Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

When Is an Iraq Withdrawal not a Withdrawal?

When it means leaving 50,000 troops in Iraq to train and fight.

Reports the Washington Post:

President Obama has invited members of Congress to the White House for a meeting later this afternoon to discuss his plans for drawing down troops in Iraq – a plan that has already drawn stiff criticism from his Democratic allies.

After Speaker Nancy Pelosi complained that the level of troops – 50,000 – who would remain in Iraq is too high, other senior Democrats voiced similar concerns on Thursday. Among Democratic leaders, only Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois is defending the new Obama plan, which will take three months longer than he promised and still leave a significant force structure on the ground.

“I’m happy to listen to the secretary of defense and the president, but when they talk about 50,000, that’s a little higher number than I had anticipated,” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said.

“It has to be done responsibly, we all agree, but 50,000 is more than I would have thought, and we await the justification,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

“I do think we have to look carefully at the numbers that are there and do it as quickly as we can,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) issued a statement saying he was “concerned” about the level of troops that would remain in Iraq.

It’s not just a “little higher number” than most Americans want.  It is a lot higher.  President Barack Obama should bring home all of America’s troops from Iraq.  If he doesn’t, Democratic officials and peace activists need to make their views known to him just as vigorously as they did to President George W. Bush when he was launching and escalating the war.  Congressional Democrats certainly shouldn’t be bought off by a little sweet talk in the Oval Office.

New on YouTube: Juan Carlos Hidalgo on Obama’s Latin American Policy

Appearing on HITN’s “Destination Casablanca,” Cato analyst Juan Carlos Hidalgo discusses Latin American policy, Cuba and the future of the drug war under the Obama administration.

“It’s not Washington’s business to try to impose or suggest an agenda for Latin American countries,” Hidalgo says.

For more videos, subscribe to Cato’s YouTube channel.

Whither the F-22?

I have been thinking for months about canceling my print subscription to the Washington Post, but I just can’t seem to pull the trigger. Now I have a new reason for holding onto the messy things just a little while longer: those full-page advertisements for the F-22.

They have appeared almost every day for the past few weeks – full-colored ads that boast “95,000 employed, 300 million protected.” They feature pictures of smiling workers who (presumably) would be thrown out of work if we were to stop building the planes. They claim that the F-22 keeps us all safe and secure, now and well into the future. The ads tell us that the F-22 is essential both to our physical security, and our economic security. It just wouldn’t be the same if all that happy talk were confined to flashing banners on my computer screen.

But while the Post is surely happy to keep taking both my subscription money and the revenue from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the 13 companies that paid for the ads, I’m still not convinced that the F-22 is worth the money (more than $350 million per plane).

Neither is Fred Kaplan (maybe he is reading the online version of the Post?)

It likely won’t be the last word in the debate, but Kaplan’s latest at Slate makes a pretty good case for what I’ve been saying for some time: If the plane cannot be justified on its strategic merits, then it is unfair for 299,105,000 Americans to pay merely to keep 95,000 employed. Our defense decisions should be driven by strategic necessity, not slick advertising campaigns and dubious claims about the economic harm that will come if some people have to switch jobs.

Time to Drop America’s Military Welfare Dependents

Matthew Yglesias takes me to task for sniping at poor little Iceland, which is thinking about closing its Defense Agency.  And I will grant that they are nice people who have just gone through an economic crisis worse than our own.  Still, there is something very tiresome about other countries being perfectly content to rely on the U.S. to pick up their defense tab.

The real problem comes with the big European states, which also rely on Washington, as well as all of the new additions to NATO, which are essentially military black holes, creating far greater obligations than assets for America.  Prospective new members, such as Georgia and Ukraine, would be even worse, bringing potential conflicts into the alliance.  Yglesias argues that “overall European defense spending is quite robust,” but that ignores output:  during Washington’s bizarre war against Serbia even the Europeans admitted that they had just 10-15 percent of America’s effective combat capability.  Few European states are capable of fielding significant units of combat personnel.  The largest states also are derelict.  German papers report that German soldiers in Afghanistan–stationed in the north, so they don’t actually have to fight–have been busy eating sausages and drinking beer, and aren’t particularly fit for combat service.  

None of that would matter if the U.S. wasn’t part of a trans-Atlantic alliance in which Americans are expected to do all of the heavy lifting if anything bad happens.  If war erupted with Russia over, say, Estonia or Poland, who do we think would send the bulk of the air wings and combat ships?  Who would be calling up battle-tested Army and Marine Corps units?  And who would be highlighting their strategic nuclear forces to deter any Russian resort to nuclear weapons.  Hint:  it isn’t likely to be the Germans or Italians.  And probably not even the British and French.  And certainly not the Icelanders. 

“Multilateral defense relationships” can be useful, but permanent security guarantees to populous and prosperous friends are not.  Especially when the U.S. is very busy elsewhere around the world, unlike the friends, who are far more interested in sustaining their domestic welfare states.

At a time of economic crisis, it would make sense for the U.S. to tell its rich international welfare dependents–Europe, South Korea, and Japan–that their defense will be their business.   The U.S. should retain a robust military, and be capable of cooperating with allied states if a hostile hegemonic power arose that actually threatened America, instead of a small client state half a world away.  But our “multilateral defense relationships” should become ones of genuine cooperation regarding shared interests, not ones of helpless dependency in which Washington guarantees the interests of others.  Which is what NATO has become.

It will be less painful if the U.S. voluntarily returns to a more normal role in the world.  America will long be influential, but the time is coming when it will be merely first among equals.  The American people will be far better off if Washington stops wasting their money and lives attempting to micro-manage global affairs.

Cato Scholars Address Obama’s First Speech to Congress

President Barack Obama’s first address to Congress laid out a laundry list of new spending contained within the stimulus legislation and provided hints as to what will be contained in the budget - a so-called “blueprint for America’s future” - he’ll submit to the legislature. Cato Institute scholars Chris Edwards, Jim Harper, Gene Healy, Neal McCluskey, David Rittgers, John Samples and Michael D. Tanner offer their analyses of the President’s non-State-of-the-Union Address.

Subscribe to Cato’s video podcast here and Cato’s YouTube channel here.

Obama Corporate Tax Nonsense

Last night, President Obama threw in his usual rhetoric about ”ending tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.”

I suspect that the president has no idea what he is talking about. The United States already has probably the most burdensome tax rules on multinational corporations of any major country.

Peter Merrill, one of the nation’s top tax economists explained in Tax Notes on Monday:

The United States taxes corporate income on a worldwide basis, including dividends repatriated by foreign subsidiaries, and allows a limited credit for foreign taxes paid regarding those dividends. By contrast, most OECD countries (21 out of 30) have dividend exemption systems under which dividends from foreign subsidiaries are exempt.

In other words, only nine of 30 major industrial countries tax the foreign business profits of their corporations, and the United States does so probably the most aggressively of any.

U.S. corporations are moving investment and profits abroad, but it is because we have the world’s second highest corporate tax rate, not because of special loopholes as the president keeps implying.

It is pathetic that American policymakers sit on their hands avoiding the global tax revolution, while constantly taking cheap shots at corporations, especially when other countries are moving ahead with business tax reforms.

For example, today’s International Tax Review describes possible corporate tax cuts by the left-of-center Australian government:

Australia may have to cut its corporate tax rate in an effort to increase economic growth and attract greater foreign investment, said Ken Henry, secretary to the Treasury.

Henry also noted that a corporate tax cut would increase real wages. What is it about these benefits of corporate tax cuts that American policymakers don’t understand?