Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

The Results of Defending Freedom of Religion and Referring to “This Man” in Turkey?

Dr. Atilla YaylaA respected political scientist, Dr. Atilla Yayla of the Gazi University of Ankara, Turkey, has been dismissed from his teaching position and pilloried in the press in Turkey for daring publicly to make critical remarks about the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, whose version of “secularism” has meant state control of and suppression of religion.

Kemalist secularism is not well understood by Americans and Europeans. As Dr. Yayla put it some years ago (about 10, I think) at a seminar on Islam and civil society I organized for him at the Cato Institute, “People say that you have separation of church and state in America and we have separation of mosque-and-church and state in Turkey. In America, that means freedom of religion. In Turkey, it means freedom from religion. There is a great difference between the two.” Private property, contract, and limited government, he argued, should create the framework for people to decide on their own, through voluntary cooperation, whether and how to build a mosque, a church, a synagogue, or anything else. Such decisions should not be made by state officials.

Atilla was calm during the hot discussion that followed and offered a voice of reason and true liberalism, as passionate secularists and Islamists around the seminar table argued against each other, the former for suppressing and controlling religion by force and the latter for imposing it by force. One secularist even showed a calculation of how many square meters a Muslim needs to pray, multiplied it by the Muslim population of Turkey, calculated the number of square meters of Mosque space in Turkey, and concluded that Turkey had a 50 percent surplus capacity of Mosque space, and therefore that no more should be allowed to be built. Dr. Yayla suggested that that decision should be left to the religious devotion of the faithful, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or otherwise, and calmly appealed for peace by promoting freedom of religion: religion should be neither suppressed nor supported by the state.

Americans can be grateful that they enjoy the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That is not the same as “secularism,” as it is understood in the Middle East. That’s why when I’m in the Middle East I promote freedom of religion, rather than secularism, for the simple reason that secularism in that context doesn’t mean the same as the term “secular state” does elsewhere. That is one element of the Kemalist legacy that Dr. Yayla dared to criticize.

Advocates of freedom the world over should support Dr. Atilla Yayla, a principled voice for freedom of speech, for toleration, and for the civilized values of limited government, protection of property, and freedom of contract, association, and trade.

Those who wish to express their support for Dr. Yayla should contact Ms. Ozlem Caglar Yilmaz, executive director of the Association for Liberal Thinking in Ankara, of which Dr. Yayla is the president. The email is ozlemcaglar [at] liberal [dot] org [dot] tr and the fax is +90 312 230 80 03.

If Thanksgiving Travel Woes Get You Down …

… you might want to mark your calendar for December 13th.

The Cato Institute is having a book forum on Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them (Free Press, 2006). In the book, Ohio State University national security expert John Mueller puts terrorism in the context of other national security threats our country has faced in the past, and challenges us to assess the threat of terrorism rationally.

Yesterday, security expert Bruce Schneier published a TSA Security Round-Up that might make you thankful just to get to and from your family home this holiday. Our country and government can do better.

Friedman Was No Squish

We’re all deeply saddened by the passing of Milton Friedman, but remembering our fondest recollections of the man at the same time.  Obviously, his contributions to economics were his singular achievement (I even remember being puzzled at how much I enjoyed reading Money Mischief, not exactly a general-appeal book), but the man was a hardcore libertarian all around.

I recalled reading this passage in the San Francisco Chronicle on June 5, 2005:

Friedman supported Bush’s first-term candidacy, but he is more accurately libertarian than conservative and not a reliable Bush ally.

Progress in his goal of rolling back the role of government, he said, is “being greatly threatened, unfortunately, by this notion that the U.S. has a mission to promote democracy around the world,” a big Bush objective.

“War is a friend of the state,” Friedman said. It is always expensive, requiring higher taxes, and, “In time of war, government will take powers and do things that it would not ordinarily do.”

Worth remembering.  We will all miss Friedman’s contributions: not just to economics, but to libertarian thought generally.

Richard Haass on Iraq and U.S. Foreign Policy

The German publication Spiegel has posted a lengthy interview with Richard Haass, current president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former director of policy planning at the State Department during George W. Bush’s first term.

Haass is not an anti-Bush partisan hack. Given his Republican leanings, and recognizing that his uniformly bleak assessment of the state of U.S. foreign policy is not aimed at scoring political points for the Democratic Party, that makes his assessment of the state of U.S. foreign policy all the more sobering. He concedes that President Bush still has over two years in office, and that crises may come along that will allow the president to re-shape his legacy. As it now stands, however, “the world is not a safer place.” And the situation is not likely to improve any time soon.

Here are some notable excerpts:

On Iraq:

SPIEGEL: Mr. Haass, were the election results a message from the voters to President George W. Bush that it’s time for US troops to be pulled out of Iraq?

Haass: The mid-term election is a signal of widespread popular dissatisfaction with the course of the Iraq war. But it should not be read as a signal of support for a particular alternative. Nor will it lead most Democrats in Congress to call for a quick and complete withdrawal of US forces. Instead, it will reinforce the likelihood that American policy will be adjusted. We can anticipate force reductions and redeployments and possibly a greater emphasis on diplomacy, both within Iraq and with Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria.

[…] 

SPIEGEL: Is Iraq still winnable for the United States?

Haass: We’ve reached a point in Iraq where we’ve got to get real. And this is not going to be a near-term success for American foreign policy. The Iraq situation is not winnable in any meaningful sense of the word “winnable.” So what we need to do now is look for a way to limit the losses and costs, try to advance on other fronts in the region and try to limit the fallout of Iraq. That’s what you have to do sometimes when you’re a global power.

On an emerging Iraq syndrome: 

SPIEGEL: The disaster of the last years leads many Americans to doubt the military strength and moral superiority of the nation. Is this country on the verge of a new isolationist phase?

Haass: The danger is an Iraq syndrome. The war is one the American people weren’t quite prepared for: They had not been told it was going to be that difficult and expensive. After the military battlefield phase, they thought it was going to be easy. So this has proven shocking. Nearly 3,000 Americans have lost their lives. Maybe 15,000 - 20,000 Americans have been wounded. Hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent. It has been disruptive on many levels. The danger is that the United States now will be weary of intervening elsewhere, like the cat that once sat on a hot stove and will never sit on any stove again.

On the Bush legacy:

SPIEGEL: Can you remember a time when US foreign policy was confronted with so many challenges and difficulties?

Haass: The short answer is: No. During the Cold War, the United States faced a single challenge that was greater than any we face now. But I can’t think of a time when the United States has faced so many difficult challenges at once. What makes it worse is we are facing them at a time when we are increasingly stretched militarily. We are divided politically. We are stretched also economically, and there is a good deal of anti-Americanism in the world. It’s a very bad combination.

[…]

SPIEGEL: Will Bush leave the world with more problems than he found when he came into office?

Haass: Most likely. That said, the administration still has two years to go, so it is too early to judge. All you can say is that it’s sobering where we are. As of now, you would have to say the world is not a safer place.

 

Don’t Panic

John Mueller’s new book is out; it’s called Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them. In it he expands on the argument he outlined in Cato’s Regulation Magazine two years ago [.pdf], namely that that, while the terrorist threat is real, “it has been systematically and very substantially exaggerated.” (For more, see the recent Mueller-led debate in Cato Unbound.)

This could be a very important book, with important implications for the way we discuss the terrorist threat and the right policies to respond to it. For one thing, if Mueller is right, and I think he is, it’s well past time to repudiate the idea that respecting constitutional limits is going to get us all killed (for example, the hoary soundbite “the Constitution is not a suicide pact”).

Yet, strangely, not everyone appreciates Mueller’s good news. The first Amazon reader review of the book begins, “The problem with this book is its over-reliance on logic….”

No, really. Why?

From the homeland security boodoggle department comes PIVMAN - a sort of personal-identity-verification super-hero.

Federal government employees are beginning to carry uniform ID cards under a program created for no apparent reason other than a vague knee-jerk appeal to “security.”  Now along comes PIVMAN, a mobile ID card reader touted by its manufacturer as the reason for all the cards.  The whole story is finally made sense of in SecureID news:

“[PIVMAN] is the first complete out of the box end user application that answers ‘why’ … we built these infrastructures, spending all this time and money,” said Mr. Libin [president of PIVMAN seller Corestreet]. Consider the Department of Defense’s Common Access Card: “We started working with them five years ago and they’ve already issued millions of cards, but no one was really using them. People at DoD had spent all this money for a new card, but there were very few applications for it… . PIVMAN is the first actual end user visible application.”

Get it?  The reason for the ID cards is so that they can be checked

At $24,950 for two handhelds, charging cradles, and the management software, this is all entirely worthwhile.  After all, without these super-expensive card readers, the millions spent on IDs would be wasted!

No, really, there must be some use for this junk.  Let’s try again.

If there’s a disaster, or attack, there are several waves of first responders, explains Mr. Libin. “These people are typically concerned with halting the damage, but pretty quickly after that it becomes a more organized process and you get other types of first responders, such as fire fighters or maintenance workers. You need to control who gets into the disaster scene. You have people with the PIVMAN controlling the perimeter. Anyone getting in presents his or her card, a person scans or swipes the card into the PIVMAN and he quickly knows if it’s a valid card. It also displays what privileges are associated with that card. If you’re allowed to deal with hazardous material, you can be directed to the appropriate place for HAZMAT cleanup and the PIVMAN logs in that activity.”

There you have it.  This stuff makes disaster scenes orderly.  ‘Yes, I understand that the hazardous materials are over there, but the designated area for HAZMAT cleanup is actually behind you.  Thank you for submitting your ID to PIVMAN.  Now go wait where you’re told.’

Let’s try one more time.

“Securing access to our nation’s ports and maritime facilities is a key use-case for the PIVMAN System,” said Mr. Libin following the demonstration. “The mobility of the PIVMAN System speaks to the nature of the maritime industry. Now you will be able to check any individual’s FIPS 201 ID, including TWIC … whether that person is driving a truck or on a ship, the information will always be available, even when networks are not.”

This is close, but still not a sufficient for a digital ID reader.  If it’s about access control, all you need is an analog card and someone with eyeballs.

Matching means to ends is difficult in security.  Selling means to the government in hopes of finding some end for it to serve - not so difficult.

The 2006 Elections and the War in Iraq

In last Friday’s Washington Post, columnist Charles Krauthammer tried to argue that tomorrow’s mid-term elections would not deliver a historic and decisive blow to President Bush’s agenda, particularly his agenda in Iraq.

Krauthammer’s argument is based on his reading of the history of mid-year elections. He noted that the anticipated “anti-Republican wave” – a net pick up of perhaps 20-25 House seats, and 4-6 Senate seats, by the Democrats – is relatively modest by historical standards. Reagan lost more in the 6th year of his presidency; so too FDR. One of the greatest mid-term election disasters (not noted by Krauthammer) occurred in Dwight Eisenhower’s 6th year, 1958. At a time when Eisenhower was personally quite popular, the Democrats added nearly 50 members in the House, and another 16 in the Senate, building upon their already commanding majorities in both chambers. 

I’m all for studying history. But recent history paints a decidedly different picture than what Krauthammer suggests. The GOP was embarrassed by the results of the 1998 mid-term elections, a failure to capitalize on the 6th year itch that Krauthammer attributes to “Republican overreaching on the Monica Lewinsky scandal.” Given low unemployment, modest inflation, and continued strong economic growth, it is not inconceivable that the Bush administration might have been poised to avoid a 6th year setback (if so, would Harold Meyerson be lamenting “Democratic overreaching on the Mark Foley scandal”?).

Instead, the GOP is playing defense, and Iraq war advocates such as Krauthammer are scrambling to avoid blame for any of the ill-effects of their ill-conceived war. (See also the VanityFair.com article highlighting neoconservative criticisms of the Bush administration’s execution of the war).

The Iraq war is the decisive issue for the vast majority of Americans, exceeding taxes, immigration, health care, and other presumed drivers of voting behavior. Further, the war is unpopular, the costs have far exceeded the benefits, and there is no end in sight. As David Boaz and David Kirby note in a recent Cato Policy Analysis, the Iraq war was a factor – along with “Republican overspending, social intolerance, [and] civil liberties infringements” – in driving many libertarian voters away from George Bush in 2004. “If that trend continues into 2006 and 2008,” they write, “Republicans will lose elections they would otherwise win.” 

On the whole, voters are frustrated, impatient, and angry. If the GOP staves off disaster, they will do so in spite of, not because of, the disastrous war in Iraq.