Home/Daniel Larison/Cato Institute Purges Pena

Cato Institute Purges Pena

According to Justin Raimondo, the Cato Institute has sent its defense policy studies director, Charles V. Pena, packing:

The earlier purge of Ivan Eland, who is now with the Independent Institute – and a regular Antiwar.com columnist – was a portent of things to come, and Pena’s departure is but the latest sign that Cato is going over to the War Party. As one observer put it: “Fortunately, Ted Carpenter and Chris Preble are still there but who knows what their future is. I think the jury is still out, but it’s hard not to read between the lines.”

According to a source at Cato, Pena was told that the institute needed to cut staff to close a 7-figure budget deficit. Yet only one other person (not a policy director and not someone in the defense and foreign policy department) was let go (at the end of August). Curiously enough, the day after he was RIF’ed (yes, that’s the term they used: “reduction in force”) Cato President Ed Crane announced the promotion of no less than 4 people at Cato (with each presumably receiving a raise) and the hiring of a new director of government affairs. Also, there’s been plenty of talk about adding 3 floors to the building — to accommodate a larger staff.

What’s going on at Cato is not a “reduction in force,” but a betrayal of libertarian principle. Pena, a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, has been a strong advocate of withdrawing from Iraq – a position that Cato is now dropping. This is typical of the Cato crowd: their opportunism has always been beset by bad timing. At the dawn of the Republican-led anti-government revolution, they were telling the world they were “low tax liberals.” Now that the majority of Americans have turned against this war, the Cato bigwigs are lining up with the neoconservatives who want to “stay the course.”

Mr. Pena’s departure from Cato seems to be confirmed by his disappearance from their list of policy scholars. The folks at Cato seem not to have taken the time to eliminate Mr. Pena from the site entirely, however, as he is still listed on their “Defense and National Security” research area page. The lack of any item announcing or explaining the sudden departure of Mr. Pena suggests that the powers that be at Cato are not enthusiastic about advertising the fact that they have forced out one of their most well-known and respected scholars, presumably for his lack of zeal for persisting in the folly of Iraq.

Mr. Pena was probably the most prominent face of the Institute on television and one of the most widely known members of the Cato Institute in the public policy debate over Iraq. In the domestic and foreign media, if a reporter was looking for a quote to capture the view of the American foreign policy skeptic and noninterventionist he would frequently rely on Charles Pena’s statements and writings. Undoubtedly, Mr. Carpenter is very capable of making the same arguments, but Mr. Pena’s departure shows that Cato is no longer very much interested in advancing those arguments. Besides making themselves more irrelevant by moving away from their earlier positions on Iraq and apparently abandoning the spirit of conviction that distinguished Cato from the other fellow-travellers in the Beltway in recent years, the Cato Institute has evidently thrown away one of its best spokesman and reduced the visibility of their organisation. Libertarians can see this not only as a betrayal, but also as an unusually stupid and short-sighted one. Traditional conservatives should lament that the one last institutional bastion friendly to noninterventionism and limited government has now begun to succumb to the hegemonist disease infesting essentially all other think tanks on the Right.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment

Latest Articles