“Bin Laden would be very pleased with the current progress of his ideas and agenda,” said Bruce Hoffman, speaking at the Jamestown Foundation’s Ninth Annual Terrorism Conference in Washington last month. “The situation in the Middle East is worse than ever,” he added, “with ISIS new ability to actually hold territory. Be prepared for a long war.” Hoffman, director of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service’s Center for Security Studies, led off several speakers with varied expertise on the different nations involved.
His talk was followed by Bruce Riedel, author of several books on strategy, and a 30-year veteran of the CIA and National Security Council. The past Arab political system of kings, dictators, and police states was discredited and breaking down, he explained, with no viable new system in sight. Riedel said U.S. Arab allies were highly conflicted about al-Qaeda and ISIS, referring to Saudi and Gulf State funding for the Taliban and ISIS and Turkey’s open border for terrorist recruits. The absolutely worst strategy for America would be to turn the war into one between the West and Islam, he said, noting that terrorists now have a dozen bases of operations compared to the one with which Bin Laden started. Monitoring returning terrorists to Europe was intensely costly, Riedel noted, as it requires some 12 to 24 policemen to mount 24-hour surveillance for each man or woman.
More American “boots on the ground” was opposed by the next speaker, David Kilcullen, CEO of Caerus Associates. His experience includes years with Australian counter insurgency forces in the Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Kilcullen argued that the war could not be won with American ground forces, but only with nationalist, anti-ISIS Muslims with U.S. support. He said the conscious and successful policy of ISIS-instigated American bombing was the way to bring in new Islamist recruits and that “significant” numbers of volunteers were arriving from Central Asia, not just from Europe.
The next panel included Pavel Baev, an analyst for Jamestown’s Eurasia Daily Monitor, former Russian intelligence staffer, now a fellow with Brookings Institution and author of many writings on conflict and terrorism. Baev said that Putin’s policies were motivated by his own fear of being overthrown. He argued that good relations with Turkey were far more important for Russia than its support for the Syrian government.
Vladimir van Wilgenburg, another Jamestown scholar and specialist on Kurdistan, explained that many of the Kurdish fighters in Syria came from Turkey, and that their “war objective” was to pursue Kurdish interests, not necessarily American ones. He said that there was much conflict and “huge differences” between and among the different Kurdish groups, with the PKK wanting independence from Turkey and the Peshmerga looking to gain new territory out of Iraq and Syria for a Kurdish nation. Yet their soldiers are not being paid as Iraq’s government withheld monies from the sale of Kurdish oil.
Ahmed A.S. Hashim, a professor from Singapore, explained the theoretical foundations of ISIS and reasons for its strategy of savagery in an article he submitted. He explained how Sunnis still blame the Shia for once aiding the Mongols to sack Baghdad during the 13th century.
Michael W.S. Ryan, a Jamestown Senior Fellow and formerly CIA and State Department, explained that neither al-Qaeda nor ISIS were focused on “end times” theology as they are sometimes accused. He said that ISIS was following classic insurgency strategy: first creating chaos by weakening and discrediting police and military forces, so that the populace would support any new leaders who could provide security and safety, after which it tried to become a regular state holding territory.
Jacob Zenn, an expert on Boku Haram, the ISIS affiliate in Africa, showed how ISIS is expanding into other African nations. He said that their next objective would be fomenting violence in Southeast Asia.
General Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency, was the keynote speaker, and provided many interesting observations. He said the breaking up of Middle East nations was “tectonic,” that ISIS was challenging the whole concept of nation states. He compared the Muslim world’s current chaos to the 30 Years War in Europe. (A recent report in the Washington Post shows a broad picture of what is actually happening on the battlefields.)
Hayden observed that “American foreign policy was largely indifferent to its effects on the ground” in the Muslim world. He compared air power without ground power to casual sex—acting without commitment—saying that it was “merely mowing the grass.” ISIS, originally not thought of as a threat to America, Hayden explained, is now a threat to Europe and even could cause American military conflict with Russia. He said that America should instead take the fight to the enemy (presumably meaning invade Syria) rather than giving up our civil freedoms by becoming a garrison security state. America is “less safe” than five years ago, he concluded.
Hayden also addressed targeting by drones. He said the CIA was aware of the risk of blowback and that every killing of innocent civilians was based on three levels of threat. Killing less important enemies would be aborted if there was risk of killing innocents as well, however for high value leadership targets the (collateral damage) killing of nearby innocents was considered a consequence of war.
Yet none of the speakers proposed a truly alternative policy, such as that developed by TAC’s William Lind, who has urged that Washington adopt a defensive instead of offensive posture, stopping its aggressive interventions. Rather we should let the Arab conflicts play themselves out. Lind argues that we should maintain a presence, but instead employ a policy of “offshore balancing,” very well explained by Christopher Layne and TAC’s new national editor, Benjamin Schwartz, somewhat the way the British did when their empire was in its prime.
Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.
“We’re winning.” “We can win.” “We will win.” “We must win.” This was the constant talk of American generals in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and now Syria. The failure of U.S. strategy is obvious to the whole world. America violates nearly all the precepts of history’s lessons, wreaking chaos and misery upon more nations, but not “winning.”
An excellent little book is a must-read for our generals and members of Congress. It is titled A History of Strategy: From Sun Tzu to William S. Lind. Sun Tzu was the Chinese author of the world’s most definitive study of military strategy. Lind is TAC’s own famous military historian and analyst. The author is Israeli historian Martin Van Creveld, one of today’s most prestigious and prolific military analysts.
Chapters include “Chinese Military Thought” and “From Antiquity to the Middle Ages.” Interestingly, Chinese warfare was based upon a theory called dao, meaning “a return to normal.” Thus it was oriented toward limited war. War was evil and “a temporary departure from ‘cosmic harmony.’” Chinese texts “are permeated by a humanitarian approach and have as their aim the restoration of dao.” “Money is the sinews of war” and “the larger the distance from home, the more ruinous the cost.” (Consider America’s costs of almost $1 million per year for each soldier stationed in Afghanistan.)
Van Creveld focuses on Sun Tzu’s most famous dictum that starting a war should be the last resort, and that the greatest generals win without actual warfare. Think instead of Washington where launching a war is the first option—in Iraq, Libya, and now Yemen.
The book starts with wars after AD 1500, focusing on Machiavelli, the first modern student and writer on strategy, and the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which marked the construction of the modern European state. Then proceeding through contemporary times Van Creveld quotes and explains the many generals and thinkers who developed modern strategies. Among the theorists are of course many Germans. On the other hand, surprisingly, “the British had never been among the great producers of military theory” though “always tending to be pragmatic.”
Then there was the training to develop “cohesion” whereby “comrade sustained comrade and mutual shame prevented each one from running away. That was the way “to ensure that men did not break in front of … contemporary weapons.”
Modern air war, writes Creveld, was expected to be “a more humane modus operandi than an endless struggle of attrition” which “might be over almost before it had begun.” Instead civilians “proved much more resilient than expected.” I myself studied in Germany after World War II. I was amazed that “only” a million civilians died where every city had been flattened (and half of those just from the two firestorms triggered in Hamburg and Dresden). In 1952, I walked through the bombed-out city blocks to my classes. I also took a U.S. Army bus tour through East Berlin and saw it still flattened as far as the eye could see.
Unfortunately the book does not offer much about the Byzantine Empire, which lasted a thousand years. Its strategy obviously was most successful. This incredibly long life came from a strategy of fighting for limited objectives, never making permanent enemies, and avoiding total war. Think of America’s contrary strategy of usually demanding unconditional surrender. The better approach is explained well in a book by Edward Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire.
Similarly the British Empire used war as a last resort, trying instead to let its enemies fight each other. In the Third World it ruled by playing tribes off one another. Most tribes hate their neighbors more than foreign invaders—look at old Scotland or modern Afghans and Arabs. It’s long term strategy was well described by an Australian, Owen Harries. He explained in TAC in an article titled the “Perils of Hegemony,”
During the time of their greatest power, the British followed a prudent policy of “Splendid Isolation,” keeping their distance from matters that did not affect them seriously…. They played the role of offshore balancer, aiming not at achieving hegemony but at preventing any other states from doing so.
If all the above seems contrary to America’s way of war, it is. Especially Washington’s post-communist penchant to use war as a first rather than a last resort.
Van Creveld ends his book with the writings of TAC’s own William Lind on guerrilla and non-state wars, what Lind calls “Fourth Generation warfare.” He describes how, by 1990, “the Clausewitzian framework was beginning to show serious cracks; it proved incapable of incorporating warfare by, or against, non-state actors.” The outcome, he writes, “with the sole exception of the 1982 Falkland War and the 1991 Gulf War, Western armies have been going from one defeat to another.”
Lind’s analyses describe First Generation warfare as ending with Napoleon and the rise of mass infantry and the demise of cavalry. Second Generation warfare opened in 1816 lasting until the last year of World War I. New technology allowed for massive firepower and obliteration of targets. It takes many years before generals recognize changes while they still continue with old tactics (for example, frontal assaults on artillery and machine guns). These were already shown to be obsolete during the time of the American Civil War, but continued well into World War I.
Third Generation warfare was pioneered by the Germans, using mobility, range, and flexibility with spectacular success at the beginning of World War II. General Patton was a master of such warfare. Second Generation warfare, writes Lind, still remained in some nations’ strategies, particularly the U.S. because of our overwhelming wealth, productivity and logistic abilities. Fourth Generation warfare of “terrorism, guerrillas and insurgency of every kind” was developed by those unable to match the West in terms of firepower and technology. It is a return to warfare before the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 when wars were waged by non-nations such as gangs, religions, tribes, businesses, city states, and young males for rape and pillage. He argues that America “winning” just creates failed states that then become more of a threat to us than the nation-states we destroyed.
Lind argues that America should change from offensive to defensive warfare and containment, as we did with communism. Offensive war is bankrupting us and only creating more enemies wanting vengeance and instigating terrorism. Instead we should try to contain, not inflame, Islamist fanaticism and let it burn itself out just as did the religious wars in Europe during the 17th century. Current American strategy, Lind argues, results in losing wars against enemies wearing bathrobes and flip flops. Lind argues that we should work with nations which are sources of order and stability. (Think China.)
From being a lonely voice of dissent from Washington’s losing strategy, Lind’s concepts are now becoming accepted (see Newsweek’s “Can America Win a War?”). If one thinks of America’s wars as a business, then they become more understandable as profit centers and career enhancement opportunities. I’ve delved into this subject with a study, “12 Reasons America Doesn’t Win its Wars.” Or, as one bitter joke put it, “Most nations waged wars to loot their enemies, America wages war to loot the American treasury.”
Van Creveld gives a last sober warning. Referring to cyber warfare, he writes, “each time advancing technology enabled mankind to move into a new environment—war quickly followed.”
Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.
More and more is written arguing that American middle class standards of living have now stagnated for a number of years. Last year there was Frenchman Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which using a massive amount of statistics, supposedly proved that free markets were no longer delivering economic growth for vast segments of the European and American populations. French capitalism is hardly anybody’s model of dynamism, opportunity or growth. So it’s only natural that Piketty and his followers find inequality and stagnation. The same can be said for Pope Francis, who with a “capitalist” model of his native Argentina naturally thinks that free markets are unjust, cruel and poverty creating.
To combat this resurgent socialism, conservatives need to understand the reasons real incomes haven’t increased and why and where growth is stymied. Otherwise they will be unable to answer the Left’s clamor for more regulations, government spending and controls in the name of “equality.” It is in fact the allocation of money away from economic growth and proliferating government rules that cause stagnation and prevent the creation of new wealth.
First consider the impact of stymying regulations. When Obama first took office, he wanted to invest in new infrastructure to get the economy moving. But studies of the delays and consequent costs of simply rebuilding a bridge indicate that often these projects suffer from 5 to 10 years of delay and 10,000 pages of government regulation. Blue collar jobs are particularly affected by these holdups in permitting new construction. Very high-paying new mining ventures are virtually shut down by delays, costs, lawsuits and the exposure of investors to retroactive EPA and judicial rulings. The Competitive Enterprise Institute estimates that regulatory compliance costs the American economy $1.8 trillion annually or $15,000 per family. The costs above don’t include all the uncreated jobs that excessive regulations prevent from ever starting up.
Then there are government-created or sanctioned monopolies, particularly in the provision of health care. Just one monopolistic group, health care providers, have taken away what otherwise would have been a substantial increase in income for working and middle classes. It now costs a family of four some $22,000 for health care (with ever increasing co-payments and deductibles); just imagine if we spent half as much (like most European nations) and could see an $11,000 dollar pay increase per family. That alone would substantially change the living standard stagnation statistics. Companies would surely rather pay that money to their workers than have it disappear into the maw of the health care system.
Lack of competition, unnecessary tests and operations, defensive medicine because of lawsuits, an opaque system of pricing (designed to obfuscate and prevent analyses of costs), and monopolistic drug companies all hold back the creation of more efficiency in health care. Recent news about incredible increases in formerly low priced but important medicines has finally instigated some real criticism of drug costs. (A simple solution would be to allow drug imports now prohibited under Obamacare.)
In responding to the resurgence of socialistic ideas, conservatives must also remember that cheap energy has been basis of human progress. When Shell Oil Company announced the ending of its multi-billion dollar Arctic drilling program after only one exploratory well, the Washington Post also reported that Shell was denied permission from the Fish and Wildlife Administration for a one-time variance to allow its second well to be drilled nine miles instead of 15 miles from its first well as originally planned, as the four-month weather window for drilling was closing. The regulators argued that noise from the drilling might “harass” marine mammals. This in 5 million square miles of Arctic Ocean. Now all oil drilling has ended as other companies won’t even bid on new leases.
Socialists are now reinforced by extreme environmentalists whose agenda, using global warming hypotheses, is that America must “decarbonize” its economy by ending “the fossil fuel industry”—oil, coal, and gas—in order to “save the world.” Whatever their stated goals, their plans would put an end to free market capitalism through new government regulations and taxes. Spending hundreds of billions on global warming (now called climate change) will cause a substantial decline in living standards. As burning coal is prohibited, rising electricity prices will result. In Germany, for example, electricity now costs three times as much as in America because of its government subsidies of windmills and solar cells—infrastructure that is built even where the weather is mostly cloudy.
Not all the damage comes from the Left. On the Right there are calls to increase military and security spending beyond its current trillion dollars a year. Most of this money is wasted, when it could be growing our standard of living.
Economists also discount or ignore what they are unable to measure, and productivity growth is particularly difficult to quantify. The advent of Uber taxis, smartphones, dependable cars that don’t break down, free international telephone calls—all are mostly beyond measurement yet surely reflect a rising standard of living.
When it comes to damaging regulations, there are solutions. To alleviate delays for construction permits, there are reform proposals in Congress to create “one stop regulatory shopping” whereby one lead agency would have responsibility for applications. Deadlines could be established, with agency approvals becoming automatic unless they concluded their objections within a particular time limit.
Americans should understand who and what influences are responsible for our declining growth—not blame our economic system. Rather they should know that it is Washington’s misallocation of resources that causes our problems, not freedom and free markets.
Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.
The Israel Lobby does not represent most Jews. Sound surprising? You’d never know it from most TV talk shows or Republicans denouncing the Iran agreement as a terminal threat to Israel, and least of all from “The Lobby” itself. Its intimidating power depends upon the myth that it represents all American Jews, when it does not even represent a majority. It should really be called the “Likud Lobby,” representing Netanyahu, neoconservatives, militant settlers on the West Bank, evangelicals (mainly old ones) impatient for Armageddon, and the military-industrial complex.
Most American Jews are divided or just don’t care, just like other Americans. The young, especially, do not support the policies of Israeli or American hawks seeking more wars in the Middle East. Many Jewish voices are in accord on the pact.
By a 20-point margin in various polls, American Jews support the Iran agreement. The largest circulation Jewish newspapers carry balanced analyses and discussions. The Jewish Week’s publisher, Gary Rosenblatt, reports interesting and typical polling on Jewish Americans in an article, “Iran Deal Driving Jews Further Apart“:
- 90 percent are proud to be Jewish
- 43 percent say that caring about Israel is essential to their Jewishness
- 65 percent feel “that U.S. support for Israel is either about right or, for 20 percent, too much.”
An earlier Pew poll showed:
- 31 percent did not feel attached to the state of Israel
- 39 percent felt only “somewhat” attached
- 83 percent believe that the settlements on Palestine lands are inimical to Israeli security.
The largest Jewish newspaper, Forward, has published articles like “Fact Checking the Flame Throwers on Both Sides of Iran Deal” and “Why Israel Lobby is Biggest Casualty of Feud over Netanyahu’s Speech.”
J Street, named for the missing street in Washington, was founded to promote the missing voice of non-AIPAC Jews. It is manning phone banks, placing op-eds, and running ads in support of the Iran agreement. The old-line American Council for Judaism has long promoted peace with profound, learned writings since the founding of Zionism. Tikkun is another large organization supporting the agreement.
The New Yorker reports on AIPAC’s declining influence. Last March I wrote “The Crumbling Israeli Lobby” with statistics about its declining support, particularly among younger Jews and Evangelical Christians “rebelling against the excessive biblical literalism of their parents.” The Washington Post published “Jewish Leaders Don’t Speak for American Jews on Iran,” which analyzed the “rift between American Jews and the groups generally known as ‘the Jewish leadership.’” The article follows the money, explaining how a minority of the old and rich calls the tune.
All this support for the Iran deal from Jews of all ages (see J Street’s statistics) has not outweighed the literally billions of dollars which some older Jews are willing to throw into the fight. Congress may yet override Obama and reject the agreement. The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus wrote “The GOP’s Alternate Universe On Iran,” explaining that the options remaining after rejection of the deal are leaving Iran to proceed with producing nuclear bombs or starting another war. Although many Republican leaders prefer war, the potential disaster to the world’s economy from the risk of destruction of Persian Gulf oil exports is still to be considered.
The main issues also involve a lot of false information and unproven accusations about Iran. The biggest is that they are religious crazies who would commit suicide if they had just one bomb to drop on Israel. Actually, Iran’s policies have been very cautious. Another is rebutted by Phil Giraldi’s “Did Iranian Weapons Kill Americans,” concerning their supposedly helping Iraq with shaped charges to repel American forces. Another story is that Iran is the largest sponsor of state terrorism because it supports the Hezbollah guerrillas. And so on. They are all familiar to those of us who wrote about and exposed lies about Iraq before Washington destroyed that country.
Republican claims that they are just demanding a better deal are not believable, as other nations won’t go along. The agreement is about disarming Iran’s nuclear potential (that was the basis for multi-national support) not forcing it to surrender itself. The Europeans, Russia, and China never agreed to demand such a surrender.
Most Americans, Israelis, and Iranians want peace, but powerful forces profit from wars. We have an earlier tragic example to learn from, the undermining of the Oslo peace accords, which actually contained compromises and started settling the Palestinian issue. Netanyahu and a handful of neoconservatives put out their own plan, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” This agenda included the destruction of Iraq, and one of the signatories, David Wurmser, explained how Iraq could be thrown into chaos.
Former National Security Council director Brent Scowcroft compares the Iran agreement to earlier diplomatic breakthroughs opening up China and agreeing to armaments control with Russia, “an epochal moment that should not be squandered.” Most American Jews agree.
Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.
It’s one thing for libertarians to argue against helping Ukraine with weaponry, but it is quite another to call Ukrainians neo-Nazis and anti-Semitic, giving credence to the barrage of propaganda on Russian TV, and to try to defame their struggle. There are some elements that could be so described, especially in the Azov Brigade, which fought key battles with the separatists and Russian invaders. But the national election last May showed them winning only 1 percent of the national vote and being decisively defeated.
Let’s see: America allied with Stalin to defeat Hitler. We then gave succor to former Nazi scientists to help build our rockets. Today we are aiding the terrorist Kurdish PKK against ISIS in Syria (WSJ 7/25/15); we are now on the same side as the Iranians to defeat ISIS in Iraq; and we sustained many assorted dictators during the Cold War. Think of the Saudis, too: we now help Saudi Arabia’s dictators (even refueling their bombers) to target and kill Yemenis who never did America any harm—indeed, they are al-Qaeda’s enemies.
Ukrainian history is bloody and complicated. After the Soviets killed some 7 million Ukrainians, is it a wonder that many survivors welcomed the Germans? And their leader, Stepan Bandera, went on fighting for years. Resisting Ukrainians and Poles were only finally suppressed by Stalin five years after the end of the Second World War, in 1950. Anne Applebaum’s book Gulag movingly describes how survivors in the labor camps revolted and killed their guards after Stalin’s death. They weren’t the intellectuals and peasants who filled the camps in the 1930s, who didn’t know how to fight and kill.
So now we have some conservatives and libertarians unfortunately parroting and spreading Putin’s Russian accusations that a few hundred men who appeal to the mottos of the old resistance discredit all the millions of Ukrainians. And that therefore Ukraine should be abandoned.
They’re wrong. But what should American policy be, and what are some possible avenues for compromise? Former Canadian intelligence officials have put forth a very good analysis that explains, “Washington and its NATO allies have only the fuzziest idea of what they want to achieve but are nonetheless taking military measures apparently oblivious to their potential impact on Russian security interests. As Sun Tzu observed, ‘Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat’. In Europe, the noise people hear is the rumble of Russian mechanized forces preparing to move on Mariupol, Kharkiv and maybe Kiev.”
First, we should recognize that before Yanukovych’s ouster and the present crisis Russian interests were overly pressed and prejudiced by European Union officials who “would have forced Ukraine to decide between Russia and the European Union, flatly rejecting Putin’s offer of a tripartite arrangement”—between Russia, Ukraine, and the EU—“that would allow Ukraine to sustain its ties with Russia.” There was even a proposal to change Ukraine’s railroad gauge from Russian to West European widths so trains could not easily travel into Russia, Ukraine’s main trading partner. The Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine alludes to “military-technological co-operation” and repeatedly addresses “mutual security” and defense. Small wonder that Russia felt threatened.
Most of these initiatives came from lower-level officials, perhaps even without the knowledge of Obama and Germany’s Chancellor Merkel. What’s more, Obama’s State Department European chief is a neoconservative, Victoria Nuland, inherited from Cheney’s gang of “rule-the-worlders.” It has been said of Western dealings with Ukraine that no grown-ups were in charge.
Putin’s actions in seizing Crimea and destabilizing Ukraine, however, needed a strong response. That doesn’t preclude negotiation: at a recent meeting of the Washington Oil & Gas Forum, a speaker explained that Putin only has liquid reserves—some $200 billion—to carry on another two years before sanctions and the decline in oil prices cause real havoc with the Russian economy. He said that Russian officials lately seemed more open to compromise. In another context, Obama recently praised Putin for helping in the Iran negotiations.
But the Russians also require convincing that they cannot continue slicing up Ukraine without severe consequences. America should help the Ukrainians: defensive weapons, especially against tanks and artillery, should be on the table. First, however, Washington should reach out to Putin with diplomacy, especially now, after its successful beginning with Iran.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has reported on a feasible structure of compromise. Russia would keep Crimea through “buying” a 99-year lease, paying with discounted gas deliveries to Ukraine. Ukraine would end its blockade, recognize the lease, and sell water and electricity to the peninsula. Free transit of citizens and goods of both nations would be guaranteed, and Russia would respect past property rights in place at the time of its invasion.
The breakaway East Ukraine would have some kind of federalist semi-autonomy within the nation. (Indeed, federalism could be a reform of tremendous significance for the prosperity of many nations afflicted by corruption and overly centralized governments, including Russia.) Ukraine would be part of both the European Union, through an association agreement, and belong to the Russian customs union. Europe and Russia would end their trade and investment restrictions and travel bans.
There is an encouraging example from the past, that of Austria after World War II. Russia and the West agreed that it would be neutral, with no foreign military bases or alliances: “neutrality on the Swiss model.” It worked very well. Austria prospered with peace and as a middle ground for commerce between East and West.
An agreement would be the crowning achievement of Obama—diplomacy and peace with Iran and Russia. Admittedly, diplomacy is tough for Republicans. Ever since the Civil War they have thought winning means demanding unconditional surrender. Most of their leaders think blockade and bombing should be the first measures in any dispute with other nations. (Former American Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman has written an excellent appeal for and explanation of diplomacy . It explains why diplomacy is vital, especially for preventing and ending wars. It should be read by all Republicans in Congress.)
Finally, Washington should address the lies coming out of Russian media, including into America through RT. Google searches give prominence and credibility to Russian state-controlled “media” and bloggers who often promote disinformation. CNN in Russia has shut down because of the censorship and danger to its journalists. Anne Applebaum has suggested various ways to empower silenced Russian journalists to help get their voices out to the Russian people.
I lectured in three Ukrainian cities years ago on “Free Market Lessons from Asia and Latin America,” sponsored by the American Foreign Policy Council with a grant from CIPE. The Atlas Network sponsored a special mission last fall to explain and promote free market, anti-corruption measures to the new government. Students for Liberty held a special conference in Kiev. All the participants spoke of the idealistic young people working for Ukraine to emulate Europe rather than Putin’s Russia. Since Russians took over Crimea they have shut down Western television reception and curtailed the free Internet. Believe me, most Ukrainians do not want to come under the rule of modern Russian police state.
Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.
Mass incarceration in America has lifted our prisoner count to 2.3 million, dwarfing that of all other nations; of federal prisoners, only 13 percent are serving time for violent crimes, while 72 percent are imprisoned for nonviolent offenses. Altogether, Americans are held in thousands of prisons and jails. Millions more are former prisoners or arrestees. Criminal-justice reform relates to much more than occasional killings by rogue policemen: the whole over-criminalization incentive structure driving long prison sentences and the re-sentencing of parolees in the judicial system needs publicizing and reform. The multibillion-dollar cost of policing and jailing nonviolent offenders also takes money that our cities (or taxpayers) could well use for civilized betterment.
Our judicial system has some serious flaws, particularly its quest for guilty verdicts and incarceration. I first learned about the drive for convictions through an experience with a former employee. He was arrested for getting in a fight with a drunken resident in a business I once owned. He had called the police himself after hitting the man with his nightstick during a fight. (We knew the man was drunk from blood tests at the hospital where the man was treated and released the same night.) The defense attorney, paid by the city, strongly urged my man to plead guilty, telling him that he would easily get off with probation and a few hours of community service. My employee said that then he would then have a criminal record. But the attorney warned that if he went to court he risked spending years in jail. Later I learned that the attorney was paid little more to fight the charges than to have her client offer a plea bargain. I said to her that I would double whatever legal fees she earned from the court if she would defend him in pleading innocent. She agreed.
After three court dates, the other man never appeared, so my employee’s lawyer asked the prosecutor to drop the case, but the prosecutor refused. I saw that the prosecutor wanted to collect convictions to help her own career. Finally, after the other man missed yet another court appearance, the prosecutor agreed to drop the case. That’s how I saw first-hand how the judicial system obtains so many guilty verdicts, which eventually result in so many imprisonments. The system is called “meeting and pleading,” as described by former Baltimore police officer Michael Wood. And now, with computerized records, once a man has a conviction he won’t be hired by all sorts of businesses. In fact, businesses risk being sued for “negligent hiring” if an employee turns out to be a former felon and commits another crime at work.
Reason has published about related problems with sex-offender registration. Through plea bargaining, thousands of men are on sex-offender lists that don’t distinguish violence by strangers against minors from such “crimes” as urinating in public or exposure. Reason notes that according to Human Rights Watch, some states’ sex-offender lists include teenagers who had consensual sex with other teens. In Pennsylvania, 14-year-olds were subject to lifetime listing as sex offenders. The idea behind lifetime penalties for being a sex offender was the impression that most such acts were violently committed by strangers upon small children and that such offenders represented a continuing menace. But in practice the punishment can mean a lifetime of stigma and economic ruin inflicted upon people who pose no such risk and have not committed any comparable act.
There are many other issues of over-criminalization. The Washington Post hired former Reason blogger Radley Balko, author of the Rise of the Warrior Cop, to cover a host of other criminal-justice reform issues.
Reform is beginning, but it is very slow. Both Republicans, who used to support mass incarceration, and Democrats, often beholden to police and prison-guard unions, have not been quick to respond. Pat Nolan, formerly of Justice Fellowship, told me how the Obama Justice Department dawdled for years to put forward regulations to enforce the Prison Rape Elimination Act, passed in 2003, because of prison-guard union opposition. Solitary confinement is another issue crying out for reform but also one that provides extra jobs for guards, as I was told by Jim Ridgeway, who runs SolitaryWatch.com. A very important new group is Right on Crime, a conservative coalition supported by the Heritage Foundation, tax activist Grover Norquist, Pat Nolan, and politicians such as Newt Gingrich. It’s now focusing on civil asset forfeiture, another egregious government abuse created in the name of fighting crime.
Slowly but certainly, Americans across the political spectrum are beginning to question and reform the criminal-justice system, even rethinking the panic-stricken measures of the past 30 years that led to so much imprisonment, so many ruined lives, and the runaway growth of police powers.
Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.
America doesn’t “win” its wars, because winning a war is secondary to other goals in our war making. Winning or losing has little immediate consequence for the United States, because the wars we start, Wars of Choice, are not of vital national interest; losing doesn’t mean getting invaded or our cities being destroyed. The following are some of the interests Washington has in not winning, reasons for our unending wars.
1) War sustains the (very) profitable log-rolling contracts for supplies in key congressional districts, grants for university faculties to study strategy, new funding for new weapons. During wartime who dares question almost any Pentagon cost “to defend America?”
2) Continued conflict postpones hard decisions about cutting defense spending such as closing surplus bases, cutting duplicate systems, and focusing on waste. See 16 Ways to Cut Defense. Shakespeare put it well, advising a king to have lots of foreign wars in order to have tranquility at home.
3) Starting wars is the historic way for kings (and presidents) to gain popularity and avoid doing tough domestic reforms for problems that cry out for solutions. War lets them be postponed. Think of George W. Bush winning election on promises to balance the budget, have health care reform, reform our bankrupt social security commitments, tackle the EPA, take on the teachers’ unions, rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, and such. Instead, with war, all those issues were swept aside. He won his re-election by having even bigger deficit warfare/welfare spending and increasing the national debt by trillions.
4) Private “contractors” profit from continuing crises. They don’t get paid in peacetime like ordinary soldiers, rather profiting from war, or at least from America having more enemies to guard against. In Iraq and Afghanistan we had hundreds of thousands of them, very well paid (often former military) and now largely in lesser-paid jobs.
5) Washington’s community prospers. Think tank intellectuals get lots of TV exposure and lectures, new funding produces new jobs and government grants and trips to the excitement of battlefields, or at least to comfy headquarters, to study the “enemy.” Congressmen get more TV time; critics can be condemned for hurting the war effort or even aiding the enemy. Everyone feels important. Heritage Foundation interns were recruited to help administer Iraq, and while not every war produces jobs even for interns, money flows everywhere.
6) Cable TV gets more viewers (e.g. more advertising revenue). Instead of interminable, boring coverage of the same old event, think of CNN’s repeated coverage of the disappeared Malaysian airliner for weeks, wars are exciting and gain 24-hour coverage and viewers.
7) Military careers. Our Army and Navy are designed for past wars where soldiers and sailors were mostly identically trained to be able to fill identical slots for fallen comrades or sunken ships. Officer careers were based upon well-rounded experience and commands. Third world wars are different. In nations without a rule of law everything is based upon personal relationships with tribal and military leaders. The British and Roman empires sent out staffers to spend a lifetime gaining confidences and studying different tribes, religions, and local issues. For America, every officer has dozens behind him wanting to get some “war” experience on their resumes. So officers rarely stay longer than a year on any battlefield posting, barely enough time to learn the area and gain the confidence of local leaders, much less learn their languages. Long, interminable wars allow for many more officers to get “their tickets punched,” as the saying goes.
8) We can’t absorb many casualties, so to minimize them we bomb and obliterate whole villages and towns (think Fallujah), creating a constant supply of new enemies. If winning was really important we would have to absorb many more casualties and station many more troops for many more years to occupy and pacify the conquered (liberated) nations. Instead we just fight on for years without end.
9) Few Americans want to spend lifetimes studying tribes, religions, and customs in obscure, boring, and uncomfortable regions of the world. The British Empire was heavily staffed by poor Scots and Irish who could find few jobs at home. America does not have that problem facing the skilled, educated elites capable of administering far-flung possessions.
10) Our Congress is more concerned with appearances than winning. Political grandstanding, appearing tough, and pandering to local constituencies are the main objectives for most of them. Think of Iran, where no peace agreement acceptable to Iran and our European allies is likely to gain Congressional approval. Another unending war is more likely and could easily expand to blowing up oil and gas resources all over the Persian Gulf.
11) Our internal security establishment, costing hundreds of billions, needs threats. Think of how often the FBI provides fake bombs and weapons to wannabe terrorist young macho males dreaming of acting out their fantasies. Unending wars fulfill this need. If America actually “won,” many of their (well paid) jobs would be superfluous.
12) We are very vulnerable to false flag operations and paid foreign propaganda. Various foreign nations or rebel interests want us to bomb and/or invade their local enemies. Our recent attack on Libya was based on false information, spread by our allies. Saudi Arabia wants us to destroy Iran, Turkey wanted us to attack Assad in Syria, Israeli (and neocon) hawks wanted us to “rip apart” Iraq. Kuwait’s sheiks paid millions for a PR campaign for America to attack Iraq the first time, and so on.
We could “win” if we followed Sun Tzu and learned from history and from the advice of our founding fathers. But, as stated above, we don’t really want to win; too many Americans benefit from unending wars.
We are not the first empire to confront this problem. However, in the past such unending wars were limited by their costs. But America can always, so far, borrow the money from foreigners. Think though how the Chinese, who have loaned us much of the money, benefit from America eventually weakening itself from continually bashing our heads against religious fanatics, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents and making enemies of much of the Muslim world. As Rand Paul commented, it was American war hawks who created ISIS and much of the chaos in the Middle East. Yet we don’t really lose wars either. As retired Marine four-star General Mattis says, America doesn’t lose wars, it just loses interest and withdraws from fighting them.
Ideas to limit Washington’s profligacy of interventions are beginning to break through into the media, though. Fareed Zakaria supported Rand Paul, writing that he was “forcing Republicans and many Democrats to defend what has become a lazy, smug consensus in favor of an ever-expanding national security state.” The very respected Peggy Noonan now writes that “we spend too much on the military which not only adds to our debt, but guarantees that our weapons will be used.” She quotes policy expert Ian Bremmer—“Policy makers will find uses for them to justify their expense which will implicate us in crises that are none of our business.”
Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.
The newest lie about the Iraq war is that the truth about Iraq was not known before the American attack in 2003. One needs only to search for “lies about Iraq” to see all the many links explaining evidence from before the war started that showed the Bush/Cheney/neoconservative claims to be false.
That false narrative is important to know because many of the same people are now promoting war with Iran, as they were before with Syria. Republican candidates are also stumbling over the question of whether they would have invaded Iraq because it undermines their present, ongoing promotion of an interventionist foreign policy.
Take just one example of such a false claim, which even reached Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address to Congress: “Saddam has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.” It was a lie from the beginning. Bush had been informed that the Department of Energy and State Department intelligence had analyzed the tubes and found them to be useless for a nuclear program, rather being for conventional rockets.
I was very active in reporting on the lies, writing at the time for Antiwar.com, which every day had articles, news reports, and analyses exposing the misinformation. An article I wrote in 2002, well before the war started, “Eight Washington Lies About Iraq,” was at the top of a Google search for lies for 7 years. Even today it explains, with links, many of the lies made.
Iraq’s weaknesses were in fact easy to comprehend after nearly nine years of U.S. economic blockade following the First Gulf War. Iraq had been decimated by American bombing of its electricity, sanitation, irrigation, and transportation systems. Almost every bridge was destroyed. A half-million Iraqi children had died of starvation and disease. It was also subject to United Nations (read American) inspectors going all over the country to verify that it was conforming to earlier UN demands for destruction of its nuclear and chemical warfare facilities.
All Americans should be reminded again and again that recent wars were based on lies. The First Gulf War was sold to Americans on the basis of the murder of “incubator babies” and an imaginary Iraqi threat to invade Saudi Arabia, including the assertion that satellite photographs showed the Iraqi Army massed on the Saudi border. The “classified” photos never existed. The Kosovo War was based on reports that 100,000 Kosovan Albanians had been murdered by Serbs, so America had to attack so as to stop the mass killing. It was also a lie.
Today, when all the Republican candidates are being pressured by right-wing media and neoconservative money men to sound (and be) hawkish, Americans should recall how most of Washington’s establishment lied to promote past wars. Wars mean billions of dollars for key congressional districts’ arms producers, millions of rapt viewers for 24-7 cable news, lots of TV time for think-tank chicken hawks,, new jobs for “contractors,” more growth for the “surveillance state.” There’s also the Israel Lobby and Christian Zionists. All In all that is a pretty formidable force for war.
All Americans should be aware and suspicious of again being panicked into supporting more wars.
Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.
Jewish resistance to Netanyahu’s invitation by Republicans to address Congress is showing cracks in the Israeli Lobby’s influence over Congress. The leading Jewish newspaper Forward reports, “the biggest casualties may be the normally omnipotent pro-Israel lobby and its allies in the Jewish community, who have seen their credibility and political power severely shaken.” CNN reports that 63 percent of American oppose the invitation.
The Israeli Lobby represents less than half of American Jews. The real lobby today is an amalgam of mainly older Jews, evangelical Armageddon believers, and the military-industrial complex, which prospers from unending wars and chaos in the Middle East. A recent Pew poll shows 31 percent of Jews do not feel attached to the state of Israel while another 39 percent feel only “somewhat” attached. A massive 83 percent think that construction of settlements on Palestinian lands on the West Bank do not help Israeli security. Sixty-two percent believe that the Israeli government is not negotiating in good faith with the Palestinians.
Media reporting about the growing American Jewish opposition to Israel’s Likud Party hawks is especially scarce. Republican media such as the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages and Fox News disregard such news. I have attended three meetings of the pro-peace and fast-growing Jewish organization J Street. The last meeting’s dinner banquet in 2013 was attended by 60 members of Congress and sponsored by 41 major Jewish organizations. (I wrote about their counter-influence in “J Street and the Israeli Lobby,” reporting on how so many Jews oppose the Israeli government’s hawkish Likud regime of Netanyahu.) Rarely in America does one see such exhibits as one finds at their meetings that show the suffering of the Palestinians under Israel’s brutal occupation and the many Jewish groups trying to alleviate their suffering. There are many other Jewish and Israeli organizations promoting compromise and peace with the Palestinians, as well.
The hawkish Israeli Lobby’s massive strength in Congress depends for its power upon a myth—that it represents nearly all American Jews. Instead, today it depends upon others, especially Bible Belt Republican evangelicals—think Mike Huckabee. About them I once wrote “The Strangest Alliance in History,” explaining how each side thought it was using and fooling the other. Above all it is their longing for Armageddon that motivates many so-called Christian Zionists. They fervently believe and want Israel to help bring about the end times. Indeed I called them the Armageddon Lobby. Journalist Max Blumenthal recently did video interviews of some of these evangelical supporters of hardline Israeli policies, including former Republican congressional leader Tom Delay, at the massive convention of Christians United for Israel. Delay said how he longed for the end times, which “our connection” to Israel would help bring about. Others voiced similar aspirations.
Yet there is now extraordinary ferment, especially among younger evangelicals, questioning and weakening Christian Right support. Fifty-eight years after Israel’s founding, the idea of imminent Armageddon, promised in the Scofield Bible, is wearing thin. The Middle East Quarterly reports, “How quickly things change. The days of taking evangelical support for Israel for granted are over … anti-Israel Christians are penetrating the evangelical world at its soft underbelly, the millennial generation. Young believers are rebelling against … the excessive biblical literalism of their parents … as they strive to imitate Jesus’s stand with the oppressed and downtrodden.” The article’s author, CUFI executive director David Brog, warns that polling shows only 30 percent of evangelicals sympathize with Israel, while 49 percent sympathize with Israelis and Palestinians equally. Brog warns, “The day that Israel is seen as the moral equivalent of Hamas is the day that the evangelical community will cease providing the Jewish state any meaningful support.” An article in Counterpunch, “Christian Evangelicals Increasingly Support Palestinian Human Rights,” has very detailed information on all sorts of changes and challenges to the formerly monolithic Israeli Lobby.
Allied with the Christian Zionists is much of the military-industrial complex. It is a key industry in many congressional districts benefiting from unending wars, that create more and more enemies for America. See “The Unholy Alliance Between the Military-Security-Industrial Complex and the Israel Lobby,” which explains how “irrational and conflicting U.S. policies in the Middle East are quite logical from the viewpoint of economic and geopolitical beneficiaries of war.” Noam Chomsky argues that the military-industrial complex’s “lobbying influence and campaign contributions far surpass that of the much-vaunted Zionist lobby and its allied donors to congressional races.”
Republican pandering to the hardline Israeli Lobby through Netanyahu and his push for America to start a third war against another Muslim nation, this time with Iran, may not be so politically beneficial as the GOP’s leaders imagine.
Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.
For all the commentary about Uber’s disruptive effect on the taxi business, it has has other remarkable consequences. It is opening up American cities by solving one of the biggest problems for residents: finding cheap, easy, and reliable transportation in out of the way places. Expensive, rare, and undependable taxis are being supplanted by easy, fast, reliable Uber cars coming into lightly trafficked suburbs and even into high crime ghettos. A caller knows immediately how far away his ride is located. No more calling back to taxi companies asking where the taxi is and when it will finally arrive.
In Washington, D.C., the consequences are tremendous. Already, apartment buildings that used to have waiting lists for parking spaces now have empty spaces. Many downtown buildings in Washington have some 20 percent less income from parking than before Uber and convenient short-term car rentals came about.
The system works with one’s smartphone, showing immediately how far away a car is and how many minutes it will take to arrive. Then one can track the approaching car on an electronic map on the phone’s screen. There is a permanent digital record of which driver is coming and which member has called from what location. Drivers don’t carry any cash and all the cost, tipping is included, is billed to the member’s monthly credit card statement. Driver and passenger calls to find each other are computer scrambled so that neither can later find and call the person involved except through the company. Primarily this protects passengers from any driver later possessing their private telephone numbers. Passengers are asked to rate their driver after each trip, and drivers likewise rate passengers. The process gradually eliminates obnoxious or incompetent drivers and passengers. Uber cars cost some 75 percent as much as taxis and don’t charge for extra passengers.
The negatives with Uber are concerns for safety (see below) and the proper screening of drivers. Most customers use UberX which consists of private car owners. They depend almost entirely on GPS navigation and often don’t know the best city routes. I would question sending young children alone with them. They should really be compared to chauffeurs to whom one must explain the best routes to take. The higher-class Uber Black car has more professional, knowledgeable drivers, but costs nearly twice as much.
The Many Consequences
First of all, the abundance of young millennials and empty nesters moving into the city do not even need to own a car. The savings in parking, insurance, and car payments is hundreds of dollars, say about $700 a month after tax earnings. A detailed study in Los Angeles came up with exact numbers for car ownership compared to Uber. For weekends convenient car rentals are also available by the hour or by the day from companies such as Zipcar and Car2Go. Uber’s main competitor is the much small company, Lyft, which offers similar service.
Secondly and most significantly, whole new areas which were once semi-slums or far away from offices and downtowns have been opened up to “urban homesteaders” and “gentrification.” Uber is accelerating the return of middle classes to city life. Low-cost housing is being gobbled up all over the city in out of the way places which Uber cars are able to service and locate, thanks to their satellite navigation systems.
Thirdly, popular inner-city restaurants and bars are now within easy access for suburbanites, which makes for more abundance, variation, and sales tax collection, benefitting full-time residents. Several persons can share a car (without taxi like surcharges) into the city with no worries or costs associated with finding parking spaces. They can then be assured of finding a car late at night to take them home. And they have no worries about one extra drink or fear of police dragnets looking for DUI’s, when a single such arrest can cost thousands of dollars in fines or lawyers or higher insurance rates or even damage their careers for the rest of their lives.
Fourthly, parents can arrange for late-night rides for their teenagers from parties without a fear of their drinking and driving. More parents are using the service to deliver and pick up young children from after-school activities. Likewise, aged parents can be driven to homes and doctors’ appointments. It’s all about low cost, reliability, and tracking the drivers. Parents can even see on their smartphone map screens where the car is located as it drives.
Fifthly, residents of poor sections of town (providing they have a credit card) can call for cars in parts of cities with scarce public transportation or almost non-existent taxi service. Sharing cuts the cost of commutes to work. Drivers need not carry any cash and so are much less subject to being robbed.
Uber drivers use their own cars, which are required to be late models, clean, and with air conditioning running in hot weather. They don’t talk on their phones when carrying passengers. They earn 80 percent of the fares. Drivers I’ve spoken to tell me they earn a hundred dollars and then quit for the day. Drivers can work part- or full-time, day or night as they wish. Rates are adjusted automatically (called surge pricing) when there is heavy demand or bad weather, indeed they can double or triple, but that means that rides are always available at a price. If the member does not want to pay the higher price he or she can simply wait out the situation and then call back. There is no extra charge for additional passengers, so passengers can easily share costs which brings down the price considerably for a group of commuters, for example.
Uber also offers a limousine service called Black Cars, at about double the price. They are larger, more luxurious models, often stocked with the daily newspaper and bottles of water, and usually can take more passengers. Uber must also reduce traffic congestion in big cities as fewer residents must drive around looking for parking spaces or use their cars for short distances.
Safety is the big issue for Uber and its detractors. Search for Uber and crime to find links. The company’s website explains its procedures in recruiting drivers, however its fast growth has raised questions about the security checks. Some cities plan to impose their own requirements, but the suspicion is that they might try to shut down the service instead. There have been many charges and some arrests after complaints. Some of the accusations are true, while others are exaggerated by its enemies or competitors trying to have the service shut down. Municipal background checks on drivers, various tightening up measures, and all sorts of ideas to guarantee safety are being debated and sometimes incorporated into the system. With millions of potential customers there will always be some crime issues. However, the tracking possibilities of modern technology will make crimes harder to commit and easier to trace when they do occur. There does seem sufficient security because more and more parents are using the service to deliver and pick up their children from after-school activities. The company carries liability insurance on all its drivers.
Uber may be just a forerunner of other sharing services that will break the power of big city protected monopolies. Taxis are the most affected, and already the price of taxi medallions in New York City have declined by some 20 percent from their preposterous values of nearly a million dollars each. The cozy collusion of City Hall politicians and taxi owners to maintain scarcity is under attack all over America. Smart phones and Uber-type services are bringing mobility and lower costs to millions of Americans who previously could not find or afford such transportation.
Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.
Over 100,000 entrepreneurs and small business owners are in prison in Russia for not paying bribes to assorted inspectors or because parties to business disputes bribe police to arrest them on trumped-up charges. Russia’s private sector has very little security in law for its property rights. Almost everybody dragged before any court is found guilty. The consequences are minimal re-investment, low productivity growth, and owners who seek security by taking out maximum cash and, if able, stashing it abroad.
Consequently, Russia depends upon imports for 90 percent of its consumer goods. Its agriculture is still a shambles, with no secure property rights, lousy roads to get products to markets, and younger farm workers fleeing the boredom and poverty of the countryside. Just fly over any Russian city, as I have done, and see how little of the land is cultivated compared to cities in the rest of Europe.
Yet many leading libertarians have been very soft on Putin’s elimination of political freedoms and ruination of his country, excusing Russia because of NATO expansion and Western support for the overthrow of Ukraine’s Moscow-backed Yanukovych government. Some conservatives have even argued that Putin is an ally in supporting traditional “family values” because of his public opposition to homosexuality and gay marriage.
Ron Paul defends Putin, writing that there was no proof that Russian missiles shot down Malaysia’s Flight 17 over Ukraine. His allies argue that criticism or exposure of Putin’s regime merely strengthens the War Party in Washington, helping it to gain more spending and bring about more wars against more nations. They argue that it was NATO expansion and NATO’s attack on Serbia launched by Bill Clinton that ultimately led to the reactions and new aggressiveness of Russia. This is an argument I once appreciated, but it’s not a reason to whitewash today’s Russian dictatorship and incredible corruption. We–and I consider myself a Libertarian—can still oppose our military-industrial congress complex without excusing or hiding mention of monstrosities abroad. In fact such excuses weaken our moral standing and our competence as “realists.”
Now, with the 50 percent decline in oil income and a concomitant approximate 50 percent decline in the value of the Russian ruble, it’s very important to understand Russia’s domestic scene and how the country’s rulers are incapable of nursing its private business sector and agriculture to substitute for lost oil revenue. Russia, with its economically ignorant police-state rulers, may simply evolve into a semi-failed state with loose nukes around for the stealing or buying. Some analysts even warn that “when the federal government will no longer be able to offer financial incentive to the regions, Russia’s feeble federalism will crumble.”
Putin’s power base is with pensioners—to whom he could make relatively generously payments because of the past oil boom—and his constituency of security services, government officials (with guns), and inspectors shaking down the private sector. I have lived under various forms of dictatorship and wrote an essay in 2009, “Understanding Dictatorships,” explaining how dictators stay in power and the importance of “legitimacy” even for them. I lived in Havana when Fidel Castro overthrew the corrupt Batista dictatorship. I saw then how Batista depended upon his police, who consequently became very corrupt, constantly shaking down middle-class Cubans for bribes. They made Batista hated, but he couldn’t control them because he depended upon them to stay in power. Russia under Putin is very similar. In 2012 he publicly recognized the problem and even appointed an official, Boris Titov, to oversee releasing some 10,000 entrepreneurs from prison, but then he backed off the program. Instead, in 2013 Putin gave even more power to corrupt local courts with a new law allowing them to issue judgments without even notifying defendants of a pending case against them—see “Germany Cools to Russian Investment.” In consequence Allianz, a giant German insurer, stopped writing automobile insurance in the country.
Short of revolution, it’s hard to see how Putin can be thrown out. He and his cohorts can never allow a free election to threaten him with loss of control. He and they would all be subject to prison, or at least exile, once their corruption was investigated. He dare not leave power voluntarily. To the contrary, if squeezed too hard, he might lash out by invading other lands—Azerbaijan, for example, with its oil, or Kazakhstan with its minerals and pipelines.
The oil-price decline and Putin’s self-destructive corruption have done far more damage to Russia’s economy than any economic sanctions from the West. So now it would be better to ease up and not push Putin into more desperation or give him excuses to blame the West. European and American banks should be allowed to refinance existing Russian corporate debt, say 80 percent, with a schedule of payments to gradually reduce it—and certainly not to increase it. Just the cutting off of fresh money is all that’s needed to keep positive pressure on Russia without creating a possible failed state. A world price of $50-60 per barrel is enough to keep most of America’s shale oil production profitable yet prevent Russia from having excess funds beyond the essentials to pay pensions and prevent a possibly catastrophic implosion.
Hopefully Russia will be forced to turn inward to foster its own vast potential economic development by allowing private property rights and a breath of freedom at home. Economic development of the private sector needs a substantive rule of law.
Yet the other possibility, of becoming a failed state, is not as farfetched as it sounds. All former dictatorships are vulnerable in these days to such a risk of breaking up into religious sects, racial and ethnic groups, gangs, ideological crazies, and other malcontents with guns fighting each other. Iraq, Libya, and Syria are perfect examples. The American Conservative’s strategic expert William Lind argues that America should support “centers of order” wherever in the world against a growing number of 21st-century fracturing, failed states that will spread chaos; witness Europe’s fear of Middle Eastern fanaticisms coming to their lands. For Russia, with its thousands of nuclear bombs, it’s very much in the West’s interest to help keep it going as a viable, prosperous, and cohesive state.
Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.
Ken Tomlinson, who died last week, was one of Ronald Reagan’s key lieutenants in bringing about the collapse of Soviet communism. It’s much forgotten nowadays how vital the battle to disseminate information behind the Iron Curtain was to the cause of defeating communism. The Voice of America, which Ken ran early in Reagan’s term, and Radio Free Europe were the window for millions of East Europeans into the outside world. No young person today can conceive of the dearth of information inside Russia when millions listened to short wave radio for knowledge about the world.
When I first visited Moscow with a delegation of journalists in 1987, I brought along a radio and scanned for programs. In all of Moscow there was no FM at all, and only four AM stations. TV news was scarce and always pure propaganda. VOA and the BBC broadcast news about America and the world; Radio Free Europe broadcast news about what was happening inside the Eastern Bloc nations.
Tomlinson had hired me to debate leftists on a VOA program at the end of 1984. Only subsequently came the vast expansion of information as photocopy machines and VCRs were smuggled into Russia and East Europe by the thousands. Nearly every Russian diplomat would then take back 2 VCRs, one for himself and one to sell on the black market. The VCRs, whose tapes could be dubbed with translations, created havoc for the communists as more and more of their citizens citizens learned about the outside world, and their deprivation in the Soviet prison lands.
We met, and Tomlinson hired me, after I was quoted in a 1984 poll of conservative leaders in Richard Viguerie’s Conservative Digest. Asked about the best things Reagan had done, I replied, “His speeches and vitalizing the Voice of America.” Ken’s main assistant in his work was Ed Warner, a former Time editor, hired to oversee all the special programs. He was my direct boss. Tomlinson and Warner hired me and others who really understood communists’ psychology; we knew how to get inside their minds. I had been a long-time journalist in Latin America, and grew up the son of Freda Utley, who wrote several of the first books explaining Russian and Chinese communism.
Before Tomlinson, VOA had been pretty namby-pamby, mainly known for its Willis Conover jazz programs. Turning the Voice into a real weapon of information was not easy at all for Tomlinson and Warner. It had always been a prime target of infiltration for the Soviets, second only to the CIA. Over and over again Warner would tell me of some broadcaster who was surely procommunist, putting out the straight Soviet line as if it were also Washington’s. When I’d say, “can’t you remove him?” Ed would reply, “I can’t, his boss is a good guy, thinks like we do, but says he’s ok and protects him.” Later they would finally get rid of the man only to find the boss again sponsoring the same kind of programming. The boss, too, had been a communist supporter. That was how the communists protected their agents; it was done the same way in the CIA. To this day we still don’t know just how infiltrated the VOA had been.
In any case, the VOA under Tomlinson began to broadcast hard-hitting, real information and criticism. Reagan spoke about how private property owners cared for their land to produce profitably and for the long term, unlike government. After that, I hammered away at explaining why Americans were rich and Russians were poor, for this reason. Tomlinson also unleashed the East European refugees to broadcast. A Polish friend of mine even started a talk show for listeners inside Poland to call into.
His New York Times obituary doesn’t mention how Tomlinson reformed the VOA and made it into a dynamic force for freedom. Nor, of course, does it explain that Ken Tomlinson was one of the architects of the collapse of communism. Rather, it almost completely dwells on infighting and criticism of him in later years about his disputes with PBS and public television.
Ken had reported for Reader’s Digest as a foreign correspondent before becoming editor. He was one of the rare conservatives who knew and understood the outside world, having reported from Vietnam, Somalia, and Europe. That experience was what made him so effective, and so successful.
Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.
Ukraine and Russia’s dysfunctional democracies both share a common feature—their electoral systems use proportional representation (PR). Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal also use it. Proportional representation is a system whereby elected congress persons (or parliamentarians) owe their primary loyalty to their party rather than to constituent voters in separate geographical districts. Each party puts up “lists” of its candidates, the names usually decided by old Party bosses. Voters are only given the option to vote for one list or another, rarely for individual members concerned with their local, specific interests. Parties that gain more than (usually) 5 percent of the total vote get a number of seats in the legislature proportional to their percentage of the popular vote. Multiple parties, constantly changing coalitions, and political instability usually then results in incompetent, often corrupt governments dependent upon minority coalitions to survive.
Who gets on the lists is the key issue. Usually they are old-time loyalists and favorites of the leadership; rarely will reformers or up-and-coming younger persons who might challenge archaic economic or political interests make an appearance. It’s almost impossible to unseat the old party leadership or to vote them out. Professional politicians love the system because, with their names at the top of their list, they rarely lose power even if their party only retains a few seats in parliament.
In Russia the proportional system enabled President Putin to put the name of his alleged girlfriend, Alina Kabaeva, a beautiful gymnast, on his party’s list for a seat in the Duma. Andrey Lugovoy, a former KGB agent wanted by England for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, was chosen by a small nationalist party’s leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the so-called Liberal Democratic Party, to run close to the top of its list. He thus became a member of the Duma with consequent immunity from arrest. Russian voters can only vote for the whole list, not individual members. Ukraine and Russia have among the world’s lowest ratings in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report. Ukrainians are apparently aware of PR’s problems, as they changed their system to be only half proportional and half direct representation for their last, 2012, election. A major new study, Proportional Western Europe: The Failure of Governance explains how the PR system makes it almost impossible for South European nations to reform their economies.
Interestingly both the failed Weimar Republic, which preceded the Nazi electoral victories, and the failed French Third Republic, which French voters reformed when they brought in de Gaulle and the Fourth Republic, used pure proportional representation systems.
The English-speaking world, including former British colonies and the successful Asian “tigers,” mostly uses direct voting, whereby individual representatives are chosen by and beholden to voters in their separate districts, called constituencies. Thus they are concerned with how laws and government actions directly affect their constituents. This system has the cumbersome names “winner takes all” or “first past the post.”
One almost never reads in American analyses of foreign nations any discussion of their electoral systems as factoring into their unresponsive and irresponsible governments. One reason is that electoral systems are dull and complicated subjects for mass media. Also, academics generally support PR because the system fosters parliamentary/congressional representation for every fractional political or ethnic group. The March 1st Economist ran an important essay “What’s gone wrong with democracy” that makes many important points, but does not even mention proportional representation as being a problem.
In Greece there was no competent tax collection nor even a proper register of property ownership. Every small profession and interest has its government-guaranteed monopoly; for example, one needed to pay a tax of some $50,000 to start even a tiny trucking company. In Italy any company with more than 15 workers is not allowed to lay anyone off, civil court cases average 20 years for a judicial decision, and employment taxes take some 55 percent of payroll. In Spain there were similar laws with a consequent 50 percent unemployment rate among younger citizens. All sorts of rules, some even from medieval times, hamstring and paralyze economic entrepreneurship. Laying off employees is prohibited unless a judge agrees that it is for “just cause,” which does not include going bankrupt. Few dare to start any business beyond one that only needs family members to function; hiring outsiders is too costly and risky because of labor laws, except for large corporations with the lawyers and money to navigate the administrative and judicial labyrinth.
Incredibly, Washington installed proportional representation in Iraq. It proved to be a disaster as we can already see with the nation falling into chaos again. My earlier article, “Iraq’s Dysfunctional Democracy,” explains the details. Iraq’s former president Ayad Allawi, now excluded from the government, explained the system well in a November New York Times op-ed, “How Iraq’s Elections Set Back Democracy.” Iraq also was afflicted with the very worst kind of PR, a single nationwide list of candidates for the whole country.
Democracy means far more than majority rule. It involves constraints and delays on majority rule, protection for minority rights, diffusion of power, free speech, free assembly, and accountability for elected officials. This means clear lines of authority. Politicians everywhere do all they can to avoid accountability for their actions. Interestingly, there is not even a word for “accountability” in the Latin languages French, Spanish, or Italian. It is always translated in dictionaries as “responsibility.”
Hernando de Soto, the famous Peruvian economist, explained that PR was the reason that Latin American democracies do not work well. He argued that Latin American poverty was not a result of Latins just preferring to sit around in the sun and play music. He explained in his famous book The Other Path how it was their laws, their proportional electoral systems that discouraged hard work, savings, and entrepreneurial effort. The rousing economic success in America of immigrants from many such dysfunctional countries shows that there must be reasons for economic ill-fortune other than just race or culture.
With PR, winning congressional candidates need have little concern for the very real day-to-day problems of their constituents, e.g., abusive, corrupt bureaucrats, labor and business monopolies, and crippling government taxes and regulations. They are simply not held individually accountable for their votes. This creates a hopelessness and cynicism about government that stifles reform and even hope for a better life. Polls in such nations show waning support for democracy itself.
Venezuela, before electing its demagogic, Marxist President Chavez, was typical of nations with such systems. For 20 years, their only option was to bring back pretty much the same list of representatives to Congress whom they had just voted out in the previous election. Young reformers who might have reformed the static, oligarchic, semi-socialist prior regimes were kept off the lists. The same happened in Greece. In Venezuela from the 1970s to the 1990s, two old men, Carlos Andres Perez and Rafael Caldera, each won the presidency twice as voters had no other choices: in rejecting one, they got the other. In their desperation to be rid of the corrupt, incompetent, statist, and paralyzed old parties, Venezuelans voted for Hugo Chavez. Vladimir Chelminski, former director of the Venezuela’s Chamber of Commerce, described the situation in the Wall Street Journal:
For decades, the quality of life had been deteriorating. The democratic process seemed to function well only for the benefit of politicians and their friends. The political parties that had alternated in power since 1958, Social Democrats and Social Christians, were very much the same. Both offered socialism with political freedom. Their policies paid lip service to the poor but always proved counterproductive. Private property and contracts meant little in their laws. Two-thirds of willing workers could not find employment in the formal economy …
There is a less dysfunctional PR system, such as exists in Turkey, whereby lists are selected in each state or province so that representatives do have knowledge about and an interest in supporting local concerns. Parties also must surpass a 10 percent threshold nationwide in order to be on the ballot. The higher threshold addresses part of the problem of splinter parties compared to nations where the limit is 5 percent, or even less. A higher threshold forces small parties to unite and work together, an important step towards building functional democracies. This is the reason one sees constant negotiating for coalition governments, as one party rarely gains 51 percent of the total electorate. A higher threshold also reduces the power of tiny special interest parties, religious or ethnic, which sometimes exert extraordinary power as the swing parties in coalition governments.
There are some small nations where PR “works,” particularly those with a homogeneous, educated population, where most citizens know and trust each other and have high levels of personal responsibility: Scandinavia and Holland, for example, or Israel in its early days. PR can also be modified to allow local regions to vote for lists of local candidates rather than a single nationwide list. Germany has a very complicated partial PR system too complicated to explain here. However, in large nations with diverse populations and interests, especially those with ethnic or religious divisions, PR does not work well. Polish writer Frank Glodek observed in the May 2000 Central Europe Review how America in 1789 was also a diverse nation with different national origins, religious beliefs, and regional interests. He explained in an excellent analysis:
Proportional representation is particularly dangerous in any nation that has suffered from ethnic, ideological or religious divisions, virtually compelling people to vote along these pre-established lines, regardless of whether they know it to be destructive and of their preference to do otherwise. Not even a five percent vote threshold for a party to hold seats in parliament is a barrier to these voting patterns and their negative impact.
Why? When you have proportional representation, you must assume the ‘others’ will vote ethnically (or tribally, Ed), putting you at risk. The only way to protect yourself is by doing the same…
A proportional representation system can never unite so many diverse nations and peoples effectively, as it is inherently and unavoidably biased toward extremism, instability, immoderation and ineffectiveness. … People forget that the United States was, from the outset, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country.
After direct representation, the second most obvious need for successful democracy is a federal system with a wide dispersion of powers so local citizens can govern themselves in accordance with their history and beliefs, provided they don’t inflict harm upon their neighbors. A federal system also allows different regions to experiment. India, with its relatively successful system holding together millions of vastly different peoples and religions, followed the British electoral system.
Choosing between a parliamentary or presidential system is a secondary issue, although parliamentary is probably better for third-world nations. A parliamentary system curtails stalemates and so allows for a more rapid change of government when one group or coalition is unable to govern effectively and so loses its majority.
Effective representative government is difficult and slow to take hold, but Ukrainians, Russians, Greeks, Arabs, and Latin Americans all want freedom, safety, and prosperity, just like us. Before we can actively promote effective government, we ourselves need to understand why so many foreign democracies don’t work well.
Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.
Jamestown Foundation is an old-line think tank founded during the Cold War to encourage and help Soviet defectors. Today it is a large, respected think tank with continuing hard-line views on Central Asia and former Soviet lands. It focuses on Eurasia and global terrorism. Publications include Terrorism Monitor, Eurasia Daily Monitor, China Brief, North Caucuses Monitor, and Militant Leadership Monitor. Wikipedia reports “it has been alleged that Jamestown is neoconservative agenda driven… with ties to the CIA & U.S. Government.” Its directors include former top intelligence and military personnel. This writer, a long time anti-communist, participated in a Jamestown team of journalists and experts on Soviet Russia who served as observers for President Putin’s first election in 2000.
When the keynote speaker at Jamestown’s annual conference, a four-star Marine Corps general, analyzes America’s way of war from a realist perspective, his criticisms are well worth knowing. His views must be widespread in the military, although not in Washington’s civilian establishment. Gen. James N. Mattis (retired) followed General Petraeus as commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) from 2010-to-2013, responsible for military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and 18 other nations. Earlier he commanded the First Marine Division during the initial invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. He also served as NATO supreme allied commander from 2007-2009. He served for 42 years, and the Marine Corps Times has called him the “most revered Marine in a generation.”
Some of General Mattis’s statements and reasoning follow; my comments are in italics.
–America doesn’t lose wars, it loses interest.
–We have no overall strategy about how to defeat our enemy. (Just killing them is not working because, as I wrote years ago, the proper analogy comes from Greek mythology, Hercules’ adventure where, for every enemy soldier he killed, ten more sprung up in each one’s place)
–We don’t understand our enemy. (This refers to Sun Tzu’s classic dictum for war, “Know Thyself and Know Thy Enemy.” Americans have scarce interest in understanding the Muslim world’s history, wants, and fears.)
–We need a strategy which does not drive young Muslims to al-Qaeda. Read More…
FreedomFest, held every July in Las Vegas, is becoming quite the libertarian/conservative event of the year. Going on for three days, with over a hundred and sixty lectures and panels, it has become a must-go and a fascinating meeting. “Are We Rome?” was the topic this year, led off by Steve Forbes describing the misery and bankruptcy that was Rome in its last century, when men sometimes sold their children into slavery in order to pay their taxes. The last day was highlighted with a live broadcast on John Stossel’s Fox Business Network show of leading participants, which was so successful that it was rebroadcast twice on Fox the following Sunday.
Everyone could find subjects that interested them from rarefied economics to history and philosophy, such as Paul Cantor’s “Empire and the Loss of Freedom: What Shakespeare’s Rome can Tell Us about Us.” Another whole section, called Anthem—The Libertarian Film Festival run by Jo Ann Skousen, showed movies and freedom documentaries. Ten feature documentaries and 11 short narratives filled the program including “Atlas Shrugged II,” “America’s Longest War”—Reason’s movie about the drug war—and “Sick and Sicker—What Happens when Government Becomes Your Doctor.” Some 2,200 people attended and all received a copy of The American Conservative in their welcome packages. TAC has helped promote the conference for years.
Lead speakers were a veritable Who’s Who of the libertarian movement. Steve Forbes; Mark Skousen, who organizes the yearly conferences; Grover Norquist; financier Jim Rogers; Charles Murray; Arthur Laffer; George Gilder; Steve Moore; Cato’s new president, John Allison; Tom Palmer of Atlas; Reason’s Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch; TAC’s editor Dan McCarthy; Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks; Fred Smith of CEI; Jeff Tucker of Laissez Faire Books, which ran the book offerings; and other top intellectual leaders. The list is too long to name all the significant men and women. Senator Rand Paul was the keynote speaker. Read More…
What’s missing from reminiscences of the War on Iraq is how and why the war propaganda was spread so effectively, particularly among Republicans. In fact, the refusal of most conservative media to publish contrary information was one of the reasons this magazine was founded. The American Conservative provided an outlet for many respected conservatives who couldn’t get antiwar views published.
Over and over we hear that U.S. allies believed that Iraq had WMDs. Well, sure, our CIA and British intelligence fed them misinformation, which they then repeated back to us—especially Eastern Europeans, who wanted to strengthen military relations with Washington. Even so, Germany, France, and the UN Security Council refused to support the war. There was also widespread opposition inside the U.S. military and by former U.N. inspectors, which was given little publicity by major conservative media. The big push for war came from neoconservatives and the Religious Right, evangelical fundamentalists who believed God wanted war to hurry up the second coming of Christ. Indeed, former French President Chirac wrote in his memoirs about the born-again George W. Bush telling him how God wanted war.
Conservatives opposed to empire and war included Pat Buchanan, Scott McConnell, Charley Reese, Paul Craig Roberts, Paul Gottfried, myself, Doug Bandow, Bill Kauffman, Sheldon Richman, Leon Hadar, Allan Brownfeld, Martin Sieff, Phil Giraldi, as well as other respected leaders such as congressmen John Duncan and Ron Paul and future senator James Webb.
Neither Buchanan nor any other anti-war writer could get published by The Washington Times. The Wall Street Journal op-ed would not accept any article opposing the war until one by Brent Scowcroft, who was too big a name to block. National Review, the Heritage Foundation, and the American Enterprise Institute’s publications and conferences would only promote pro-war opinions and propaganda. Fox News was a solid barrage of war promotion and panic-mongering. Human Events, the Cold War bulwark, had lost its great editor, Allan Ryskind, after which it just parroted the Bush administration.
The seeds and theories of American empire-wishers were planted after the collapse of Communism. Well before 9/11, I had tried to get National Review to publish my article “America Is not Rome.” I still remember how Bill Buckley, who was the godfather of my first child, waved my article off with an outstretched arm when I sat with him in the lobby of the Hay Adams in Washington. Later he changed his views and become an early defector over the Iraq War, though by then he had delivered National Review to the neocons. Similarly, when I wrote to the Heritage Foundation’s foreign-policy staff urging that they at least allow an occasional non-empire speaker at their Washington conference, I was told that those ideas could be heard at the Cato Institute. I knew most of the major conservative leaders from my years as an anti-Communist writer and donor to conservative causes and from my 17 years as a commentator on Third World issues for the Voice of America. My mother, Freda Utley, had been one of the earliest anti-Communist writers in America, and many knew her work.
What America’s imperialists did not understand was that the collapse of Communism meant that Washington had less power to control world events. Fear of Communist terror meant that other nations always followed Washington’s lead. Once the threat was gone, they didn’t need to obey us any more. Think of Turkey, a prime example, and even Germany and Japan, which refused to support the invasion of Iraq.
I know all this because I was also among those opposing the Persian Gulf War—i.e., the First Iraq War. And it was the first war that brought about the second one. Remember the three reasons Osama bin Laden himself gave for the 9/11 attacks were 1) the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia during the first war, 2) the harm to Iraqi children resulting from nine years of American sanctions after the first war, and 3) the conditions of Palestinians under Israeli occupation on the West Bank.
The 9/11 attacks were obviously a consequence of the First Iraq War. What’s forgotten is that the first war was also based on Washington lies, in this case about the famous “incubator babies,” the secret, untrue satellite photos showing that Saddam’s army was posed on the border of Saudi Arabia, and Ambassador April Glaspie’s telling Saddam that Washington was not concerned with inter-Arab quarrels.
Conservative opposition to the Gulf War was led by the Committee to Avert a Mideast Holocaust. Its membership comprised conservative including Pat Buchanan, publisher Henry Regnery, Ron Paul, William Niskanen of Cato, Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell of the Mises Institute, John Chamberlain, Paul Gottfried, Sheldon Richman, and Justin Raimondo. I was a co-founder, along with Phil Nicolaides and Joseph Sobran. Our secretary and public-affairs director was the redoubtable Fran Griffin, a long-time conservative organizer. There was no Internet in those days, and we had almost no money, but we exposed the lies and did manage to do a number of direct mailings. But we were swamped by Kuwaiti money—for example, they brought a dozen tables at CPAC’s banquet, filling them with Young Americans for Freedom students clamoring for war. England’s Margaret Thatcher also demanded war to save Kuwait, which was a major depositor and funder of England’s banks.
The first Iraq War was also opposed by Yitzak Rabin, Israel’s great general and later peace maker, murdered by an ultra-Orthodox religious fanatic. He had warned that one never knows, when starting a war, where it will lead.
U.S. support for the first Iraq War did not just come from imperialists. It also came from many old anti-Communists, such as Reed Irvine of Accuracy in Media, where I was treasurer and a long time director. He and many others were still bitter and traumatized by the loss of Vietnam. They wanted America to show that it could “win” against a Third World adversary.
Going into the second Iraq War, Republican realists who advised Bush the father were excluded by Bush the son. I described the younger Bush’s naiveté in a parody of a long-ago medieval invasion, “The Second Children’s Crusade.” Most conservative leaders, including the neocons, knew little of the outside world and almost nothing about the developing world. In fact, those who knew the least about the outside world were the most enthusiastic to go to war in Iraq the second time.
There were many critical voices among libertarians. First of all there was the major libertarian website Antiwar.com, publishing daily, informative, fact-full articles and links about Iraq and the whole Middle East. (It was where I wrote most of my pieces.) LewRockwell.com also published numerous well-informed articles. The Cato Institute put out many papers and invited many speakers opposed to the war. The Independent Institute in California did the same.
In Iraq, UN inspectors, including the American Scott Ritter, had wide access, but Republicans ignored their reports. Under frequent and ongoing U.S. bombing and nine years of a very tight economic sanctions, Iraq was already in economic shambles.
On the left, particularly in The Nation, there were many critical reports about the war. Republicans and conservatives, however, would not read or give any credence to any leftist source. The TV networks were carried away by war fever—witness what happened to antiwar host Phil Donahue, removed from MSNBC to placate its owner, General Electric. Today it is revealing that, except for The Nation and the ACLU, most of the left keeps quiet about Obama’s continuation of many of Bush’s foreign-interventionist policies and the curtailing of our constitutional freedoms. Being in power changed them.
With The American Conservative there was a respected voice in Washington exposing the propaganda and warning of the catastrophic consequences of war for America. It gave Pat Buchanan a chance to be heard again. I took the magazine to all sorts of conservative groups and meetings. I belonged to many—the Grover Norquist Wednesday meeting, the Paul Weyrich lunch, the Philadelphia Society, the Council for National Policy, CPAC, and many lesser ones. Where I was prevented from speaking or only given a minute or two to talk, I could still distribute articles. At Paul Weyrich’s weekly meetings of leaders of major conservative organizations, the evangelical Christian Religious Right, in particular, were big war promoters. A dozen of them even petitioned to have me expelled, but Weyrich told them that they should also hear the antiwar side.
I had several large email lists of the organizations above and regularly sent out copies of articles contradicting the war-wishers and warning of the cost and consequences to come. The truth was easily available. Anyone who took the trouble to search Google would have found my widely linked “Lies About Iraq.”
So, in the year of the war’s 10th anniversary, remember that there were plenty of voices exposing the lies, incompetence, ignorance, and arrogance of those who favored starting unending wars in the Muslim world. We should thus be prepared for the next time. But instead we see much of the same gang frightening us again for another war, this time with Iran. America’s problem is that war is very profitable for the military-industrial complex and makes exciting TV for comfortable audiences at home. The consequences, however, wrote Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal, discredited the Republican Party, helped bankrupt America, and will be with us for years to come.
Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative.
The sequester is messy, but it’s a vital first step in bringing government spending under control. Scary reports of less infantry training, delayed shipbuilding, and fewer hours flying for fighter pilots are all part of what Ivan Eland calls, “Firemen First,” the way government tries to terrify taxpayers any time there is an effort to cut waste and expense. Our military was designed for instant mobilization to fight off a Soviet invasion of Europe. Today no nation has the ability to launch an effective first strike, and the president has not in fact threatened to dismantle our nuclear deterrent. So “readiness” can only mean being ready to start another war.
Even if we do have cuts to “readiness,” we can easily wait a year with less readiness while we reform Pentagon spending. One aircraft carrier to attack Iran instead of two? Even one carrier has the power to destroy any third world nation’s defenses, vital industry, and communications. And we have hundreds more bombers just minutes away on land to attack Iran from Persian Gulf bases. Is having one carrier on station instead of two a disaster of sequestration? And what about our cruise missiles and long-range bombers? Isn’t America’s power still very redundant?
Former congressman Barney Frank asked our generals at congressional hearings if we really still need the triad of ICBM’s, submarines, and long-range bombers—altogether amounting to thousands of nuclear weapons—for war with a weakened Russia. Wouldn’t two delivery systems be enough?
Sequestration seems to be the only way to force a debate in Washington about our grand strategy and about America’s real strengths and weaknesses. Does America really need so many redundant forces? Are we still focused on re-fighting World War II again with carriers, bombers, and fighter planes? When every missile on each fighter-bomber can hit its target, do we still need so many at the cost of $300 million each? When every nuclear missile can land within yards of its target, do we still need so many? When we have promised ourselves never again to invade a land power in Asia, do we need so much infantry? Do we need a thousand bases overseas and 4,000 within the U.S.? Shouldn’t we heed the greatest war historian of all, Sun Tzu, about how to fight our wars? Shouldn’t we recognize that America can’t win wars against guerrillas, especially with a neighboring sanctuary? Are we now going to have a new war in north Africa? Congressmen who say we must “win” in Afghanistan appear to expect a delegation of Taliban to sign surrender documents on a warship like the Japanese once did.
Sequestration is not something to postpone again. It is the beginning of the real battle against a future of unending wars, loss of our own constitutional freedoms, the creation of new enemies abroad, a declining standard of living, and eventual loss of our Republic—replaced with a bankrupt empire. This is what the real fight is about.
Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that “the greatest threat to our national security is our debt.” Senator Coburn said on “Morning Joe” on Feb 13 that “$100 billion could be cut.” Ron Paul says that only about half the defense budget is for defense, the other half is for militarism abroad.
So here are 16 ways to cut its waste, fraud, and abuse of American taxpayers.
1) The military is top-heavy with officers and generals compared to enlisted men, with far more proportionately today than during World War II. The military is still trained and designed mostly for mass mobilization to refight World War II: tanks, aircraft-carrier strike groups, and fighter planes for dogfights and to shoot down bombers only Russia has. Yet Russia’s military is a shadow of its former self, plagued and demoralized by Putin-era corruption. China is dynamic, defensive, and prospers with peace.
Basing one’s military on past wars’ lessons is nothing new. British generals entered World War I with horse cavalry and the strategy of Napoleon. It’s common to start wars with the strategy of 75 years before.
2) If every missile and bomb hits its target—unlike in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam—why do we need so many planes, tanks, and warships? Drones now can replace many pilots. In the Korean War it took 4 months of trying to bomb the Yalu River bridge by which most Chinese supplies arrived. Now a single missile from hundreds of miles away can do it. No aircraft carrier was used during the recent war in Libya because of fear of medium-range anti-ship missiles. Carriers today are very vulnerable against modern nations, although useful for attacking mostly helpless Third World ones. Do we need as many as the 12 strike groups we have? The whole way we fight wars needs to be re-examined. We can’t go on like in Iraq, shooting a quarter million bullets for each dead insurgent. The waste in our war-fighting is beyond comprehension. Rep. Mike Coffman details 15 ways some $50 billion per year could be saved—for example, some $100 billion over 10 years by adopting “sea swap” policies for cruisers, destroyers, and amphibious ships by flying crews out to ships instead of changing crews at home ports. Think of all the waste in fuel and wear-and-tear sailing thousands of miles each way back home to port.
3) Combine military medical services. Each of the armed forces has its own medical corps. An excessive number of Army colonels are doctors. The Navy and Air Force presumably have similar overstaffing, usually based on World War II models. Yet it’s the infantry and Marines who suffer nearly all the casualties. Other services face fewer risks to their lives and health.
4) Former Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England urged cutting 100,000 civilian employees from the Defense Department when it had 700,000 employees, the same number as during World War 2. Now the number has grown to 800,000.
5) Tricare costs the Pentagon budget over $50 billion per year to provide almost free healthcare to all military retirees and their families for life, even if they are working in other jobs with health insurance. Former Secretary of Defense Gates tried in vain to establish reasonable co-pays and reforms.
6) Senator Coburn complained that the military schools were costing $50,000 per student. He urged reforms such as using more local civilian schools near military bases.
7) The military maintains some 4,000 bases inside the U.S. and 1,000 overseas with personnel in 140 nations; many installations have fewer than 100 troops. Many are simply tripwires filled with potential hostages so as to get America involved in new conflicts and wars. Vast cutbacks are possible. We need a new base closing commission to take the matter out of the hands of our corrupted Congress (see The Hidden Cost of Empire).
8) The military is paid vastly more than civilians. Officers and enlisted men earn an average cash income some 80 percent higher than civilians with similar skills and education. Their pension and medical benefits put them far beyond what any worker in the private sector earns. For details see the 11th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation.
9) Retirement ages were set well over a hundred years ago when life spans were under 60 years. Surely noncombat personnel could retire with pensions after, say, 25 years instead of 20. The risk to their lives and health is marginal in most military occupations; Northern Virginia is not a combat zone, even if personnel wear combat uniforms and boots to work. Civilians now often must work well into their seventies.
10) Retired generals and admirals should be prohibited for five years from working for the military-industrial complex so that they will use their skills elsewhere to help the civilian economy. Remember the CNN and Fox News generals promoting more war who were outed by the New York Times for profiting from Pentagon suppliers.
11) It’s not just Pentagon waste. The CIA and other intelligence agencies have virtual blank checks without oversight. The Washington Post ran a series about their infighting and duplication of efforts with 50,000 yearly reports, many unread and unnecessary. When Leon Paneta went to the Pentagon, it was reported that he flew back to California at government expense every weekend. When he did the same while running the CIA, the information was classified secret.
12) It cost half a million in Iraq and nearly a million dollars in Afghanistan to maintain each soldier per year. Obviously fewer foreign interventions would save hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars.
13) Weaponry is the greatest money sink of all. Weapons are designed to be built in key congressional districts, not to be the most efficient or cost effective, as during the Second World War. The F-22 had 1,000 suppliers in 44 states. The F-35 has 1,300 suppliers in 45 states in key congressional districts and is now estimated to cost up to $300 million per plane. Weapons manufacturing is started before finalized testing so as to build a constituency for programs’ continuation. Military contractors then get cost-plus contracts to modify the weapons, which won’t work properly because insufficient initial testing was done before manufacturing them. Congressmen stick the Pentagon with suppliers at extra-high cost (see this report on oil pans for $17,000 each) from their congressional districts and then (often) get donations from the same companies for their campaign funds. Other Congressmen put in spending for projects the Pentagon does not even want. The whole process contributes vastly to corruption in Washington and undermining America. The Wall Street Journal ran an article pondering what fighter planes would cost if Apple manufactured them like it makes iPhones.
14) Half of defense manufacturing workers are unionized, many with outdated work rules and few of the efficiencies instituted by competitive private industry, e.g., cutting out much middle management and using labor to maximum efficiency.
15) America maintains duplicate forces: two armies (i.e., Army and Marine Corps.) and four air forces (the Air Force, Marine Corps aviation, Naval Air Forces, and the CIA’s fleet of aircraft and drones). The Marines should be maintained for their special skills as an elite, smaller force, not as an auxiliary army. The air forces should cut out duplication. We still maintain some 50 nuclear submarines. Do we really need so many when a single one can bottle up a whole Third World navy, as England did with Argentina in the Falklands War?
16) Rand Paul has demanded that the Pentagon be audited, something Congress has so far been unable to do. The Defense Department does not even know all the cash, supplies, foreign bases, and inventory it has. Much more vast and incredible waste remains to be discovered.
These are some of the possible savings in military costs. They don’t include the largest benefit of all: the value many of the highly skilled and motivated men and women in the military could bring to the civilian workforce. The mostly wasted talent pool is incredible. All American strategy should be re-examined. Indeed, Washington now violates most of the precepts of the greatest military strategist in history.
Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative.
The greatest threat to America is not what foreigners do to us; rather it is what we do to ourselves. The greatest recent example is 9/11, Bin Laden’s attack. Our response was to virtually bankrupt ourselves, lose the goodwill of much of the world, and make ourselves hated in most Muslim nations. Our trillion dollar “victory” in Iraq is followed by American businessmen and tourists fearing for their lives if they ever set foot there for the next 20 years, while business opportunities are taken up by foreign companies and other nations.
Now comes Benghazi. The end result of the American response will be to further isolate our diplomats and intelligence officers in even more nations, confining them to their castle-like compounds. American diplomats and CIA staffs are already isolated in fortress embassies far away from downtown in traffic-dense 3rd world cities. It can take half a day to have a lunch appointment. I have seen some of these new embassies. They are designed to withstand military attacks and even further isolate our diplomats from local citizens. Our wars have already put American diplomats at risk in many nations, isolating us just as was Bin Laden’s objective. The recent dismissal of top security administrators will make their replacements even more fearful of allowing diplomats to circulate freely among native populations. In Iraq U.S. diplomats now have MRAPs at their disposal.
Our widespread predator drone killings of “terrorists” and their families in assorted nations have also changed the rules of war. Benghazi shows that American diplomats are now considered fair targets in any Muslim nation and possibly others. Diplomats may not be combatants, but they are targets of our enemies. In addition, CIA officials who were safe in communist times now represent an armed force managing attack drones. Thus they become targets too. Washington uses the CIA because it is not bound by military law, but a consequence of that is all its agents can now be considered combatants. Read More…
Did you ever wonder what tax “loopholes” cost relative to war and Pentagon spending? The figures are now plainly available to compare with respect to other government spending. For example, mortgage interest deductions “cost” Washington some $100 billion in lost revenue. This “buys” America some 11 months of war in Afghanistan or some 14 percent of the whole $740 billion Pentagon budget. Charitable and educational tax deductions “cost” Washington $52 billion per year. These include all yearly tax-deductible donations to churches, universities, charities, thinks tanks, and all other non-profits. All of it equals some 7 percent of Pentagon spending, or just about the amount of the coming sequestration cuts.
The facts above come from an analysis by Politico on the amounts of all major tax preferences in an article titled “Tax Loopholes Alone Can’t Solve Fiscal Cliff.” Altogether they equal about $834 billion. The loopholes include, in addition to the above, $164 billion for employer-sponsored health insurance, $162 billion for exclusion of employer pension benefits, $71 billion for lower capital gains rates, $76 billion for the exclusion of Medicare benefits, $54 billion for the deduction of state and local income taxes, and $52 billion for the exclusion of capital gains taxes on estates at death. These tax deductions are a mere drop in the bucket compared to all the waste and unnecessary costs associated with “Defense.”
Compare these with another study that breaks down all national-security costs. Those total some $1.2 trillion—far more than just the Pentagon’s costs, if one includes the CIA, veterans programs, pensions, interest on war debts, etc., but not the Afghan War, which is another hundred billion. The military establishment’s waste is so extraordinary that anyone in Washington who defends it either plans for America to start more wars (e.g., neoconservatives) or is on the take in some way—perhaps subsidized by a think tank getting money from military contractors. A good overall view of defense spending is by budget expert Winslow Wheeler, “The Defense Budget: Ignorance Is Not Bliss.” And this does not include big-ticket items like the F-35—scheduled to reach a trillion dollars for an average five hours of flying time per week over its lifetime—or a 12th aircraft carrier battle group. Would tax-paying Americans really prefer a new fighter plane, when America already dominates the world’s skies and seas, rather than have their home mortgage interest deduction?
The CIA and other intelligence agencies cost some $55 billion that we know about. In 2010 some $27 billion more was spent on military intelligence programs. Waste is incredible. The Washington Post ran a series of articles about waste and duplication of efforts at the many intelligence agencies. It pointed out among other numbers that some 50,000 intelligence reports are issued yearly. No congressman, to my knowledge, demanded an investigation. A recent interesting information tidbit was how Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has Air Force planes fly him home to California every weekend. The news came to light when he transferred to the Pentagon, which publishes such information. Earlier at the CIA he did the same, but it was a secret expense. The exploding cost of homeland security is also somewhat hidden: for example, airline passengers pay for much of the government’s costs in higher fares.
Other exorbitant costs are so legion as to be unfathomable. Military pay, for example,
is 90 percent higher than that for exceeds that of 90 percent of civilians of similar education and age. Retirement age was set for the cavalry a hundred years ago. Service could easily be extended for non-combat infantry to 25 years from 20 today.
The Coming Attack on Non-Profits
It’s easy to understand that big government is now looking at charitable and educational tax deductions as a new source of tax revenue. As Willie Sutton, the bank robber, used to say (about banks), “that’s where the money is!” All the activists in Washington working for nonprofits should contemplate the handwriting on the wall. Think tanks, just like theaters and museums, depend upon wealthy people for the bulk of their donations, exactly those earning over $250,000 per year, “millionaires and billionaires,” as Obama calls them. Both Obama and Romney called for limits on tax deductions for charity and educational institutions. First they might separate charitable deductions from educational deductions, as is already done in many foreign countries. One way or another, the tax attack is coming. Just think also of all the big government spenders and lobbyists who would not be unhappy to see the demise of those Washington think tanks that study and expose government fraud, waste, and corruption.
The Washington media establishment is just amazing in how most reports constantly support tax increases instead of writing more about government waste. Of course, it’s not just in the defense budget. Medicare fraud alone is about $60 billion per year. Medicaid follows close behind. To understand the numbers, we should never forget that a billion equals one thousand million; a trillion equals one thousand billion.
Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of TAC.