Archive for the Freedom Category

Victor Davis Hanson

The Middle East Mess

Most polls show a decided unease to preempt in Iran, at least for now. The nearly inexplicable failure to encourage the 2009 Iranian protests seems more regrettable each month. Trying to lecture and embarrass Israel the last three years led nowhere. The Syrian dissidents are now infighting. Assad, once well-spoken-of by the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, is receiving Russian arms, and seems to be silently warning to fight to the last bunker, atop supposedly massive amounts of WMD.

Libya — no U.S. congressional authorization, exceeding the much-referenced U.N. authorizations, and chaos in the postbellum era — is a blueprint for nothing. The verdict is out on the Arab Spring; but confidence mostly hinges on believing the supposedly reformed Muslim Brotherhood and affiliates either do not have broad support or are not as radical as they sound.

The once-”good war” in Afghanistan is being dissected every which way in terms of getting out without avoiding a 1975 Vietnam-like scramble. Certainly the old mantra that we took our eye off the ball in Iraq needs revisiting — given that when we put it back on Afghanistan and poured manpower and capital into the country, things either did not improve or got worse. In any case, four ground commanders in three years, diplomatic musical chairs, surges cum withdrawal deadlines, and a disengaged commander in chief did not send the message of a new administration finally bent, as promised in summer 2008, on winning the “real” or “good” war.

The Middle East Mess…

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Kori Schake

A hugely consequential development in the Obama Administration’s “sanctions only” strategy for Iran has been Saudi Arabia’s assurance to purchasers of Iran’s oil that Saudi — the only country with the capacity to do so — would meet all calls for supply.  That has given buyers the confidence to forego contracts with Iran knowing their needs will be met.

The Saudi pledge was essential in persuading EU countries to commit to shifting away from Iranian oil purchases.  Europeans are among the largest purchasers of Iranian oil, and the biggest purchasers are Europe’s shakiest economies.  Even with their economic worries and the deadline for giving up Iranian oil not kicking in until June, Italy has already reduced its purchases by 12% and Spain by 37%.

But Saudi Arabia’s oil minister appeared to be drawing back from their substitution pledge, saying, according to the Wall Street Journal, that the kingdom will respond to its customers’ demands for more oil, but “it doesn’t want to get involved in the politics behind the sanctions.”

What accounts for the recalibration of Saudi Arabia’s position on Iran?  News reporting has focused on posturing in advance of a producers meeting that includes Iran at which quotas will be renegotiated, but that is an unlikely precipitator.  The Saudis are pretty far down the road of supporting both sanctions and the threat of military force against Iran (recall the memorable leak from U.S. diplomatic documents in which the Saudis tell us to “cut the head off the snake.”)

It seems likelier an incidence of timing in the wake of President Obama’s declaration to American-Israeli Political Action Committee that U.S. policy will not settle for containing a nuclear Iran.  The President’s earlier basketball court tough talk that he doesn’t bluff wasn’t adequate to dispel concern that has bluffing about preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and so at the AIPAC meeting he publicly disavowed the policy option favored by many in his administration, and many of his supporters outside it, who argue that Iran can be contained as a nuclear-armed Soviet Union was contained, as a nuclear-armed China is contained, as a nuclear-armed North Korea is being contained, as a nuclear-armed Pakistan is being contained.

That President Obama felt the need to rule out acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran is not at variance with Saudi policy.  But the Saudis may be getting uncomfortable at the extent to which talk of Iran is a tense and visible U.S.-Israeli dialogue.  More than once the Saudis (and other Arab states) have suggested they would look the other way if Israel were to attack the Iranian nuclear program.  But it is significant that they are beginning to hedge their political support even for the sanctions regime.  We may be reaching the limit of what the Saudis are willing to sign up for, and that will place significant restrictions on the Administration’s current strategy.

(photo credit: A. Davey)

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Richard Epstein

Times are tough. Both the European Union and the United States are facing stagnant economic growth, high levels of unemployment, excessive debt, and an aging population. I am not alone in urging the European Union and the United States to make major reforms of their labor markets as an essential step toward economic growth. Sadly, serious progress on reform has lagged behind on both sides of the Atlantic.

Yet, in at least one respect, the United States is in far better shape than the European Union. I refer to the advancement of women in business, particularly their representation on corporate boards. For the EU, compulsion is the preferred path, while in the United States, to date, voluntary action is the name of the game.

To see how the EU is marching off in the wrong regulatory direction, it is necessary to examine the recently released study of the European Commission, “Women in economic decision-making in the EU: Progress report.” Its major proposal is to require quotas for women on corporate boards—unless of course these boards reform themselves first by, ahem, “voluntary” action.

This report is the brainchild of Luxembourg’s Viviane Reding, the Vice President of the European Commission and EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. Her politics are said to be “center-right,” which only shows how bad the intellectual climate in the EU has become. The report’s slick cover features a head-shot of a self-assured black-haired woman, behind whom, off to the side, is the blurry image of a smirking gray-haired man. With a message like that, who could oppose the proposal?

Continue reading Richard Epstein…

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Jack Goldsmith

New Book

I have a new book out today: Power and Constraint: The Accountable Presidency after 9/11.  It argues that constitutional checks and balances deeply constrain the national security presidency, and that these checks and balances are the key to understanding Barack Obama’s continuation of George W. Bush’s counterterrorism policies, as well as the broad national consensus in support of those policies.

The presidency has of course grown in many ways during the first decade of indefinite war against Islamist terrorists and other modern threats.  Much less noticed, but just as important, is a revolution in wartime presidential accountability that has shaped and legitimated the growth in presidential power.  Congress and courts pushed back harder against the presidency than in previous wars, in the process vetting, altering and ultimately blessing his core counterterrorism policies.  These traditional institutions received crucial support from something new and remarkable: giant distributed networks of lawyers, investigators, and auditors, inside and outside the executive branch.  In conjunction with the press, these forces watched the presidency closely and enforced legal and political constraints against it.  By 2009, almost all of George W. Bush’s counterterrorism policies had been altered and blessed in ways that Barack Obama – seized of the responsibilities of the presidency – found impossible to resist.  The same forces that pushed against Bush from the left also pushed against Obama from the right and prevented him from closing GTMO and trying GTMO terrorists in civilian courts.  Two presidents with starkly different views about executive power and proper counterterrorism tactics ended up in about the same place because constitutional forces more powerful than the aims of the presidents were at work.  In telling this story about modern presidential accountability, I draw on over 80 interviews with political, military, and intelligence officials in the Bush and Obama administrations, and with key representatives in the modern accountability regime for the presidency, including members of Congress and their staffs, federal judges, government lawyers and watchdogs, national security journalists and their editors, and human rights activists.

If you read the book I hope you like it.

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Paul Gregory

Today’s gloom-and-doom Times piece concludes that the Russian protest movement “collided with the cold reality of Mr. Putin’s convincing victory” in the March 4 presidential election. Protesters lack a leader and a positive message. Sunday’s demonstrations gave them an opportunity “to cry out together, one more time, for political freedom.” No further demonstrations are scheduled. All is lost. Putin has won.

The White House has signed on to this “Putin has won” version.  After five day’s of hesitation, President Obama called Putin, as the White House communiqué reported, to congratulate him on his March 4 victory. Other Western nations sent more muted messages, but not Obama.

Not so fast. Let’s get this straight. Putin did not win a “convincing electoral victory.” Real elections require an opposition, not the sorry rogues’ gallery Putin allowed to oppose him. His Central Electoral Commission disqualified everyone else. As one protester complained: “We can’t go to the courts. We cannot go to the prosecutor.” The streets remain the only option.

As long as we believe the big lie that March 4 was a real presidential election, Putin can triumphantly declare (with tears in his eyes?) democracy alive and well.  True: Voters went to the polls. Putin might have won even without the ballot stuffing, carrousel voting, and intimidation. But Putin’s “Party of Scoundrels and Thieves” barely scraped by against the shopworn communists and nationalists in the December 4 parliamentary elections. He could take no more chances.

Continue reading Paul Gregory…

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Jack Goldsmith

President Obama, at his press conferenceyesterday, in response to republican candidates’ hawkish calls for a more aggressive posture toward Iran:

Now, what’s said on the campaign trail — those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities.  They’re not Commander-in-Chief.  And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war.  I’m reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy. This is not a game.  There’s nothing casual about it.  And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we’ve been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that’s more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.

There is truth in what President Obama says here.  And he speaks from experience.  For everything he says about the republican candidates applies to many of candidate Obama’s 2008 criticisms of Bush administration counterterrorism policies.  Those criticisms were made by someone with no national security responsibilities, who did not have to face the concrete impact on U.S. national security of changing the Bush policies, and who thus could engage in bluster and big talk about the vices of the Bush approach.  Once Obama became Commander in Chief, once he assumed responsibility for U.S. national security, once he was forced to consider the concrete costs of the counterterrorism changes he promised or hinted at on the campaign trail, he acted more prudently.  And that more prudent course ended up looking a lot like the late Bush era counterterrorism policies. I have much more to say about Obama’s continuation of Bush era policies, and its significance for our constitutional order, in my new book, which is available now, and which I will discuss more on the blog on Monday (the official publication date).

(photo credit: White House photo by Pete Souza)

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Victor Davis Hanson

Americans — left, right, Democrats and Republicans — are all sick of thankless nation-building in the Middle East. Yet democratization was not our first choice, but rather a last resort after prior failures.

The United States had long ago supplied Afghan insurgents, who expelled the Soviets after a decade of fighting. Then we left. The country descended into even worse medievalism under the Taliban. So after removing the Taliban, who had hosted the perpetrators of 9/11, we promised in 2001 to stay on.

We won the first Gulf War in 1991. Then most of our forces left the region. The result was the mass murder of the Iraqi Kurds and Shiites, 12 years of no-fly zones, and a failed oil-for-food embargo of Saddam’s Iraq. So after removing Saddam in 2003, we tried to leave behind something better.

In the last 10 years the United States has spent more than $1 trillion and has lost thousands of American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both places seem far better off than when ruled by the Taliban and Saddam Hussein — at least for a while longer.

Yet the Iraqis now bear Americans little good will. They seem friendlier to Iranand Syria than to their liberators. In Afghanistan, riots continue over mistaken burning of some defaced Korans, despite serial American apologies.

Continue reading Victor Davis Hanson…

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James Huffman

The Contraception Hawks

For decades American politics has been poisoned by the great abortion debate. Never mind that the economy is in the dumps, the national debt is spiraling out of control, the nation’s infrastructure is crumbling, health-care costs are rising (even faster with the onset of Obamacare), and each year our kids learn a little less than they did the year before. So candidates for public office better know where they stand on abortion, because they will be asked again and again. And they better not flip-flop on the issue.

Now, lo and behold, contraception has yet again surfaced as the social policy issue of the day. So, candidates for President of the United States better know where they stand. Making contraception center-most in the campaign for president in 2012 is like making a black-and-white, silent movie in the twenty-first century: Who would guess that it would win the Oscar for best picture? And who would guess that forty-seven years after Griswold v. Connecticut, contraception would make a return to the silver screen of national politics.

Before candidate Rick Santorum resurrected the long moribund topic of the acceptability of contraception, the question du jour was whether the Obama administration’s newly promulgated rule on the provision of contraception services violates religious freedom or supports the freedom of women to control their reproductive lives. Now the question is whether the government has a role in regulating contraception. The response to that question should be: “You’ve got to be kidding! Of course there is no role for government.” But given that the question is now on the front page of every paper in the land, perhaps we can make some lemonade from this lemon.

Continue reading James Huffman…

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