Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Obama on Pakistan (and Nawaz Sharif)

The New York Times reports this morning that the Obama administration is deciding whether Pakistani opposition leader Nawaz Sharif is likely to be a reliable ally or an obstructionist force.

Honestly? This is a man who in 1999 agreed to send a special operations team to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, who later tried to forge peace with India, and recently agreed to mediate a truce between Karzai’s government and the Taliban.

Right now, there’s no solution in Afghanistan unless Pakistan is stabilized. Sure, Sharif is pompous, self-aggrandizing, and as religiously conservative as ever before, but he’s still immensely popular and (reminder to policymakers in Washington) it’s not our job to pick and choose that country’s political winners.

In this turbulent region our strategy should be narrowly tailored to securing our specific objectives (i.e. - narrowing our aim to denying al Qaida the use of sanctuaries, if that’s even still achievable), implementing the few policies likely to achieve those goals (i.e. - cooperating with local leaders and tribal elders along the Pashtun tribal belt straddling the Afghan-Pakistan border), and being flexible with whatever leader holds power in Islamabad (i.e. - not expecting Sharif to toe the line on every conceivable issue).

EDLs on the Ropes

With the REAL ID Act floundering in state resistance, DHS officials and government contractors have been pinning their hopes on “enhanced drivers licenses” or EDLs. These are state-issued driver’s licenses that the Department of Homeland Security and State Department have agreed to treat as proof of citizenship for purposes of border crossings.

With the flexibility of doing things by fiat, outside of a statutory process, the bureaucracy had gotten some traction with this ID system – most notable for its use of long-range RFID (radio frequency identification tags) to track people.

But news comes today that the Canadian province of Saskatchewan is scrapping its plans to create EDLs for U.S. border crossings, mostly due to cost.

“I was comfortable in the $25 to $50 range, but when I saw those costs (for an enhanced driver’s licence) go above $50 and nearing the cost of getting a passport, the argument for just having a passport became stronger and stronger and I think logically we’ve made the right decision here,” [Crown Corporations Minister Ken] Cheveldayoff said.

With more vocal opposition to RFID-based tracking in EDLs south of the border (that is, here in the states), the U.S. EDL may run into more than just cost concerns. And there is discomfort brewing with federal agencies cooking up an identity system on their own.

For all its faults, at least REAL ID had a statutory mandate. EDLs could end up being anything bureaucrats want them to be, which could be worse than what Congress put together in REAL ID.

Awesome, Fearsome, Awesome - Or Maybe Silly

This video is making the rounds because Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) muses in it that perhaps the Internet shouldn’t have been invented.

He immediately grants, “That’s a stupid thing to say” - perhaps for political reasons, or perhaps because he recognizes that the Internet makes us much better off despite every risk it carries and security flaw in it.

But he goes on to overstate cybersecurity risks excessively, breathlessly, and self-seriously. Not quite to the point of stupid - maybe we can call it “silly.”

The Department of Defense, he says, is “attacked” three million times a day. Well, yeah, but these “attacks” are mostly repetitious use of the same attack, mounted by “script kiddies” - unsophisticated know-nothings who get copies of others’ attacks and run them just to make trouble. The defense against this is to continually foreclose attacks and genres of attack as they develop, the way the human body develops antibodies to germs and viruses.

It’s important work, and it’s not always easy, but securing against attacks is an ongoing, stable practice in network management and a field of ongoing study in computer science. The attacks may continue to come, but it doesn’t really matter when the immunities and failsafes are in place and continuously being updated.

More important than this kind of threat inflation is the policy premise that the Internet should be treated as critical infrastructure because some important things happen on it.

Of cyber attack, Rockefeller says, “It’s an act … which can shut this country down. Shut down its electricity system, its banking system, shut down really anything we have to offer. It is an awesome problem.”

Umm, not really. Here’s Cato adjunct scholar Tim Lee, commenting on a report about the Estonian cyber attacks last year:

[S]ome mission-critical activities, including voting and banking, are carried out via the Internet in some places. But to the extent that that’s true, the lesson of the Estonian attacks isn’t that the Internet is “critical infrastructure” on par with electricity and water, but that it’s stupid to build “critical infrastructure” on top of the public Internet. There’s a reason that banks maintain dedicated infrastructure for financial transactions, that the power grid has a dedicated communications infrastructure, and that computer security experts are all but unanimous that Internet voting is a bad idea.

Tim has also noted that the Estonia attacks didn’t reach parliament, ministries, banks, and media - just their Web sites. Calm down, everyone.

But in the debate over raising the bridge or lowering the river, Rockefeller is choosing the policy that most enthuses and involves him: Get critical infrastructure onto the Internet and get the government into the cyber security business.

That’s a recipe for disaster. The right answer is to warn the operators of key infrastructure to keep critical functions off the Internet and let markets and tort law hold them responsible should they fail to maintain themselves operational.

I have written elsewhere about maintaining private responsibility for cyber security. My colleague Ben Friedman has written about who owns cyber security and more on the great cyber security freakout.

Who’s Blogging about Cato

Here’s the latest round-up of bloggers who are writing about, citing and linking to Cato research and commentary:

  • Blogging about Real ID, AxXiom for Liberty posted Jim Harper’s piece about DHS officials who skirted open meeting laws to promote the program.
  • No Land Grab, a blog covering eminent domain abuse, posted the latest Cato video on the Susette Kelo case. Jason Pye, who wrote a commentary on the case for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, linked to it as well.
  • Sights on Pennsylvania blogged about international health care systems, citing Michael D. Tanner’s January article on health care reform and a 2008 Hill Briefing that compared various systems around the world.
  • Wes Messamore, AKA The Humble Libertarian, is compiling a list of 100 libertarian blogs/Web sites, and looking for recommendations. Last week, Wes penned his thoughts on the role of the U.S. in foreign policy, making heavy use of a recent Cato article by Benjamin Friedman and a 1998 foreign policy brief by Ivan Eland, citing military intervention overseas as a cause of terrorist activity against Americans.

If you’re blogging about Cato, contact Chris Moody at cmoody [at] cato.org (subject: blogging%20about%20Cato) .

Events This Week

kennedy-bookMonday, March 23, 2009

BOOK FORUM- The Tie Goes to Freedom: Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on Liberty
12:00 PM (Luncheon to Follow)
The Cato Institute

Author Helen Knowles examines how Kennedy’s background as a law student and classroom teacher has influenced his judicial philosophy. The book begins by examining Kennedy’s judicial thought in the context of libertarian thought. Knowles does not call the justice a libertarian. Instead, in a sympathetic but not uncritical analysis, she uses libertarian philosophy, focusing on privacy, race, and speech cases, to draw out Kennedy’s views about limited government and individual liberty. Please join us for a discussion of Justice Kennedy’s “modest libertarianism,” with comments by one of the nation’s foremost constitutional scholars, Professor Randy Barnett.

Watch live online here.

CAPITOL HILL BRIEFING- Tax Havens Should Be Celebrated, Not Persecuted
12:00 PM (Lunch Included)
B-340 Rayburn House Office Building

Join Cato scholar Dan Mitchell and former member of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority Richard Rahn to review the myths and realities about the role of tax havens in the global economy.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

POLICY FORUM- Georgia’s Liberal Institutions In the Wake of War and the Global Economic Crisis
12:00 PM (Luncheon to Follow)
The Cato Institute

Featuring David Bakradze, Speaker of the Georgian Parliament; Kakha Bendukidze, Former Minister of the Economy and Reform Coordination, Georgia; and Andrei Illarionov, Senior Fellow, Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, Cato Institute.

Register to attend or watch live online here.

The Price of the Drug War

Critics of the drug war long have pointed out how criminalizing drug use creates crime.  America has been through this experience before, with Prohibition.  Just look at Prohibition-era Chicago with pervasive corruption and mob warfare.

Unfortunately, the experience is being repeated in Mexico.  And the violence is spilling over the border into the U.S.  Reports the New York Times:

Sgt. David Azuelo stepped gingerly over the specks of blood on the floor, took note of the bullet hole through the bedroom skylight, raised an eyebrow at the lack of furniture in the ranch-style house and turned to his squad of detectives investigating one of the latest home invasions in this southern Arizona city.

A 21-year-old man had been pistol-whipped throughout the house, the gun discharging at one point, as the attackers demanded money, the victim reported. His wife had been bathing their 3-month-old son when the intruders arrived.

“At least they didn’t put the gun in the baby’s mouth like we’ve seen before,” Sergeant Azuelo said. That same afternoon this month, his squad was called to the scene of another home invasion, one involving the abduction of a 14-year-old boy.

This city, an hour’s drive north of the Mexican border, is coping with a wave of drug crime the police suspect is tied to the bloody battles between Mexico’s drug cartels and the efforts to stamp them out.

Since officials here formed a special squad last year to deal with home invasions, they have counted more than 200 of them, with more than three-quarters linked to the drug trade. In one case, the intruders burst into the wrong house, shooting and injuring a woman watching television on her couch. In another, in a nearby suburb, a man the police described as a drug dealer was taken from his home at gunpoint and is still missing.

Tucson is hardly alone in feeling the impact of Mexico’s drug cartels and their trade. In the past few years, the cartels and other drug trafficking organizations have extended their reach across the United States and into Canada. Law enforcement authorities say they believe traffickers distributing the cartels’ marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs are responsible for a rash of shootings in Vancouver, British Columbia, kidnappings in Phoenix, brutal assaults in Birmingham, Ala., and much more.

United States law enforcement officials have identified 230 cities, including Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston and Billings, Mont., where Mexican cartels and their affiliates “maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors,” as a Justice Department report put it in December. The figure rose from 100 cities reported three years earlier, though Justice Department officials said that may be because of better data collection methods as well as the spread of the organizations.

Washington officials want to believe that throwing more money at the Mexican government will solve the problem.  But there’s nothing in the experience of Afghanistan, Colombia, or many other drug production and smuggling centers to suggest that more enforcement, especially by a government as weak as that in Mexico City, will end the drug trade.

Only taking money out of drug production and sales will end the violence.  And that means no longer treating what is fundamentally a health and moral problem as a criminal problem.  Legalizing adult drug use may not be a great solution, but it would be a vast improvement over drug prohibition, which promotes violent crime while tens of millions of Americans still use illicit substances.

DHS Officials Skirt Open Meeting Laws to Promote REAL ID

There’s not much chance that U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials went to Annapolis to argue against having Maryland implement the national ID law. Maryland’s Gazette reports:

Federal homeland security officials skirted open meetings laws at a briefing last week on the state’s efforts to comply with the federal Real ID Act, unsettling several lawmakers in an era of heightened government transparency.

A meeting with the Maryland House Judiciary Committee members and other lawmakers was carefully regulated to avoid reaching a quorum so open meeting rules could be avoided.

Something is funny in the state of Maryland, and something is funny at the DHS, to insist on holding closed meetings about REAL ID during what President Obama promised would be the most open and transparent administration in history.

Napolitano revealed early this month that she has been collaborating with the National Governors Association on REAL ID. Just what they plan also remains a secret.

As governor of Arizona, she signed legislation to resist REAL ID, but politicians that come to Washington have a tremendous capacity to go native and start working to build federal power. There’s even precedent for them working with the NGA to do it.