end the Afghanistan war, but their “Afghanistan Exit and Accountability Act” has brought on co-sponsors like Tea Party stalwarts Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Justin Amash (R-MI). This means that in the days and weeks to come, there will be Republicans on television and radio making the case for withdrawal. That could have a profound effect on where the debate goes from here. On the Senate side, establishment Republican graybeards like Richard Lugar (R-IN) seem to be indicating that their patience is wearing out.
  2. Wired-in reporters like Time’s Joe Klein are saying that they believe dramatic drawdowns are coming. Here he goes so far as to suggest that the United States may draw down to roughly 20,000 troops before the end of next year.
  3. Gen. Petraeus is going to have a very full plate running the CIA, and will have his attention focused on running the sorts of operations like the one Sunday that got bin Laden. Moreover, his replacement, Gen. John Allen, is a Marine, which Tom Ricks suggests makes him “likely to be skeptical of Army support structure, and…likely [to] be comfortable with an austere infrastructure during the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan.”
  4. Silly statements by political leaders could misinform the public in useful ways. It was absurd for Rudy Giuliani to say that getting bin Laden was “like taking out Hitler,” but if frames like World War II keep coming up, and if the war against al Qaeda is thought of in analogy with wars against powerful states, historically, once you get the head guy, the war’s over. Everyone knows that’s not the case with a maintenance problem like terrorism, but the public, like Giuliani, is probably casting about for some place where we can call this thing over and move on.
  5. The neoconservatives and liberal imperialists’ numbers have thinned and they have spread themselves too thinly. Between Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, the public seems to be tired of war. And my impressionistic sense is that the public increasingly has had it with the median writer at the New Republic or Weekly Standard.
  6. The giant debt. The fact is that cutting military spending can’t singlehandedly solve the long-term debt problem, but the zeitgeist of the day, austerity, has a way of clarifying minds about whether using their children’s credit card to pay $100-plus billion per year for a nation-building mission in Afghanistan is really worth the cost.

In short, the president has increasing political cover, a clear pivot point, a widely-appreciated need, public deference, and sound strategic logic for dramatically scaling back in Afghanistan. If he spends a nickel of every dollar of political capital he spent on Obamacare, he can do this. On the other hand, if he fails to seize the opportunity, he’ll have no one to blame but himself.

If he needs some ideas, he could start here or here.

Bin Laden’s Death and the Debate over the U.S. Mission in Afghanistan

Osama Bin Laden’s death marks a significant achievement in the fight against al Qaeda. It also highlights the fact that our ostensible objective for continuing the war in Afghanistan has been achieved. Although some lawmakers have been quick to claim that bin Laden’s demise proves that our nation-building mission is showing signs of success, others recognize that this momentous achievement justifies scaling down our presence in Afghanistan. Indeed, rather than expansive counterinsurgency campaigns, targeted counterterrorism measures would suffice.

It is encouraging that Republican members of Congress are questioning the mission. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed his concern yesterday:

[Senator Lugar] said Afghanistan no longer holds the strategic importance to match Washington’s investment. He cited recent comments from senior national-security officials that terrorist strikes on America are more likely to be planned in places like Yemen.

Lugar raised concerns that U.S. policy on Afghanistan is focused more on building up its economic, political and security systems. “Such grand nation-building is beyond our powers,” he said bluntly.

Most poignantly, he summed up the problem as such:

With Al Qaeda largely displaced from the country, but franchised in other locations, Afghanistan does not carry a strategic value that justifies 100,000 American troops and a $100 billion per year cost, especially given current fiscal constraints.

These realities have neither shifted the GOP establishment’s talking points on defense, nor the Obama administration’s “stay-the-course” policy in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, this debate, especially among Republicans, is important. As my Cato colleague Ben Friedman has pointed out in original research, the Tea Party Republicans that swept into office last November may have good instincts, but have done little to shift the overarching debate about the efficacy of nation-building. Perhaps increased calls for rethinking the mission will have to come from senior GOP types like Lugar. As my other Cato colleague, Gene Healy, trenchantly notes, “There was always something odd about conservatives jumping from ‘they hate us because we’re free’ to ‘if we make them free, then they won’t hate us.”

Cato scholars have been making the case for de-escalation from Afghanistan for the past several years. Hopefully, more Republicans will recognize, as most libertarians already do, that it is inconsistent to espouse talk of fiscal responsibility and limited government at home while engaging in social engineering and nation-building abroad. More republicans should recognize that there is nothing conservative about wasting taxpayer dollars on a mission that weakens America economically and militarily. As Cato founder and president Ed Crane has argued, it’s time for the GOP leadership to return to its non-interventionist roots.

Since 9/11, America’s mission in Afghanistan has evolved dramatically. It’s gone from punishing al Qaeda and the Taliban to paving roads and building schools. To imagine that the U.S.-led coalition can create a functioning economy and establish civilian and military bureaucracies through some “government in a box” highlights the ignorance and arrogance of our central planners in Washington.

Let’s hope that the landmark death of Osama bin Laden brings a swift end to our ongoing investment and sacrifice.

Thursday Links

  • The Obama Doctrine fails to address the limitations of Washington’s attempts to shape foreign conflicts.
  • The 2012 Republican presidential field has thus far failed to produce a small-government conservative.
  • FREE E-BOOK: Government Failure: A Primer on Public Choice is available for reading and download (PDF) for a limited time on our website.
  • Republicans and Democrats are quibbling over a measly $61 billion in spending cuts–that’s a failure of leadership.
  • Under the failing status quo, Big Sugar wins, and Joe Taxpayer loses.
  • Ian Vásquez, director of Cato’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, joined C-SPAN’s Washington Journal to talk about the failure of foreign aid:


Lugar Targets Federal Sugar Racket

The federal government has been meddling with sugar production since 1934. Today’s convoluted system of supply controls, price supports, and trade restrictions benefits domestic sugar producers at the expense of consumers and utilizing industries. In other words, sugar producers “win” and the rest of the country “loses.”

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) just introduced the “Free Sugar Act of 2011,” which would abolish the federal sugar racket. In a Washington Times op-ed on his bill, Lugar doesn’t pull any punches:

The collapse of communism brought an end to many of the world’s command-and-control economic systems and central planning by government bureaucrats. But a notable exception is the United States government’s sugar program. A complicated system of marketing allotments, price supports, purchase guarantees, quotas and tariffs that only a Soviet apparatchik could love, the U.S. sugar program has actually lasted longer than the Soviet Union itself.

A Cato essay on agricultural regulations and trade barriers elaborates on points Lugar makes in his op-ed:

  • The big losers from federal sugar programs are U.S. consumers. The Government Accountability Office estimates that U.S. sugar policies cost American consumers almost $2 billion annually. (Lugar says it could be as much as $4 billion.)
  • The GAO found that 42 percent of all sugar subsidies go to just 1 percent of sugar growers. To protect their monopolies, many sugar growers, such as the Fanjul family of Florida, have become influential campaign supporters of many key members of Congress.
  • U.S. food industries that buy sugar are harmed by current sugar policies as well. The employment in U.S. sugar growing is 61,000, which compares to employment in U.S. businesses that use sugar of 988,000.  According to a government report, for each sugar growing and harvesting job saved through high U.S. sugar prices, nearly three confectionery manufacturing jobs are lost.
  • Numerous U.S. food manufacturers have relocated to Canada where sugar prices are less than half of U.S. prices and to Mexico where prices are two-thirds of U.S. levels.

The federal government engages in a lot activities that are difficult to defend. But when it comes to sugar, the government’s protections are clearly indefensible.

Lugar on Libya

Daniel Larison points to this statement by Sen. Richard Lugar which is really a breath of fresh air:

Sen. Richard Lugar

…Given the costs of a no-fly zone, the risks that our involvement would escalate, the uncertain reception in the Arab street of any American intervention in an Arab country, the potential for civilian deaths, the unpredictability of the endgame, the strains on our military, and other factors, it is doubtful that U.S. interests would be served by imposing a no-fly zone over Libya.   If the Obama Administration is contemplating this step, however, it should begin by seeking a declaration of war against Libya that would allow for a full Congressional debate on the issue. In addition, it should ask Arab League governments and other governments advocating for a no-fly zone to pledge resources necessary to pay for such an operation.

[…]

Finally, given continuing upheaval in the Middle East, we should understand that the situation in Libya may not be the last to generate calls for American military operations.   We need a broader public discussion about the goals and limits of the U.S. role in the Middle East, especially as it pertains to potential military intervention.

Emphasis mine. To hear a member of Congress reassert its Constitutional prerogative over the war power is really refreshing. The late Robert C. Byrd would be pleased.