Archives: 12/2008

Our New Quasi-Allies

On the way out the door, the Bush administration is extending something resembling security guarantees to Georgia and Ukraine.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ukraine’s foreign minister signed a “Charter on Strategic Partnership” on December 19. According to the State Department, it will be the basis for the pact with Georgia, which will be signed within a week.

The deal with Ukraine is non-binding, meaning that it is legally meaningless. (Presumably, the same will be true of the Georgia-U.S. pact.) But its language can be read to commit the United States to defend Ukraine:

This Charter is based on core principles and beliefs shared by both sides:

1. Support for each other’s sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders constitutes the foundation of our bilateral relations.

True, this is no formal commitment to mutual defense, as in the NATO treaty’s Article 5. But leaders in Ukraine might believe that this obligates the United States to aid them in a fight with Russia. That is doubly true because the agreement also says that the United States will help Ukraine prepare for NATO membership. The confidence that seeming–U.S. protection provides may cause leaders in these countries to provoke Russia, possibly dragging the United States into a crisis. In Georgia’s case, this sort of moral hazard was already obvious last August.

American commitments to defend these countries are nuts. If you could design a model of a state not to ally yourself with, it would look something like Georgia:

  • Hard to defend geographically.
  • A territorial conflict with a stronger, nuclear-armed rival.
  • A leader with a demonstrated capacity for recklessness.
  • Little or nothing to offer in exchange for our defenses.

With a population that by and large does not want to join NATO and a contentious, long border with Russia, Ukraine is little better.

Americans once formed alliances for self-defense. They did so with trepidation. The alliances were seen as necessary evils and temporary. Today, they are perpetual rewards that we hand out to almost anyone that adopts our ideology or its rhetorical trappings. Then we invent a strategic rationale. We confuse our sympathies with our interests. Wishing the best for young democracies does not mean that we should defend them.

These agreements are not subject to Senate approval under the current understanding of the treaty power. But this sort of unilateral presidential action is why the Constitution divides foreign policy power. The Senate should pass a resolution making it clear that these deals create no obligations. At a minimum, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should hold hearings questioning the wisdom of casually extending the borders that we claim to defend and piling commitments onto our forces and taxpayers.

For more, see this op-ed I wrote with Justin Logan on possible NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia.

Fort Dix Five Convicted

In case you missed it, five foreign-born defendants have been convicted of conspiring to kill American soldiers at Fort Dix, NJ, a site often used to train up reservists for deployment to Iraq. These guys are essentially terrorist wannabes, but they did have some weapons training and may have perpetrated an attack if left to their own devices.  

While the government made the effort to try some aspiring terrorists, it has bungled the prosecution of Ali al-Marri, an exchange student and alleged sleeper agent for Al Qaeda. The government moved him to military custody at the naval brig in Charleston, SC. Then the government asked the presiding judge to dismiss the charges against al-Marri with prejudice, meaning that they cannot be re-filed if he moves back to civilian custody. That was a very peculiar thing for the government to do and may end up wasting good police and intelligence work. 

The Fourth Circuit held that he can be held as an enemy combatant, but the Supreme Court granted certiorari and is slated to hear arguments in March. 

For more on the future of counterterrorism policy, check out Cato’s upcoming conference. This is part of a three-year project on counterterrorism and civil liberties.

Jindal’s Rx: the Most Coordinated System of Care that No One Can Access

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) proposed Medicaid reforms are getting a lot of press. Jindal proposes to expand eligibility for Medicaid, enroll Medicaid patients in private managed-care plans, and do other things to improve the quality of care. Writing in The American Spectator, Joseph Lawler says the approach is “market-based” and “could forestall universal health care.”

A friend asked my thoughts about Jindal’s proposal. Here’s what I emailed back:

Why is it that when politicians propose giving taxpayer dollars to private companies, people think that’s “market-based”?

Jindal’s plan is not market-based reform. As a general matter, market-based charity care is just that: private charity. So the only market-based Medicaid reforms are those that remove people from the Medicaid rolls — e.g., federal block grants, eligibility restrictions, etc.

Jindal wants to expand eligibility. For a welfare program. And we call that market-based?

Jindal may be able to improve the quality of care through greater coordination. Which looks good on paper. But if the quality of care in Medicaid improves, more people will enroll. Only 2/3 of those eligible actually sign up for the program. (Many of the 1/3 who don’t enroll actually have private coverage.) So improving Medicaid benefits could cause enrollment to increase 50 percent. And that’s before Jindal expands the eligibility rules.

With all the additional cost pressure, what’s going to happen to Medicaid payments and enrollees’ access to docs? (There are reasons why Medicaid pays so little.)

Louisiana’s Medicaid program could someday achieve the most coordinated system of care that no one can access. Should we pull people out of private health plans for that?

Expanding enrollment in a government-run health plan is supposed to forestall universal coverage? Discerning consumers of market-based ideas should keep shopping.

Don’t Let the Left Nationalize Health Insurance

With left-wing Democrats controlling Congress and the White House, and many special-interest groups clamoring for reform, people are starting to talk about comprehensive health care reform as if it were a done deal.

Yet comprehensive reform could easily crater — and it should crater if it includes any of the following:

  1. Government-run health care for the middle class
  2. Mandates
  3. Price controls

Those reforms would effectively nationalize health insurance, regardless of whether we continue to call it “private” insurance.

Republicans, moderate Democrats, and independents should kill any reforms that include any of those three items. Here’s why, and how.

Great Moments in Local Government

This story probably has a deeper meaning for those concerned about a hyper-sensitive society. It also probably raises the hackles of those trying to protect 2nd Amendment rights. But my immediate reaction was that only government could do something as stupid as arrest a 10-year old boy for having a toy cap gun:

The latest case of zero-tolerance at the public schools has a 10-year-old student sadder and wiser, and facing expulsion and long-term juvenile detention. And it has his mother worried that his punishment has already been harsher than the offense demands. “I think I shouldn’t have brought a gun to school in the first place,” said the student, Alandis Ford, sitting at home Thursday night with his mother, Tosha Ford, at his side. Alandis’ gun was a “cap gun,” a toy cowboy six-shooter that his mother bought for him. “We got it from Wal-Mart for $5.96,” Tosha Ford said, “in the toy section right next to the cowboy hats. That’s what he wanted because it was just like the ones he was studying for the Civil War” in his fifth-grade class at Fairview Elementary School. …Tosha said that Wednesday afternoon, after school, “six police officers actually rushed into the door” of their home. “He [Alandis] opened the door because they’re police. And then they just kind of pushed him out of the way, and asked him, ‘Well where’s the gun, where’s the real gun?’ And they called him a liar… they booked him, and they fingerprinted him.” …Alandis was charged with possessing a weapon on school property and with terroristic acts and threats. …Sherri Viniard, the Director of Public Relations for the Newton County School System, emailed a statement to 11Alive News Thursday that reads, in part: “Student safety is our primary concern, and although this was a toy gun, it is still a very serious offense and it is a violation of school rules. We will not tolerate weapons of any kind on school property.” Alandis had his first hearing in juvenile court on Thursday. Tosha said the case worker assigned to Alandis will recommend a period of probation, rather than juvenile detention. The judge will make the final decision. Tosha said Alandis is not allowed back in school for now. She has a meeting scheduled with school administrators. She does not know if he will be expelled, and is hoping for no more than a ten-day suspension.

‘Tis Better to Take

In a sign of how toweringly stacked government is against he who believes ‘tis wrong to steal, my place of residence offers taxpayer-subsidized classes on how to maximize your taxpayer subsidy for college. That’s right: The government subsidizes classes on subsidy-grubbing.

“Strategies are revealed on how to reposition assets to minimize the amount the government determines you can afford to pay,” proudly declares the description of “Paying for College without Going Broke” in the winter 2009 adult education catalog from the Alexandria (VA) City Public Schools. Students will “find out how to use the IRS to fund college through ‘tax scholarship’. This seminar will give you the tools and knowledge to meet your goals.’”

That’s right: If your goals include maximizing the amount that other people have to pay for you or yours to go to college, Alexandria has a fantastic deal for you! And don’t worry, only saints refrain from stealing these days, and who wants to be one of them?