December 22, 2006 1:25PM

Sandy Berger: Oops, I Must Have Accidentally Stuck the Wrong Papers in My Briefcase, Hidden Them under a Construction Trailer, Come Back to Get Them, and Cut Them into Shreds

The Washington Post reports

On the evening of Oct. 2, 2003, former White House national security adviser Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger stashed highly classified documents he had taken from the National Archives beneath a construction trailer at the corner of Ninth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW so he could surreptitiously retrieve them later and take them to his office, according to a newly disclosed government investigation.


The documents he took detailed how the Clinton administration had responded to the threat of terrorist attacks at the end of 1999. Berger removed a total of five copies of the same document without authorization and later used scissors to destroy three before placing them in his office trash, the National Archives inspector general concluded in a Nov. 4, 2005, report.


After archives officials accused him of taking the documents, Berger told investigators, he “tried to find the trash collector but had no luck.” But instead of admitting he had removed them deliberately — by stuffing them in his suit pockets on multiple occasions — Berger initially said he had removed them by mistake.


The fact that Berger, one of President Bill Clinton’s closest aides from 1997 to 2001, illicitly removed the documents is well‐​known: A federal judge in September 2005 ordered him to pay a $50,000 fine for his actions and forfeit his security clearance for three years.


What Berger did, and the ham‐​handed and comical methods by which he did it, are freshly detailed in the National Archives report, which the Associated Press obtained first under a Freedom of Information Act request.


Although the report reiterates that Berger’s main motive was to prepare himself for testifying before a commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, it makes clear that he not only sought to study the documents but also destroyed some copies and — when initially confronted — denied he had done so.


His lawyer, Lanny Breuer, said in a statement yesterday that Berger “considers this matter closed, and he is pleased to have moved on.”

More special rules for Washington insiders?

December 22, 2006 10:07AM

That Other Lesson We’re Not Learning from Iraq

In the wake of last November’s election, there has been talk of a paradigm shift in American politics and a new public interest in “progressive ideas.” I’m not sure that a one‐​Senate‐​seat legislative advantage marks a “shift,” but there certainly is much chest‐​thumping on the left, and intense rallying on the right.


Both edges of the political spectrum are promising their adherents that they will redouble their efforts to molding the nation according to their “ideals.” Imagine: our decisions about our persons, our relationships, our children and their education, our health, our property, our political activity, our activities in the marketplace, etc., will be pushed toward even greater conformity with the preferences of Washington politicians. Meanwhile, those individuals with different preferences will suffer the eternal hostility of a Nancy Pelosi or a Trent Lott or a John McCain.


Doesn’t this sound just a bit (a nonviolent bit, yes, but still a bit) like the Sunni, Shia, and Kurds in Iraq? Why would we want to follow that model, and further erode the individual liberty model that once served us so well?


If you haven’t already done so, be sure to read the Cato’s Letter abridged version of George Will’s remarks from last summer’s Friedman Prize dinner. One section is especially on point:

You go to spring training, and a baseball manager will tell you that his team is just two players away from the World Series. Unfortunately, they are Ruth and Gehrig.


Iraq is just four people away from paradise. They need a George Washington, a charismatic, iconic, talismanic figure, a symbol of national unity, above politics. They need an Alexander Hamilton, who could create a modern economy out of human dust. They need a James Madison, a genius of constitutional architecture, for getting factions to live together. And they need a John Marshall, a great jurist, to breathe life into a parchment. They need that and they need the astonishing social soil of the second half of the 18th century, from which such people sprank with profusion.


Which is to say that they’re not close.

And, it seems, we’re drifting further and further away, ourselves.

December 21, 2006 12:44PM

C. Boyden Gray on Oil Subsidies

At a high-level, off-the-record meeting concerning energy security that I attended earlier this week in Washington featuring New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, former CIA director James Woolsey, and energy consultant Daniel Yergin, a study came up in the course of discussion that has been bobbling around for a while now just below the radar screen regarding oil subsidies. The study, co-authored by major Republican C. Boyden Gray and published in a conservative law journal out of the University of Texas, alleges that the oil industry is subsidized to the tune of $250 billion a year, and that claim was marshaled to support the case for countervailing ethanol subsidies. If a careful guy like Boyden Gray — no enemy of business community he — has come to this conclusion, then there must be something to it, right? At least, that’s what many of the attendees were telling each other.

Now, this is a pretty remarkable claim given that the most aggressive yet credible oil subsidy estimates I’ve ever seen come from economist Douglas Koplow of Earth Track. He argued in a 1998 study for Greenpeace (not available electronically as far as I know) that total oil subsidies range from $18-40.6 billion if you count not just subsidies targeted at the oil industry but (1) those that help multiple industrial sectors as well, and (2) embrace some pretty ambitious claims about the chunk of defense spending that would disappear if the military’s oil mission were to disappear.

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December 20, 2006 2:53PM

More Energy Security Gibberish (Wall Street Journal Edition)

Yesterday, the Journal ran a long, page one story featuring claims by retired Air Force General Charles Wald that oil production facilities around the world are dangerously vulnerable to terrorist attack and that the U.S. hasn't done enough about it. General Wald is primarily worried about unguarded pipelines and chokepoints for tanker traffic and believes that the U.S. military needs to make "oil security" one of its chief concerns.

I was invited this morning by producers at CNBC's Kudlow & Co. to debate General Wald, but alas, the General turned out to be unavailable, so the spot was scrapped. That's too bad, because I was looking forward to engagement.

In short, General Wald is arguing that:

  • Market actors - who have spent billions of dollars on these facilities - are underinvetsting in security;
  • Producer states - who rely on oil revenues for most of their state revenue - are underinvesting in security as well; and finally:
  • If the U.S. military doesn't do something about this, nobody will.

This is all pretty hard to swallow. Why would investor-owned oil companies be so carefree about their multi-billion-dollar facilities and capital assets? Are those companies run by stupid or myopic individuals? Likewise, poor governments have even more reason to be worried about securing oil production facilities and transit lanes than does the United States, because the economic harms caused by disruption would be far greater on the former than the latter.

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December 19, 2006 3:47PM

Gerson’s “Vision Thing”

How can the G.O.P. get its groove back? Michael Gerson, former speechwriter and top policy advisor to President Bush, has an idea: purge the small‐​government conservatives. As he puts it in the current issue of Newsweek, “any political movement that elevates abstract antigovernment ideology above human needs is hardly conservative, and unlikely to win.” 


As Justin Logan has pointed out in this space before, Gerson finds the “small government” aspect of conservatism “morally empty.” Gerson expands on that theme here:

As antigovernment conservatives seek to purify the Republican Party, it is reasonable to ask if the purest among them are conservatives at all. The combination of disdain for government, a reflexive preference for markets and an unbalanced emphasis on individual choice is usually called libertarianism. The old conservatives had some concerns about that creed, which Russell Kirk called “an ideology of universal selfishness.” Conservatives have generally taught that the health of society is determined by the health of institutions: families, neighborhoods, schools, congregations. Unfettered individualism can loosen those bonds, while government can act to strengthen them. By this standard, good public policies — from incentives to charitable giving, to imposing minimal standards on inner‐​city schools — are not apostasy; they are a thoroughly orthodox, conservative commitment to the common good.

Campaigning on the size of government in 2008, while opponents talk about health care, education and poverty, will seem, and be, procedural, small‐​minded, cold and uninspired. The moral stakes are even higher. What does antigovernment conservatism offer to inner‐​city neighborhoods where violence is common and families are rare? Nothing. What achievement would it contribute to racial healing and the unity of our country? No achievement at all. Anti‐​government conservatism turns out to be a strange kind of idealism — an idealism that strangles mercy.

A speechwriter’s job is to make the president talk pretty; it’s generally a bad idea to give him a policymaking role. Yet Gerson had one in the Bush White House. “He might have had more influence than any White House staffer who wasn’t chief of staff or national security adviser,” according to Bill Kristol. As the Washington Post reported upon Gerson’s departure last summer: 

He was a formulator of the Bush doctrine making the spread of democracy the fundamental goal of U.S. foreign policy, a policy hailed as revolutionary by some and criticized as unrealistic by others. He led a personal crusade to make unprecedented multibillion‐​dollar investments in fighting AIDS, malaria and poverty around the globe. He became one of the few voices pressing for a more aggressive policy to stop genocide in Darfur, even as critics complained of U.S. inaction.

This is the Gerson vision: armed uplift abroad, compassionate statism at home, and boundless generosity with other people’s blood and treasure. If you think the problem with American foreign policy is that it hasn’t been ambitious enough in the last five years, if you think the problem with the Great Society was that there wasn’t enough hymn‐​singing, then it may be for you. But for those of us who favor limited, constitutional government, Gerson’s views are instructive. That a man with such contempt for small‐​government conservatives had the ear of the president explains a lot about the wreckage that surrounds us.

December 19, 2006 12:56PM

Kings, Dukes and Earls

Here’s a gem about officialdom from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.


Excerpt:

I read to Jim about kings and dukes and earls, and how they called each other “your majesty” and “your grace” and “your lordship,” instead of mister. Jim’s eyes bugged out, he was so interested.


“I didn’t know dey was so many of ‘em, he said. “I ain’t heard about none, but old King Solomon, and dem kings in a pack of cards. How much pay do a king get?”


“Why they can have just as much as they want. Everything belongs to them.”


“Ain’t dat gay? And what have dey got to do, Huck?”


“Why nothing! How you do talk. They just lazy around.”


“Is dat so?”


“Of course it is. They just lazy around — except maybe when they go to war.”