- How the European Union can bring peace to the Middle East.
- Nat Hentoff on the health care debate: "We do not elect the president and Congress to decide how short our lives will be. That decision is way above their pay grades."
- Video: What can autism teach us about economics?
- Cato's Malou Innocent debates the troop build up in Afghanistan.
- Over at Cato Unbound, experts discuss the positive and negative outcomes of modernity.
- Podcast: Driverless cars? They aren't as far away as you think.
- Chris Preble on Afghanistan: It's time to leave. "We don't need 100,000 soldiers in Afghanistan chasing down 100 al-Qaeda fighters."
- Malou Innocent on Obama's West Point speech.
- A few possible outcomes of U.S. military engagement in the Middle East.
- More updates on ClimateGate.
- An overview of all the hidden taxes in the health care overhaul.
- Podcast: "Obama's Afghanistan Contradiction"
- A Financial Super-Regulator: The dangers of giving the Fed too much power.
- The financial regulators' pipe dream: "Most new regulation will do nothing to limit crises because markets will innovate around it. Worse, some regulation being considered by Congress will guarantee bigger and more frequent crises."
- The shape of things to come? More war will come before peace in the Middle East, says journalist and foreign affairs analyst Leon Hadar.
- The illegal cigarette trade in Ireland reaches "epidemic proportions" after the government imposes draconian regulations on tobacco products.
- Podcast: "Too Big to Fail Is Just Too Big"
The Bush administration has many legacies. One is the more than $700 million U.S. embassy, set on 104 acres, only slightly smaller than the Vatican's land holdings, in Baghdad. It was an embassy designed for an imperial power intent on ruling a puppet state.
It turns out that Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki doesn't plan on being anyone's puppet. U.S. troops have come out of the cities and will be coming home in coming months. Provincial reconstruction teams also will be leaving. The Bush administration's plan for maintaining scores of bases for use in attacking Iran or other troublesome Middle Eastern states is stillborn. And Prime Minister Maliki isn't likely to ask for Washington's advice on what kind of society U.S. officials want him to create.
So just what should the Obama administration do with this White Elephant on the Euphrates? Cut it down, says the State Department's own Inspector General.
Reports the Washington Post:
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad -- the United States' largest and most costly overseas diplomatic mission, with 1,873 employees -- is overstaffed and must be reduced to a size more in keeping with the evolving U.S.-Iraq relationship and budget constraints, government auditors said in a report issued Wednesday.
divThe State Department's inspector general said that although the U.S. presence in Iraq will become more civilian as the military withdraws over the next two years, the embassy "should be able to carry out all of its responsibilities with significantly fewer staff and in a much-reduced footprint." The reduction "has to begin immediately," the report said, before Foreign Service officers complete their next assignment bidding cycle and other employees are extended or hired.
The U.S. should be preparing to have a normal relationship with Iraq. That includes maintaining a normal embassy.
Obama Speaks to the Muslim World
In Cairo on Thursday, President Obama asked for a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world," and spoke at some length on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Cato scholar Christopher Preble comments, "At times, it sounded like a state of the union address, with a litany of promises intended to appeal to particular interest groups. ...That said, I thought the president hit the essential points without overpromising."
Preble goes on to say:
He did not ignore that which divides the United States from the world at large, and many Muslims in particular, nor was he afraid to address squarely the lies and distortions — including the implication that 9/11 never happened, or was not the product of al Qaeda — that have made the situation worse than it should be. He stressed the common interests that should draw people to support U.S. policies rather than oppose them: these include our opposition to the use of violence against innocents; our support for democracy and self-government; and our hostility toward racial, ethnic or religious intolerance. All good.
David Boaz contends that there are a number of other nations the president could have chosen to deliver his address:
Americans forget that the Muslim world and the Arab world are not synonymous. In fact, only 15 to 20 percent of Muslims live in Arab countries, barely more than the number in Indonesia alone and far fewer than the number in the Indian subcontinent. It seems to me that Obama would be better off delivering his message to the Muslim world somewhere closer to where most Muslims live. Perhaps even in his own childhood home of Indonesia.
Not only are there more Muslims in Asia than in the Middle East, the Muslim countries of south and southeast Asia have done a better job of integrating Islam and modern democratic capitalism…. Egypt is a fine place for a speech on the Arab-Israeli conflict. But in Indonesia, Malaysia, India, or Pakistan he could give a speech on America and the Muslim world surrounded by rival political leaders in a democratic country and by internationally recognized business leaders. It would be good for the president to draw attention to this more moderate version of Islam.
Tiananmen Square: 20 Years Later
It has been 20 years since the tragic deaths of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, and 30 years since Deng Xiaoping embarked on economic reform in China. Cato scholar James A. Dorn comments, "After 20 years China has made substantial economic progress, but the ghosts of Tiananmen are restless and will continue to be so until the Goddess of Liberty is restored."
In Thursday’s Cato Daily Podcast, Dorn discusses the perception of human rights in China since the Tiananmen Square massacre, saying that many young people are beginning to accept the existence of human rights independent of the state.
A few days before the anniversary, social media Web sites like Twitter and YouTube were blocked in China. Cato scholar Jim Harper says that it’s going to take a lot more than tanks to shut down the message of freedom in today’s online world:
In 1989, when a nascent pro-democracy movement wanted to communicate its vitality and prepare to take on the state, meeting en masse was vital. But that made it fairly easy for the CCP to roll in and crush the dream of democracy.
Twenty years later, the Internet is the place where mass movements for liberty can take root. While the CCP is attempting to use the electronic equivalent of an armored division to prevent change, reform today is a question of when, not if. Shutting down open dialogue will only slow the democratic transition to freedom, which the Chinese government cannot ultimately prevent.
Taxpayers Acquire Failing Auto Company
After billions of dollars were spent over the course of two presidential administrations to keep General Motors afloat, the American car company filed for bankruptcy this week anyway.
Last year Cato trade expert Daniel J. Ikenson appeared on dozens of radio and television programs and wrote op-eds in newspapers and magazines explaining why automakers should file for bankruptcy—before spending billions in taxpayer dollars.
Which leaves Ikenson asking one very important question: “What was the point of that?”
In November, GM turned to the federal government for a bailout loan — the one final alternative to bankruptcy. After a lot of discussion and some rich debate, Congress voted against a bailout, seemingly foreclosing all options except bankruptcy. But before GM could avail itself of bankruptcy protection, President Bush took the fateful decision of circumventing Congress and diverting $15.4 billion from Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to GM (in the chummy spirit of avoiding tough news around the holidays).
That was the original sin. George W. Bush is very much complicit in the nationalization of GM and the cascade of similar interventions that may follow. Had Bush not funded GM in December (under questionable authority, no less), the company probably would have filed for bankruptcy on Jan. 1, at which point prospective buyers, both foreign and domestic, would have surfaced and made bids for spin-off assets or equity stakes in the "New GM," just as is happening now.
Meanwhile, the government takeover of GM puts the fate of Ford Motors, a company that didn’t take any bailout money, into question:
Thus, what’s going to happen to Ford? With the public aware that the administration will go to bat for GM, who will want to own Ford stock? Who will lend Ford money (particularly in light of the way GM’s and Chrysler’s bondholders were treated). Who wants to compete against an entity backed by an unrestrained national treasury?
Ultimately, if I’m a member of Ford management or a large shareholder, I’m thinking that my biggest competitors, who’ve made terrible business decisions over the years, just got their debts erased and their downsides covered. Thus, even if my balance sheet is healthy enough to go it alone, why bother? And that calculation presents the specter of another taxpayer bailout to the tunes of tens of billions of dollars, and another government-run auto company.
Charles Krauthammer's recent column tells us that the wisdom of torture is undeniable. According to Krauthammer, there are two situations where torture is justified: the ticking time bomb scenario and when we capture high-ranking terrorists and conclude that giving them the third degree may save lives. Furthermore, it would be "imprudent" for anyone who would not use torture to be named the commander of Central Command (CENTCOM), the military organization in charge of American forces in the Middle East.
The generals who have been in charge of CENTCOM and other national security officials disagree.
Here is a video of General Petraeus, current commander of Central Command, saying that American forces cannot resort to torturing prisoners:
The open letter Petraeus mentions in the video is available here. He admonishes our troops to treat prisoners humanely. "Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemies."
Former CENTCOM commanders Anthony Zinni and Joseph Hoar don't endorse torture either, evidenced by their open letter (along with dozens of other former general officers) to Congress asking that the CIA abide by the Army interrogation manual.
Hoar and former Commandant of the Marine Corps Charles Krulak wrote separately to denounce torture:
As has happened with every other nation that has tried to engage in a little bit of torture -- only for the toughest cases, only when nothing else works -- the abuse spread like wildfire, and every captured prisoner became the key to defusing a potential ticking time bomb.
So, once we sign off on the ticking time bomb scenario, the rationalization spreads to whenever we think it may save lives. Sound familiar?
These former commanders are not alone. Colonel Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, also had some words on the subject. "We can never retake the moral high ground when we claim the right to do unto others that which we would vehemently condemn if done to us."
Malcolm Nance, former head of the Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape course (where sailors are trained in resisting interrogation techniques, including waterboarding), seems to know a thing or two about the topic. "I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people." He roundly denounces the use of waterboarding as wrong, ineffective, and counterproductive. Just for the record, water actually enters the lungs of a waterboarding victim. This is not simulated drowning, but controlled drowning. Read the whole thing.
Krauthammer's column gives the impression that all national security experts support making torture our national policy. Wrong.
The debate over the Obama administration's release of the torture memos took an important turn during the past week, as reflected in discussions on the Sunday morning shows.
The economy was the lead story on Fox News Sunday, but in the second segment Chris Wallace led his questioning of Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) as follows:
The Pentagon now says that it's going to release hundreds of photos of alleged abuse of detainees by U.S. personnel - this, after, of course, the release of the interrogation memos. Senator Bond, how serious is the threat of a backlash in the Middle East and the recruitment of more terrorists, possibly endangering U.S. soldiers in that part of the world?
Revelation! The idea that abusive practices on the part of the United States would draw people to the side of its enemies.
In the media, most of the debate up to now has centered on the tactical question of whether torture works, and to some degree the moral dimension. (Here's David Rittgers on the former and Chris Preble on the latter.)
There's an ineluctable conclusion from understanding that torture drives recruitment which endangers our soldiers: It is strategic error to engage in abusive practices. Abuse on the part of the United States adds heads to the hydra.
But wait. Wallace's question may imply that it is release of the photos - not commission of the underlying offenses - that risks causing a backlash. This cannot be.
Given the governments they've long experienced, people in the Muslim and Arab worlds will generally assume the worst from what they know - and assume that even more than what they know is being hidden. Transparency about U.S. abuses cuts against that narrative and confuses the story that the United States is an abuser akin to the governments Arabs and Muslims have known.
Abusive practices create backlash against the United States. Transparency about abuses after the fact will dispel backlash and muddy the terrorist narrative about the United States and its role in the Middle East.
As the question turns to prosecution of wrongdoing by U.S. officials, such as lawyers who warped the law beyond recognition to justify torture, transparent application of the rule of law in this area would further disrupt a terrorist narrative about the United States.