State of the Union

Reagan’s Man at VOA: Kenneth Tomlinson, RIP

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.

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Top Marine General on America’s Way of War—Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Conference

marine gen 2

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.)

–Violent Jihad is gaining, not losing ground.  (House and Senate intelligence panel chairs say terrorists are gaining. Half of Americans believe us less safe today than prior to 9/11.)  

–We need a strategy which does not drive young Muslims to al-Qaeda. Read More…

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Are We Rome? FreedomFest 2013 Meets in Las Vegas

Jon Basil Utley speaks at FreedomFest 2013. Gage Skidmore / cc
Jon Basil Utley speaks at FreedomFest 2013. Gage Skidmore / cc

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…

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Military Readiness–for What?

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus speaks to American troops stationed in Korea about the impacts of sequestration | Official U.S. Navy Imagery / Flickr
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus speaks to American troops stationed in Korea about the impacts of sequestration | Official U.S. Navy Imagery / Flickr

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.

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Benghazi, Mali, and the Need for a Defensive American Strategy

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…

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FreedomFest in Las Vegas

FreedomFest is the great annual meeting of libertarians in Las Vegas organized by author, economist, and editor Mark Skousen. Held close to the 4th of July every year, it celebrates a diversity of opinions rarely found among the “conservatively correct” who rule the Republican Party and brook little dissent – for example, against more wars. Steve Forbes, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, and Fox Business Channel’s Judge Napolitano are always there.

Sen. Rand Paul was the keynote speaker at this year’s conference, which took place July 11-14. He said that there is “consensus” in Washington — for higher taxes, more regulations, and few reforms. He questioned Defense Department waste and demanded a first time audit of Pentagon spending. He said his proposed cuts of just 1 percent across the board for all government spending were opposed by most of Congress, even though such a real cut would in 10 years balance America’s budget.

Speakers included a veritable Who’s Who of libertarian intellectuals and independent conservatives. (See links to their biographies and to the program topics.) Some hundred subjects were covered in lectures or seminars with panels of experts, a gamut covering the American and world economies, finance, investment, geopolitics, philosophy, history, art, healthy living, science, and technology. John Mackey spoke on food, saying that he approved of the “paleo” diet, based upon what ancient humans ate, but adding that whole grains (unrefined flour) were healthy as well.

A newly expanded feature was Anthem: The Libertarian Film Festival, with some 20 films on issues such as jury nullification, Liberty in film, Ayn Rand, Detroit’s underground economy, climate change, and many libertarian themes.

TAC editor Daniel McCarthy, contributing editor Sheldon Richman (who edits the Foundation for Economic Education’s Freeman), and myself participated in a panel on “Liberty or Empire—Freedom and Unending Wars.” I focused on understanding Third World nations, why democracies can’t run empires, and why America is unable to win guerrilla wars. McCarthy spoke on the connection between war and revolution as forces that transform society – another reason Americans should not take lightly the consequences of unending wars. Sheldon Richman discussed the original Articles of Confederation of the 13 American colonies and how many of our Founders were concerned that too strong a central government be able to go to war like the old European kings. (Audio recordings of the sessions are available here.)

Read More…

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J Street and the Israeli Lobby

“J Street supporters are pro-peace first and pro-Israel second” is the criticism of hard-line Zionists and their allies in Washington. It well describes the growing fault lines in the Jewish community with those who want peace for Israel’s and America’s own long-term interests. Aggressive new settlements, international opprobrium, and unending, costly conflicts have lost Israel most of its worldwide support. As all-powerful and intimidating as AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, still appears, Jewish attacks are weakening it, even as Congress still trembles and Republican presidential candidates grovel before it. Its power is now being challenged as never before. Indeed, AIPAC’s leadership already only speaks for a minority of Jews, especially old ones, according to many participants at the conference. Today it increasingly depends upon the support of two main allies, the military-industrial complex and Christian Zionist millenarians.

Polls already show that a majority of American and Israeli Jews want peace and the removal of most of the settlements, and they support a viable Palestinian state. Israel’s Likud government, which long viewed J Street as a nuisance, this time felt compelled to send an emissary, Deputy Head of Mission Baruch Binah, to address its third gala dinner at Washington’s giant convention center  last March 26.

J Street’s motto of “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace, Pro-Two States,” its open discussion of Palestinian suffering and rights, its espousal of Jewish values of humanism: they are all anathema to Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, to the subsidized settlers on the West Bank, and to American evangelicals wanting chaos and wars to hurry up God’s agenda for destruction and their longed-for Second Coming. Many of the panels dealt with the conflicts among American Jews in criticizing Israel’s occupation policies. Author Peter Beinart, a keynote speaker, argued that younger American Jews are simply turning off from the unending conflict and brutalities of the occupation, which itself is severely morally corrupting for Israel, and that Zionism, to regain its moral standing and legitimacy, must reach a two-state agreement with the Palestinians. He states in his book The Crisis of Zionism that AIPAC’s first allegiance is to the Israeli government, not to the Zionist ideals upon which Israel was founded. He and other speakers warned that Jews never in their history have had such political power as in America, but that they need to learn how to use it justly and wisely. In Jewish circles there’s an expression, “Is it good for the Jews?” Unspoken is the fear that abuse of their power could backfire with untoward consequences, as history attests. Read More…

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A Vote for Austerity Is a Vote for Peace

Americans who despair of Washington ever cutting waste from its trillion dollar defense/homeland security budget can take heart from pollster Scott Rasmussen’s book The People’s Money. The author argues that the public is always ahead of the politicians, that the time is ripe for an effective leader to win election with real budget cuts. His polling shows that most Americans believe that the greatest threats to America are cyber warfare and deficit spending. This is amazing if one thinks how most TV just constantly bombards Americans that Iran or China or Arabs or Russia or other nebulous foreigners are out to get us, that they irrationally hate us because we are so good, as former President Bush used to claim.  Today 82% of Americans believe economic threats are greater then military ones.

At a speech at CATO, Rasmussen used the analogy of the Battle of Lexington in 1775, the first in our Revolutionary War, that it came 18 months before the Declaration of Independence by America’s political leaders. He cited case after case where public opinion was way ahead of Washington’s policies.

Rasmussen’s book is full of interesting statistics and rebuttal of prevailing Washington wisdom. Only 35% of Americans share the Republican view of cutting everything except defense. He explains “respect and admiration for our troops exists alongside doubts about the jobs they’ve been asked to do.” He cautions that Americans are turned off by attacks on the military such as those during the Vietnam War. But nevertheless attacking Washington for misuse of the military could sell very well. Washington has made commitments to defend 56 nations, but the public only supports protecting 12; indeed only 4 garnish over 60% support. These are Canada with 80%, England with 74%, Australia, 65% and Israel, 60%. Of the 12 half are in West Europe plus Mexico, 53%, South Korea. 59%, Panama and the Bahamas, each with 58%. Read More…

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“The Gray”: A Man’s Movie

“The Gray” is about oil workers surviving a crashed plane in Alaska. They crash in a wolf pack’s territory. The survivors try to make their way out.  As someone who hikes and climbs in Alaska and loves it, I found the movie gripping and philosophical — it reminded me also of another wonderful movie, “The Way Back,” about concentration camp prisoners walking their way out of Siberia. In that film the starving men chase the wolves off their prey. In this one the wolves are the attackers.  Admittedly, the plot exaggerates a bit: wolves don’t fight one on one in the real world.

This is a man’s (not a teenager’s) movie. No happy ending, but about men under stress, the way life used to be. If you love the outdoors — and challenge — and have been around in life, you’ll like this film. Would one really rather die wasted in a wheelchair or old age home, drugged, cut up by myriad operations, and slowly, the American way? Great photography, a real story. I don’t think women would like it. But the characters in this film are certainly real men, a welcome change from the adolescents in most movies.

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Evangelicals, Ron Paul and War

Is supporting war more important for evangelicals than their social values? Isn’t Ron Paul a social conservative? He opposes abortion, gay marriage and promiscuous sex, he has never been divorced and certainly supports family values, but he believes in limited government. Two of his brothers are ministers. Why then are evangelical leaders now opting for Santorum, and before him Gingrich? The one big area of disagreement with Ron Paul is war; foreign wars and the domestic one against drugs. For this they oppose him. Santorum supports unending war in Afghanistan, backing Israel without limit and a new war against Iran.

Earlier there was a major far leftist candidate who supported all the issues that evangelicals oppose, and was a vocal proponent for expanding Israeli settlements on the West Bank and promoting the war on Iraq. He was overjoyed when open homosexuality became allowed in the military, he supports abortion, gay marriage and the leftist agenda for big, intrusive government; power to labor unions as well as expanded, unconstitutional police powers within the U.S. Evangelicals adore him and went all out to support him 2006, when he lost his primary race and ran as an independent for the Senate. He is Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

All this shows how evangelical leaders put support for wars ahead of their social values. Their support includes every new law giving Washington ever greater police powers over American citizens, such as the Patriot Act, Military Commissions Act and the recent National Defense Authorization Act which tear asunder much of the Bill of Rights. Most also supported torture of prisoners of war (with the notable exception of Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship).  All this comes with their “social values.” Read More…

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