Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Pat Lang on Israel/Palestine

National Journal’s Sydney Freedberg asks a group of distinguished foreign policy types, “Is the two-state solution dead?” Pat Lang offers some sensible remarks:

It is expected ritual to say that the Palestinians and Israelis want peace. What is never specified as part of that incantation is the description of just what sort of peace each group wants. Here it is… What they still want (on both sides) is to win in the contest for that sad, beautiful, stony little strip of land and for their own group to live in peace and possession of the country.

There is no external power preventing the sides from making peace. If the Israelis and Palestinians wanted peace more than they want to win, they would make peace. They do not make peace because there is not enough good will toward the “other” among them to allow peace to exist. No. I no longer really believe that the inhabitants of Israel/Palestine want peace for other than their own side in the bloody mess that has persisted there throughout their lives.

Someone has said on this blog that the United States lacks the ability to “make peace” between these two peoples. That is profoundly true. It is part of our national illusion that we Americans think of the rest of the world as though we are the guardians of distant, unruly and childish folk who act in strange, inexplicable and unreasonable ways. We tend to believe that their quarrels are errors in information or simply bad behavior of the kind seen in school yards.  This mistake on our part is persistent….

Then, however, I’d humbly submit that Lang goes astray in arguing that while neither side appears ready to make the sacrifices required for a workable peace deal, the problem will ultimately “require an external formulation of a peace settlement when they ARE ready.”

Why am I skeptical? Because, as Lang admits, what would be required for this to work is “a consensus of the interested parties across the Middle Eastern, Islamic and Western regions, a consensus that does not shrink from domestic political pressure, that does not fear to apply the inherent leverage provided by huge annual budgetary contributions to both sides and that values human life and happiness more than it does momentary advantage.” If both sides were ready for peace, why would pulling budgetary levers be required? Alternatively, it seems terribly unlikely that pulling budgetary levers could make either side amenable enough to genuine concessions to make peace work. And aside from the extreme unlikelihood of the blessed convergence described above happening in our lifetimes, I’m reminded of George Kennan’s concern in the 1970s about the responsibilities that come with imposing a settlement:

[W]e should not try to tell [the Israelis], 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?

It seems like the problem for the United States is less that the Israelis and Palestinians seem unwilling to make the sacrifices required for peace, and more that we find ourselves in a position such that, as Kennan wrote, with respect to both sides of the dispute, “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 gotten itself into a more unsound and unnecessary position.”

Week in Review

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Cato Leads Opposition to Fiscal Stimulus

In reaction to statements from Obama administration officials who say “all economists agree” that the only way to fight the economic recession is to go on a massive government spending spree, the Cato Institute took out a full page ad in the nation’s largest newspapers that showed that those words were not true. Signed by more than 200 economists, including Nobel laureates and other highly respected scholars, the statement was published this week in The New York Times, The Washington Post and many other publications.

On the day the ad ran in The New York Times, Cato executive vice president David Boaz added more names to the list of economists who are skeptical of the spending bill.

Commenting on the principles behind the stimulus, Cato adjunct scholar Lawrence H. White and fellow economist David C. Rose discuss why we can’t spend our way out of this mess:

You can’t solve an excessive spending problem by spending more. We are making the crisis worse.

In The Wall Street Journal, Cato senior fellow Alan Reynolds examines the numbers and discovers that each government job created  will cost taxpayers a staggering $646,214 per hire.

The stimulus package now moving through Congress will spend nearly $1 trillion that the government does not have. With the nation already $1.2 trillion in the hole, Cato director of Tax Policy Studies Chris Edwards discusses the sheer illogic behind pushing for stimulus at a time like this:

If I get up in the morning and drink five cups of coffee and that doesn’t stimulate me, I don’t go and drink another five. I’d recognize my addiction problem and start reforming my bad habits. Federal policymakers should do the same.

For more on the stimulus plan, read Edwards’s Tax and Budget Bulletin, “The Troubling Return of Keynes,” (PDF) co-authored by Ike Brannon, former senior adviser to the U.S. Treasury.

During the House vote on the stimulus bill, just 11 Democrats voted against it, leaving Boaz to ask, “What Happened to the Blue Dog Democrats?

“Blue Dogs supported fiscal responsibility at some vague point in the misty past, and they will strongly support fiscal responsibility at some vague point in the future,” writes Boaz. “But right now they’re going to vote to put their constituents another $825 billion in debt.”

Obama Promises to Close Guantanamo Bay Detention Center

Cato legal policy analyst David H. Rittgers explains why he approves of Obama’s choice to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay and offers advice on how to proceed with the plan:

The Founders wrote the Bill of Rights after a violent insurgency brought on by government oppression, and the principles contained therein are no weaker while countering today’s terrorists. Using national security courts to try the detainees in Guantanamo opens the door to closed and classified trials of domestic terror suspects. This degradation of essential liberties is unwise and avoids the social function of trials.

Listen to a Cato Daily Podcast interview with Rittgers to learn more about the future of the Gitmo detainees.

In the forthcoming Cato Handbook for Policymakers, Timothy Lynch, director of Cato’s Project on Criminal Justice, lays out a plan for the future of our government’s strategy for dealing with terrorism. (PDF)

Gore Global Warming Hearing Goes on Despite Snowstorm

Undeterred by a snowstorm that shut down schools and gave federal workers “liberal leave,” the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on global warming this week with star witness Al Gore. Gore promoted ways to end climate change through cap-and-trade legislation and investment in renewable energy, reported U.S. News and World Report.

In a Cato Policy Analysis, author Indur Goklany offers his commentary on how government should handle climate change.

Cato senior fellow in environmental studies Patrick J. Michaels offers his analysis on climate change, and how the international community should react.

Appearing on Fox News, Michaels, who is a former Virginia state climatologist, asserts that when it comes to climate change, there is no immediate emergency. For more, don’t miss Michaels’s new book, Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don’t Want You to Know, co-authored with Robert C. Balling Jr.

Al-Marri Is (Probably) a Terrorist — We Should Have Tried Him

The Justice Department received an extension from the Supreme Court in the pending appeal of Ali Saleh Mohamed Kahlah al-Marri, an exchange student who allegedly arrived in the United States on September 10th, 2001, as an Al Qaeda sleeper agent. He is the only person presently domestically detained as an enemy combatant, a practice I oppose. The Obama administration is taking the extra time to reconsider the government’s position.

The Fourth Circuit previously held that al-Marri can continue to be detained as an enemy combatant. The unclassified version of the evidence against him is available in the Rapp Declaration. I highly recommend you read the whole thing. Al-Marri is (probably) a sleeper agent for Al Qaeda. We should have tried him.

The fight against Al Qaeda is part military, part law enforcement. Whichever approach we use, this is a struggle where the population is not incidental to the battlefield, the population is the battlefield. Insurgencies and terrorism are 10% tactical, 90% propaganda. By making a legal martyr out of al-Marri, we give him a propaganda victory he has not earned.

The FBI did exactly what we want domestic terrorism investigators to do: it gathered evidence to produce an indictment. The government should have followed through with prosecution instead of moving him to a military brig. We prosecute domestic terrorists for criminal actions, and al-Marri should be treated no differently. 

Former FBI special agent and terrorism expert Mike German infiltrated two domestic terror organizations and brought charges against their members. As German says in his excellent book, Thinking Like a Terrorist: Insights of a Former FBI Undercover Agent, prosecuting terrorists for fraud charges should not give us pause. 

As an FBI agent my counterterrorism investigations never resulted in anyone being charged with terrorism. The terrorists I arrested were charged with specific criminal offenses; possessing and transferring illegal firearms and explosive devices, illegally using firearms and destructive devices, conspiring to use illegal firearms and destructive devices, and conspiring to violate civil rights. Terrorists use these crimes to accomplish their political goals. Once I had evidence of their illegal activities, I could bring charges against them. Certainly the motive behind their conduct came into play to prove they had the requisite criminal intent, but the laws I enforced had absolutely nothing to do with the terrorists’ ideology.

German also points out that terrorists rely on their claim to be something more akin to soldiers than criminals to maintain political legitimacy. IRA terrorists held by British authorities staged a hunger strike to retain treatment as “prisoners of war” rather than “criminals.” Ten of them willingly starved to death rather than be lumped in with murderers and rapists, the goal of the British “criminalization” strategy. As German writes:

The reasons for the hunger strike reveal much about the IRA and about terrorists in general. They didn’t strike over the anti-Catholic discrimination that led to the civil rights movement. They didn’t strike over the RUC’s police abuse or the stationing of British troops in Northern Ireland. They didn’t strike over being arrested without charges, interned, and tortured. They didn’t strike over indefinite detentions or even over Bloody Sunday. They knew all those things helped their cause. They went on hunger strike because the British government was going to make them look like criminals.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, architect of the 9/11 attacks, sees the writing on the wall — the Obama administration intends to close down the Military Commissions and try him and his co-conspirators in a traditional court of law. This is why he tried to plead guilty and become a martyr for his cause. If we convict al-Marri and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court and not a Military Commission or one of the proposed national security courts, the Al Qaeda boogey-man is revealed as a thug, not a noble Muslim soldier. 

Mike German’s recent Cato podcast with Caleb Brown is here. German also spoke on a panel at Cato’s recent conference, Shaping the Obama Administration’s Counterterrorism Strategy. The video file is available here and the podcast can be downloaded here. Cato filed an amicus brief in the al-Marri case with the Constitution Project and the Rutherford Institute.

Barton: Good Cause, Awful Rhetoric

Arguing against a delay of the transition to digital television, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) argued that spectrum destined for public safety uses would be held up. Well and good. But he did so this way:

Osama bin Laden isn’t fictional, and he isn’t waiting. That should be reason enough to go full speed ahead with the DTV transition.

People around the world read and discuss what U.S. leaders say about terrorists. By invoking the specter of bin Laden, Barton has given free publicity to a leading terrorist among people who might join him or any group loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda. If they want to be a part of something powerful, Representative Barton has signaled to them what they should do.

The digital television transition should go forward, but exalting terrorists is not the way to argue for that.

Who’s Blogging about Cato

A special thanks to all bloggers who wrote about Cato’s letter showing that there is not a unanimous agreement among economists about President Obama’s stimulus package.

Although we can’t name everyone who linked to the page, some of the bloggers include Michelle Malkin, Don Boudreaux, Damon W. Root, Alex Singleton, Cord Blomquist, , Jason Pye, Jason Talley, Andy Roth, Gerrit Lansing, J.D. Tuccille, , Frank Ahrens, ahrensf [at] ( )Rodger Thomas, Amber Gunn, Colin Grabow, Russ Johnson, Michael Patterson, Robert Huberty, David Adams and Mitch Berg.

Also blogging about Cato:

If you’re writing about Cato on your blog, let us know by emailing cmoody [at] or reply on Twitter using @catoinstitute.

Give Government a Power and It Will Find Something to Do With It

In Section 8131 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for fiscal 2004, Congress cancelled funding for the Total Information Awareness program, and it seemed to mean it:

“Terrorism Information Awareness Program” means the program known either as Terrorism Information Awareness or Total Information Awareness, or any successor program, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or any other Department or element of the Federal Government, including the individual components of such Program developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

But in a classified annex, Congress allowed parts of the program to continue: “[T]his limitation shall not apply to [a] program hereby authorized for Processing, analysis, and collaboration tools for counterterrorism foreign intelligence … .”

Providing further:

“None of the funds provided for Processing, analysis, and collaboration tools for counterterrorism foreign intelligence shall be available for deployment or implementation except for:

(1) lawful military operations of the United States conducted outside the United States; or

(2) lawful foreign intelligence activities conducted wholly overseas, or wholly against non-United States citizens.

Parts of TIA could survive, but they could only actually be used in U.S. military operations conducted outside the United States or for lawful foreign intelligence activities conducted overseas or against overseas persons.

Shane Harris of National Journal documented TIA’s life after death in February 2006.

Now whistleblower Russel Tice has come forward in a series of interviews (reviewed by Wired’s Threat Level blog here and here) to describe what he knows of a program that is the very similar to Total Information Awareness, including the use of “red teams” to generate supposed patterns of terrorist activity. The program was potentially used to investigate U.S. journalists and may have combined communications information with credit card data.

In the spring of 2006, Tice told a reporter, “[T]he biggest sweat that happened at NSA happened when John Kerry almost got elected president [in 2004], because they were concerned they were all going to be thrown in jail.” He feels strongly that people at the NSA have been violating the law.

It’s hard to determine the truth of things from one whistleblower who may bring bias and mistake in recollection and interpretation. But there was no reason for Congress to continue Total Information Awareness in secret. As Jeff Jonas and I documented in our paper on the subject, data mining for terrorism will not work. There just aren’t enough instances of terrorism from which to generate patterns that reliably indicate terrorism.

It’s quite plausible that folks at the National Security Agency, finding no counterterrorism use for the Total Information Awareness components transferred there, put them to work on other things - like investigating journalists’ sources.

This cries out to be cleared up. Should it see fit to investigate, Congress should not give immunity to credit card companies.

Slate on Cato Conference

Michael Newman, Slate’s politics editor, writes up the counterterrorism conference we held here two weeks ago. It’s an OK article, and we appreciate the publicity. The trouble is that Newman tries to stuff a conference summary into a theme about Libertarians and Obama. Hence the title, “Cozying Up to the New Guy: Libertarians are oddly hopeful about the Obama administration.” That may be a good hook, it may even be generally true, but it creates a misleading impression here. So at the risk of looking a gift horse in the mouth, I have several complaints.

First, Cato’s defense and foreign policy scholars have repeatedly attacked the Obama team for its adherence to the flawed, bipartisan counterterrorism and defense strategy that it inherited. See here and here for starters. I’m not sure who is cozying up.

Second, the article imagines a strategic rationale behind the conference – Cato thinks it can most influence Obama on issues related to terrorism and is therefore directing its energies there. Not really. There is no singular “Cato view” on these matters or any other. Several scholars here had an interest in counterterrorism policy, and organized a project, which included a public conference, on it. The conference would have happened regardless of who was President. Sure, we’d like the policy-makers in the executive branch to adopt a more sensible perspective about terrorism than their predecessors. But we’d also like Congress, the public, and the media to adopt that view.

Third, Newman gets the theme of the conference right – terror is as big a problem as the terrorism that sparks it – but Slate readers may get the impression that this was just a bunch of libertarians saying so. In fact, the speakers came from across the ideological spectrum. To the extent that they agree, and not all do, it shows that these policies are common-sense, even if they remain unconventional.

Finally, the article says that: “Think tank experts aren’t stupid.” I would have started that sentence with “most.”