Shameless

On the off chance anyone may have thought there were any vestiges of limited government left in the ranks of today’s GOP:

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is trying use a bill authorizing U.S. military operations, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, to prohibit people from using credit cards to settle Internet gambling debts. Frist, R-Tenn., and his aides have been meeting with other lawmakers and officials in both the House and Senate to get the measure attached to a compromise Defense Department authorization bill, according to a Senate GOP leadership aide.

If this goes through, any senator who would dare suggest that the gambling ban be killed on the grounds that what people do with their own money on their own time in their own homes is none of Bill Frist’s business now risks accusations that he doesn’t support U.S. troops overseas.

What’s most aggravating about Congress’ full-throttle push to ban online game is that there’s really no call for it from the public, save for some of the fringe family-values conservatives. Some in Congress – Sen. John Kyl, and Reps. Goodlatte and Leach, for example – have been pushing this ban for years. But Frist’s sudden interest looks like little more than election year red meat.

Public opinion polls show most voters are overwhelmingly opposed to an online gambling prohibition. And to my knowledge, supporters of the bill can’t point to a single study showing that large numbers of Americans are gambling away their futures on these poker sites. Thus far, they’ve justified the bill with no more than a few anecdotes.

Of course, there’s also the naked hypocrisy of exempting state lotteries and the politically powerful horse racing industry from the ban. There actually are studies showing state lotteries to be a primary outlet for gambling addicts.

Saddam’s Supergun

An article in Sunday’s New York Times takes you to a Graveyard of Goofy Weapons south of Baghdad.  Among them, the remnants of Saddam’s Project Babylon, which, if completed, would have been the world’s biggest spud gun:

the barrel alone would have been 512 feet long and weighed 1,665 tons. As the pieces lying around in the lot in Iskandariya illustrated, the barrel was wide enough to fire projectiles “the size of industrial garbage cans,” as Mr. Lowther put it.

Estimates on the cost of two planned superguns and a smaller prototype called Baby Babylon range from $25 million to several hundred million dollars. If the big guns had operated as designed, they could have shot a 300-pound projectile 600 miles, or lifted a much larger payload into orbit if it was outfitted with a small rocket engine.

Doubtless there’s some true believer out there in the right-wing blogosphere trumpeting this story, hailing it as confirmation that Saddam was the Arab Hugo Drax, coming ever closer to having the means to kill us all.  What if he had loaded up an industrial garbage can with some of those degraded mustard gas shells, floated the whole works off our southern coastline and aimed it right at Disneyworld? 

Well, it’s never too late to be retroactively terrorized, but most of us are probably with Lt. Col. James A. Howard, quoted in the article after visiting the site: “I think a gun this big would be kind of dumb.” 

Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

The Washington Post decided to bury a story on page A17 today on how the IAEA responded to a House Intelligence Committee report on Iran (.pdf).  The report, which came out to media fanfare a few weeks ago, was drafted by John Bolton’s hyper-hawkish lieutenant Fred Fleitz, who’s reportedly currently drafting a report on North Korea’s capabilities.

Anyway, the IAEA was none too happy with Mr. Fleitz’s handiwork, calling attention to several unsupported claims, among them that Iran is producing weapons-grade uranium at Natanz, noting that the 3.5 percent to which Iran has enriched is a far cry from the roughly 90 percent that is needed for a weapon.

The IAEA was similarly displeased with Mr. Fleitz’s accusation that Mohamed el Baradei kicked an inspector off the Iran project for worrying that Iran was deceiving inspectors.  The IAEA responded by calling this allegation “outrageous and dishonest,” pointing out that the inspector in question was still working on Iran.

More alarming by far, though, is David Albright’s* characterization of what’s been going on:

This is like prewar Iraq all over again.  You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that’s cherry-picked and a report that trashes the inspectors.

*Albright’s outfit, the Institute for Science and International Security, really has been doing yeoman’s work on the Iran question, including its analysis (and posting) of Iran’s August 22 response to the EU3+US proposal.  If you want as dispassionate an analysis as you can get of the issue, go to ISIS.  Good stuff.

It’s Constitution Day, Charlie Brown

Note to D.C. readers: Tomorrow is Cato’s annual Constitution Day symposium, headlined by Chief Judge Danny Boggs of the Sixth Circuit, a polymath and one of the bright lights of the federal appellate bench. View the schedule and last-minute registration information here. (Bonus points: Take a version of the quiz Boggs famously asks clerkship candidates to fill out here).

Tomorrow, Cato also releases our annual Cato Supreme Court Review, now ranked among the top 20 peer-reviewed specialty law journals in terms of “impact” according to the influential Washington & Lee law review ranking system. For a sample of the 2005-2006 edition’s contents, see former Thomas clerk Peter “Bo” Rutledge’s thoughtful article analyzing the next Supreme Court term here.

New at Cato Unbound: Clark Ervin Replies to John Mueller on Terrorism

In today’s installment of Cato Unbound, Clark Kent Ervin, former Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security and author of Open Target: Where America is Vulnerable to Attack, strongly disagrees with John Mueller’s provocative lead essay, “Some Reflections on What, if Anything, “Are We Safer” Might Mean,” in this month’s issue devoted to “9/11 Five Years After: Reassessing Homeland Security and the Terrorist Threat.”

Borrow and Spend, Spend and Elect

As chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY) is charged with helping House Republicans get elected and re-elected. In this difficult year for Republicans he’s facing a tough race at home in the Buffalo area. According to the Wall Street Journal (paid reg. required), he’s using today’s standard Republican formula: promise to cut taxes and spend, spend, spend:

Mr. Reynolds, with about $3 million in campaign contributions, has run ads on local television for more than a month, earlier than in past campaigns. The first emphasized his support for low taxes and few business regulations, ending, “Tom Reynolds – Fighting to save New York jobs.” Another had two retired military officers hailing his role in saving the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station from shutdown. The third featured a mother holding her toddler while recalling the congressman’s help in forcing Blue Cross/Blue Shield to cover surgeries for the child’s cleft palate. “Tom Reynolds has a big heart,” she says into the camera.

Nuclear Proliferators and Double Standards

One of the more interesting foreign policy phenomena over the past year or so has been the prevalence of China hawks fawning over the US-India nuclear deal. The clear implication is that the payoff from signing the deal is that India will fall into line in a loose policy of containing China. Never mind the fact that India has made perfectly clear that it has no intention of following such a policy.

Now comes State Department spokesman-turned-South-and-Central-Asia-assistant-secretary Richard Boucher to admit that with respect to our posture on India versus our posture on Iran “Is there a double-standard? Yeah. There should be.” Reuters reports further that Boucher “added that he did not believe Iran decided its policies based on how Washington dealt with India.”

This is pretty simplistic thinking. Nobody’s arguing that Iran “decides its policies based on how Washington deals with India.” The point is that the increasingly brittle international nonproliferation regime is based on norms; to the extent that the United States undermines those norms, it hastens the irrelevance of the NPT and the related institutions. Further, it’s perfectly clear that the international community (or “international community” if one prefers) has not gone along with the new norm that countries that are friendly to America should get special treatment.

And while we’re at it, let’s look at the circular logic deployed by pro-India deal types based on proliferation concerns. On one hand, we’re told that India has a rock-solid track record on proliferation, so we should sign the deal as a reward. On the other hand, we’re told that one of the benefits of the deal is that it will get some of India’s civilian reactors (though none of its military reactors and no future reactors) into a monitoring regime.

But if India has a rock-solid track record on proliferation, why care about getting them into a semi-formal nonproliferation institution? And further, let’s take a look at India’s allegedly solid track record on proliferation, courtesy of the Weekly Standard:

Over the last 20 months, the State Department has sanctioned no fewer than seven separate Indian entities for transferring strategic weapons-related technology or goods to Iran.

One of these entities–Balaji Amines Limited–was sanctioned late in July for selling Iran chemicals critical to manufacturing rocket fuel at the very same time Iranian-supplied missiles to Hezbollah were slamming into the homes of innocents in Haifa. State also sanctioned Y.S.R. Prasad, former chairman of India’s entire state-run civilian nuclear program. He is reported to have visited with Iran’s nuclear establishment several times and transferred technology to extract tritium, a material necessary to make smaller, more efficient missile-deliverable nuclear warheads. India is demanding that the United States drop its sanctions against Prasad, who is one of the most honored members of India’s nuclear elite. He also is one of the eight leading Indian nuclear scientists who recently wrote Singh protesting the nuclear deal’s encroachment on India’s freedom to expand its nuclear arsenal and to conduct a foreign policy independent of Washington.

A key concern he and his distinguished colleagues raised in their letter (which Singh noted in his address) relates to the strategic cooperation agreement India reached with Iran in 2003. The House of Representatives has been worried about India’s ties to Iran and considered conditioning U.S. nuclear cooperation on India’s supporting allied efforts to block Iran’s nuclear program. This, however, would be a deal breaker for India, Bush administration officials warned. The House listened, backed down, and instead simply expressed its desire for Indian support against Iran’s nuclear program in the report that accompanied its enabling legislation. For India, though, this was still intolerable. “We cannot accept introduction of extraneous issues on foreign policy,” Singh explained. “Any prescriptive suggestions in this regard are not acceptable to us.”

Was a strategic recalibration of the US-India relationship long overdue? You bet. But the Bush administration’s typically clumsy diplomacy with respect to the deal threatens to take a wobbly nonproliferation regime and smash it to bits, without any clear strategy for what’s going to follow in its wake. And now, to the extent the nuclear deal has become a referendum on US-India relations, it’s far too late to torpedo the deal without risking serious damage in those relations. We now find ourselves in a bind where any of the possible outcomes, whether the deal’s passage, its dying on our side, or its being killed on India’s side, are going to have pretty bad consequences.

Here you had a good idea (improve strategic ties with India) that was implemented in such a way that it created a host of negative consequences. It didn’t have to happen this way.