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National Defense

All articles with the "National Defense" tag.

Published: Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Thu, 20 Oct 2016 15:04:22 -0400


Americans Have Always Been Obsessed With National Security

Sun, 28 Feb 2016 07:00:00 -0500

The U.S. Constitution can reasonably be seen as a massive tax and mercantilist trade-promotion program. However, there's a third leg to this stool. It was a national-security program as well—almost a proto-PATRIOT Act. Indeed, these three elements formed an integrated project: it gave the new central government independent power to raise revenue by taxing individuals directly and to establish an army and navy in order to advance, by force if necessary, American trade. This, I submit, was not exactly a libertarian project. It let a terrifying genie out of the bottle ostensibly in order to contain it. Or, as James Madison put it, "You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." While the nationalists (that is, the self-identified but misnamed Federalists) saw military power as essential to the development of American commerce, the ability to raise an army and navy was intended to accomplish more than that, namely, continental hegemony and national security in a hostile world. As Madison, chief architect of the political system embodied in the Constitution, told the Virginia ratifying convention, America was surrounded by countries "whose interest is incompatible with an extension of our power and who are jealous of our resources to become powerful and wealthy. [They] must naturally be inclined to exert every means to prevent our becoming formidable." Thus the nationalists sought a permanent military establishment—albeit initially small—powerful enough that no nation would, as Donald Trump would say, "mess with us." Whom did the Federalists fear? "The hostile nations the Federalists were talking about [Spain and England]," Max M. Edling wrote in A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State, "had dominions to the north and south of the union, while in the west they fuelled the animosity of the Indian nations." It's odd, then, that so many libertarians think an obsession with national security dates back only to the end of World War II and Harry Truman's National Security Act of 1947. In fact it goes back to the very beginning of the republic, when Americans who sought to expand the power of the central state warned that because America was exceptional, it faced constant danger from the old powers and the Indian nations (whose lands the Americans coveted). Security, the nationalists explained, requires consolidation (rather than loose the "league of friendship" under the Articles of Confederation) and a ready peacetime military. Yes, a standing army was potentially dangerous, they said, and so need not be large; but America, as a unified extended republic secure between two oceans, did not have to fear a permanent military establishment. Some libertarians believe that since Americans opposed a standing army, as the vocal Anti-Federalists did, the Constitution forbade it. That is clearly not the case. No prohibition is to be found, a fact punctuated by the Third Amendment, which prohibits the quartering of troops in people's home without consent in peacetime. Obviously, that could be an issue only with a peacetime standing army. (Thanks to Gary Chartier for pointing this out.) But that's the least to be said. Congress was empowered virtually without qualification to raise an army and navy, the only restriction being that the military budget can be for no more than two years at a time: "Congress shall have the power to ... raise and support Armies [and] To provide and maintain a Navy." Moreover, control of the state militias was taken from the states and nationalized. (See Article I, Section 8. In 1783 the Confederation Congress created a committee, chaired by Alexander Hamilton, to plan for a peacetime army and navy. Committee member Madison was unconvinced that Congress had the power to carry out any such a plan.) These powers in the proposed Constitution outraged the Anti-Federalists, who opposed centralized government in a distant capital. They pointed out that this shift in r[...]

Rand Paul and 10 Heedless Hawks

Wed, 23 Sep 2015 00:01:00 -0400

At a Q&A session in Dallas a year ago, Rand Paul expressed skepticism about whether the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) posed "a threat to our national security." Hours later at another event in Dallas, the Kentucky senator said that if he were president he "would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily." Paul's sudden conversion on the merits of war with ISIS made me worry that, in catering to Republican primary voters, he would lose his distinctive voice on foreign policy, which urges caution and modesty instead of the heedless interventionism advocated by his rivals. But last week's Republican presidential debate showed that Paul still offers a desperately needed alternative to the mindless militarism favored by the GOP. "We have a world that grows increasingly dangerous," Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida declared, "and we are eviscerating our military spending." It is so eviscerated that the U.S. spends more on the military than the next seven countries combined. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson nevertheless agreed with Rubio that U.S. military spending is dangerously low. "We need the strongest military on the face of the planet," Fiorina said, "and everyone has to know it." Although we and they already do, Fiorina still wants to boost spending on the Army, Navy, and Marines. Bush upped the ante. "If we're going to lead the world," he said, "then we need to have the strongest military possible." Strictly speaking, that means diverting virtually all resources to military spending, leaving Americans just enough to cover the basic necessities of life. Paul, by contrast, has proposed a five-year budget-balancing plan that includes $164 billion in Pentagon cuts. Although he later seemed to retreat from that proposal, it is hard to imagine him complaining that $610 billion, about a fifth of all federal spending, is not enough to defend the country. During the debate, Paul was the only candidate to consistently ask whether the activity funded by that enormous budget actually makes the country safer. "We have to learn [that] sometimes the interventions backfire," he said. "The Iraq War backfired and did not help us. We're still paying the repercussions of a bad decision." According to Bush and Rubio, however, the mistake was not so much starting that war as ending it. "We politically and militarily pulled back," Bush said, "and now we have the creation of ISIS." Paul's analysis starts earlier, with the colossal error that George W. Bush made—an error his brother is still reluctant to acknowledge. Paul persuasively argues that deposing Saddam Hussein, based on an utterly spurious national security argument, strengthened Iran and created the conditions that gave rise to ISIS. Paul warns that the failure to contemplate the possibility of such unintended consequences ensures there will be more of them. "ISIS would be in charge of Syria had we bombed Assad," he said. "Sometimes both sides of the civil war are evil, and sometimes intervention makes us less safe….Every time we have toppled a secular dictator, we have gotten chaos, the rise of radical Islam, and we're more at risk. Paul is not your man if you want a president who doubles down on reckless wars, trying to correct the problems created by earlier interventions. "If you want boots on the ground, and you want them to be our sons and daughters, you've got 14 other choices," he said. "There will always be a Bush or Clinton for you, if you want to go back to war in Iraq." Bush helped make Paul's case, illustrating the fuzzy thinking that leads to such quagmires. "We don't have to be the world's policemen," he said, "but we certainly have to be the world's leader." I have no idea what that means, which is what makes it scary.  © Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.[...]

Alarmist Marco Rubio: ‘Nothing Matters If We Aren’t Safe.’ Okay, I’m Alarmed.

Mon, 18 May 2015 14:20:00 -0400

(image) Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign website prominently features this theme: “Nothing Matters If We Aren’t Safe.”

What matters? Nothing matters.

As video footage of Rubio further clarifies, “the economic stuff”—as he blithely calls it—won’t matter at all unless we deal with threats to our national security. “The world has never been more dangerous than it is today,” the website claims.

This statement is objectively incorrect; the world has never been safer, according to Harvard University’s Steven Pinker. The Cato Institute’s Christopher Preble explains:

In his magisterial study of the decline in violence worldwide, Harvard’s Steven Pinker posits that “we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence,” even as he concedes that most people don’t believe it.

New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait provides context:

To be sure, Rubio’s claim that the world “has never been more dangerous than it is today” is not just wrong but insanely wrong. How about when a massive communist empire threatened us with nuclear annihilation? Or when Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan launched a war of extermination? Or when the Mongols amassed the largest land conquest in human history and left behind smoking ruins and pyramids of skulls?

Even if Rubio were right—and he’s not—his approach would not make the U.S. a safer country. No one who refuses to admit that the Iraq War was a grave mistake should be trusted to handle these matters. But again: He’s not right.

Still, we should take him at his (ridiculous) word. If elected, Rubio would prioritize his neoconservative foreign policy agenda over “the economic stuff”—trifling matters like runaway government spending, a broken healthcare system, unemployment, the debt, etc. Citizens should expect further encroachments on their civil liberties, because civil liberties don’t matter. Nothing matters if we aren’t safe, remember?

Sky-is-falling rhetoric about our uniquely dangerous world is alarmist by design, but in this case, it worked. I’m legitimately alarmed—not about national security, but about losing my constitutional rights under a Rubio administration.

Keep Rand Paul Weird

Wed, 08 Apr 2015 00:01:00 -0400

Rand Paul, who launched his presidential campaign on Tuesday, calls himself "a different kind of Republican," which at this point remains an accurate description. But in his eagerness to win primaries, the libertarian-leaning Kentucky senator runs the risk of shedding the differences that make his voice distinctive and worth hearing. Perhaps the most striking example of politically motivated backpedaling is Paul's recent proposal to raise defense spending by $190 billion over two years with money reallocated from other parts of the federal budget. Four years ago, by contrast, he supported cutting defense spending by $164 billion over five years. Paul seems keen to placate Republicans who absurdly insist that the current defense budget is inadequate, even though it amounts to nearly two-fifths of global military spending. But the Republican Party desperately needs a candidate who understands that "not every dollar spent on the military is necessary or well-spent," as Paul put it at the 2012 Republican convention. In a related move, Paul has become notably more open to foreign intervention, endorsing war with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on the very same day that he wondered aloud whether the terrorist organization posed "a threat to our national security." To his credit, Paul still insists that military action must be approved by Congress, and he still opposes U.S. involvement in Syria's civil war (which makes you wonder how he proposes to "destroy" ISIS). The Rand Paul of 2015 would benefit from a conversation with the Rand Paul of 2012, who declared that "we are in too many places, too often, and we don't seem to even know the reason—or where we will end up when we're done." Instead of learning from foreign fiascos, Paul said in a essay, "both parties rush headlong into more places they don't understand." Paul is trying to appease the GOP's social conservatives as well as its military hawks. Last month he told Fox News the idea of gay marriage "offends myself and a lot of other people," although he said the issue should be left to the states. He told the audience at a prayer breakfast that thinking "there would be some sort of other marriage" reflects "a moral crisis." Similarly, at a 2013 lunch with evangelical pastors, Paul assured them he is no hippie. "I'm not advocating everyone go out and run around with no clothes on and smoke pot," he said. "I'm not a Libertarian. I'm a libertarian Republican. I'm a constitutional conservative." Consistent with his respect for the Constitution, Paul argues that states should be free to legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use. Although he has not taken a position on whether that's a good idea, he is a lead sponsor of a bill that would carve out an exception to the Controlled Substances Act for people who produce, possess, or distribute medical marijuana in compliance with state law. Paul's leadership on drug policy and criminal justice reform, which includes sponsoring bipartisan bills that would abolish mandatory minimum sentences, restore felons' voting rights, and limit the federal government's ability to take property supposedly linked to crime, sets him apart from the other presidential contenders. But since these issues have attracted interest from other Republicans (including Ted Cruz, who announced his presidential campaign two weeks ago), Paul probably will not feel a need to de-emphasize them during primary season. Nor is Paul backing away from his criticism of warrantless surveillance, which resonates with conservatives as well as left-leaning civil libertarians. And no doubt he will continue to express concerns about executive power, concerns that Republicans tend to share when there's a Democrat in the White House. The challenge for Paul is to remain different enough from other Republicans that there's a reason for him to run but not so different that he cannot win the nomination. I'm not sure those goals can be reconciled, but it will b[...]

The Squeal of the War Hogs

Wed, 18 Mar 2015 00:05:00 -0400

During a recent visit to New Hampshire, Lindsey Graham said that if he were president he "would literally use the military" to force congressional approval of a bigger defense budget. Later the South Carolina senator's spokesman said Graham was only kidding. It's too bad that Graham and other Republicans are not kidding when they say our national security is threatened by inadequate military spending, because that is also a joke. A little perspective shows why. In a February 27 letter to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) bemoan the cuts required by the 2011 Budget Control Act, saying "it is difficult to overstate the destructive impact on our military that has been wrought by the BCA." But McCain and Reed—the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Armed Services Committee—are up to the task. "The effects of these arbitrary spending cuts have been devastating to the capabilities, readiness, morale, and modernization of our armed forces," they write. "American lives are being put at risk by the caps on defense spending mandated in the BCA." The result, they say, is "a national security crisis of our own making," with potentially "catastrophic" results. Hawks like Graham and McCain, joined by at least 70 Republicans in the House, want us to believe it's impossible to defend the country for a mere $523 billion, the Pentagon's base budget for the next fiscal year under the BCA. That amount, which is slightly higher than this year's budget, does not include whatever our various wars will cost—another $50 billion or so, according to President Obama's estimate. In real terms, the amount of money that Graham and McCain consider recklessly small is more than the U.S. government spent on the military in 2005, when it was in the midst of two wars that have been winding down in recent years. The Pentagon's base budget is higher than it was in 2006 or in any year during the previous decade. Were we merely lucky to have escaped catastrophe back then? Cato Institute analyst Christopher Preble notes that defense spending averaged $458 billion a year in current dollars during the Cold War, $601 billion a year under George W. Bush, and $687 billion from 2009 through 2014. Contrary to Graham et al.'s fear mongering, Preble says, the BCA has not resulted in "a precipitous decline in military spending relative to where we were a generation ago." The war hogs' warnings look even sillier when you compare our defense budget to spending by other countries. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States, with less than 5 percent of the world's population, accounts for nearly two-fifths of global military spending. It allocates more money to the military than the next eight biggest spenders combined. The United States is a large country with peaceful neighbors. Yet it spends more than $2,000 per capita on defense—as much as Israel, a tiny country beset by enemies, and more than twice as much as European democracies such as the U.K., France, and Germany. One begins to suspect that our so-called defense budget is spent on a lot of things that have little or nothing to do with defense. Consider the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which dragged on for a dozen or so years and will ultimately cost taxpayers more than $4 trillion, not to mention the thousands of lives lost. Are we $4 trillion safer than we would have been without those wars? Boondoggle does not come close to capturing such disastrous misappropriations. "For the American people and their elected representatives to devote additional resources to national defense," McCain and Reed write, "they must be confident that the Department of Defense is making the best, most efficient use of our limited taxpayer dollars." Given the track record of the politicians who decide how to use the military, such confidence would be dangerously misplaced. © Copyright[...]

Chuck Checks Out: Hagel Fails to Adapt to Obama’s Controlling White House

Mon, 24 Nov 2014 10:55:00 -0500

This morning’s news cycle has temporarily shifted away from fretting about what might happen in Ferguson, Missouri, to the news that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is resigning after serving less than two years. The New York Times got the news, which will apparently be announced formally in a statement this morning: The officials described Mr. Obama’s decision to remove Mr. Hagel, 68, as a recognition that the threat from the Islamic State would require a different kind of skills than those that Mr. Hagel was brought on to employ. A Republican with military experience who was skeptical about the Iraq war, Mr. Hagel came in to manage the Afghanistan combat withdrawal and the shrinking Pentagon budget in the era of budget sequestration. But now "the next couple of years will demand a different kind of focus," one administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He insisted that Mr. Hagel was not fired, saying that he initiated discussions about his future two weeks ago with the president, and that the two men mutually agreed that it was time for him to leave. But Mr. Hagel’s aides had maintained in recent weeks that he expected to serve the full four years as defense secretary. His removal appears to be an effort by the White House to show that it is sensitive to critics who have pointed to stumbles in the government’s early response to several national security issues, including the Ebola crisis and the threat posed by the Islamic State. Well, that’s one way to put it, but later on in the story, reporter Helen Cooper notes Hagel’s struggles to fit in with a White House full of intense Obama campaign insiders and their need to control all messaging: A respected former senator who struck a friendship with Mr. Obama when they were both critics of the Iraq war from positions on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Hagel has nonetheless had trouble penetrating the tight team of former campaign aides and advisers who form Mr. Obama’s closely knit set of loyalists. Senior administration officials have characterized him as quiet during Cabinet meetings; Mr. Hagel’s defenders said that he waited until he was alone with the president before sharing his views, the better to avoid leaks. Whatever the case, Mr. Hagel struggled to fit in with Mr. Obama’s close circle and was viewed as never gaining traction in the administration after a bruising confirmation fight among his old Senate colleagues, during which he was criticized for seeming tentative in his responses to sharp questions. Jerry Tuccille noted how Hagel’s leadership played out early in 2013 in regards to fears of chemical weapon use in Syria. One day in April Hagel publicly stated there was no evidence Syria’s government was using chemical weapons on its own citizens. Then he reversed position the very next day, saying that it likely that they had. The Times notes that Hagel also contradicted the White House in descriptions of ISIS. The president had compared the terrorist group to a JV basketball team, while Hagel described them as an "imminent threat to everything we have." A gap that wide does indicate, though, issues bigger than just messaging. The administration chose extremely poorly with that metaphor, but certainly Hagel is exaggerating about the actual threat ISIS represents. One of the top choices to replace Hagel is Michéle Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense under Hagel’s predecessors. She’s also an administration insider. She was part of Obama’s transition team, and when she stepped down from her work within the administration in 2011, said she was going to work on helping Obama get re-elected in 2012. Her name had been bounced around at the same time as Hagel’s in 2012 as a possible replacement for Leon Panetta.    Flournoy is also a co-founder and CEO of a non-profit military/national security focused think tank named the Center for New Amer[...]

The Right Is Wrong About Defense

Mon, 12 Aug 2013 10:30:00 -0400

Old joke: A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged. New version: A liberal is a conservative confronted with defense cuts. Thanks to sequestration, says House Armed Services committee chairman Buck McKeon, “our influence around the world” will diminish and “our enemies will feel emboldened.” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently laid out the ostensibly stark choices facing the Pentagon as a result of sequestration: A large, old-fashioned military or a small, modern one. This was supposed to strike fear into the hearts of every patriotic American. Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes has spent the past year trying to stir up opposition to defense cuts. Despite those efforts, pro-defense fiscal conservatives “do not understand the repercussions” of the cuts they are making, he says. The numbskulls. Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor has warned that sequestering Pentagon funds would do “incredible damage,” “devastate the economy,” “threaten nearly a million jobs,” and “cause catastrophic damage.” Well, fear not. Just about everything conservatives have been telling you is wildly overstated — and sometimes flat-out wrong. Here’s why. First, look at the big picture. From 2002 to 2011, inflation-adjusted defense spending rose 64 percent. In 2012, defense spending shrank 6 percent. Sequestration hacks real Pentagon spending levels all the way back to where they stood in ... 2007. Was the U.S. military woefully undermanned and underarmed in 2007? Of course not. If you include homeland security, intelligence and foreign aid, then national-security spending totals more than $840 billion. All individual income taxes total $1.1 trillion, just $260 billion more than that. True, defense spending has shrunk as a share of the overall budget — thanks to exploding outlays in social-welfare spending. The remedy for that is to cut the latter, not pointlessly inflate military spending just so it can keep up. And speaking of catching up: At present, the U.S. accounts for 46 cents of every military dollar spent worldwide. America’s military allies add another 22 cents. That means the rest of the nonaligned world spends only 32 percent of global outlays on arms, and America’s potential enemies — such as China, Iran and Russia — spend only about half of that. They have a long way to go even to get within spitting distance of parity. What’s more, the U.S. is winding down the second of two wars. Reducing troop strength from a wartime high of more than half a million Army regulars to slightly less than half a million five years from now hardly qualifies as hollowing out the service. Yet many conservatives seem to think any reduction in troop strength is a disaster. That’s like insisting food-stamp levels should remain steady even after the end of a recession. Second, a grotesque amount of Pentagon spending goes to waste — as even conservatives will concede. According to the American Enterprise Institute, “most major weapons system development programs ... have cost overruns of over 30 percent.” The Heritage Foundation has identified $70 billion in annual savings. That’s 40 percent more than the cuts imposed by sequestration. So contrary to what Hagel claims, deep spending cuts need not require the mothballing of carrier strike groups. They simply require doing the job right. A 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office found that in just two years “management failures added at least $70 billion to the projected costs” of major weapons systems, The New York Times has reported. A single program — the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — “accounted for $28 billion of that increase.” And yet, as a piece in Roll Call noted last month, the F-35 “has been shielded from the sequester” even though it “is almost a decade behind schedule, expected to cost $1.5 tril[...]

Military To Cut 12 Combat Brigades

Wed, 26 Jun 2013 13:40:00 -0400

(image) The U.S. Army will cut the number of combat brigades from 45 to 33 by 2017. The restructuring comes as a result of the 2011 Budget Control Act, which reduces defense spending by $487 billion over the next 10 years. 

From the Associated Press:

Army leaders said Tuesday that they will slash the number of active duty combat brigades from 45 to 33, as the service moves forward with a longtime plan to cut the size of the service by 80,000. And they warned that more cuts — of as many as 100,000 more active duty, National Guard and Reserve soldiers — could be coming if Congress allows billions of dollars in automatic budget cuts to continue next year.

Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, said one additional brigade will likely be cut, but no final decisions have been made."I know in the local communities it will have its impact," Odierno told reporters Tuesday. "But we've done our best to reach out to them so they understand what the impacts are. We've tried to make it as small an impact as possible for as many communities as we could.”Members of Congress, meanwhile, expressed concerns about the prospects for greater cuts down the road.Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said his panel "will carefully examine the implications of this initial restructuring, but we all must understand that this is only the tip of the iceberg, much deeper cuts are still to come."

Rep. McKeon (R-Calif.) is no stranger to making doomsday predictions when it comes to proposed cuts to the military. Referring to sequestration McKeon said, "For two years now, members of the Armed Services Committee have warned that sequestration would wound our national security and our economy."The pain from the first two rounds of President Obama's defense cuts are now being felt. Furloughs are just the beginning. Sequester's pain will intensify and strengthen. It will get far worse before it gets better."

Such comments come close to being comical when you consider what is actually being proposed in terms of defense cuts. The proposed cuts in spending if sequestration were to be implemented in its entirety are modest to say the least. Defense spending has doubled over the last decade. If all the cuts proposed under sequestration take place the military will be back to the level of spending it enjoyed in 2006. This kind of retrenchment represents no realistic threat to national security.The Cato Institute has estimated that defense spending could be halved with no deleterious effect on national security. Defense spending remains far too high. However, the fact that defense hawks have been unsuccessful in shielding military spending from basic fiscal sanity is sign of modest progress.

US Army to Cut 12 Combat Brigades by 2017

Tue, 25 Jun 2013 16:30:00 -0400

The U.S. Army will reduce its core combat units to 33 from 45 by 2017 as part of a drawdown from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in response to federal budget cuts.

The elimination of 12 brigade combat teams will pare the active-duty service to 490,000 troops from 570,000 today, or about 10,000 more than at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to documents from the service. The Army also will be reducing troops in many other units not yet specified to reach its personnel goal.

The reductions will be announced today by General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, at a Pentagon press conference. The reductions aren’t part of a strategic management review directed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to assess options if $500 billion in automatic “sequestration” cuts remain in effect through a decade. Pentagon proposals for that document have been submitted to Hagel.

Motives Aside, the NSA Should Not Spy on Us

Sun, 23 Jun 2013 10:00:00 -0400

You need not suspect the motives of those responsible for NSA surveillance to detest what they are doing. In fact, we may have more to fear from spies acting out of patriotic zeal than those acting out of power lust or economic interest: Zealots are more likely to eschew restraints that might compromise their righteous cause. For the sake of argument, we may assume that from President Obama on down, government officials sincerely believe that gathering Americans’ telephone and Internet data is vital to the people’s security. Does that make government spying okay? No, it doesn’t. “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force. Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.” Although often attributed to George Washington, that famous quotation was probably was not uttered by him. Nevertheless, its value lies in what it says, not in who said it. At best, government represents a risk to the people it rules. Even under a tightly written constitution and popular vigilance — both of which are easier to imagine than to achieve — government officials will always have the incentive and opportunity to push the limits and loosen the constraints. But if their purpose is to protect us, why worry? It doesn’t take much imagination to answer to this question. A purported cure can be worse than the disease. Who would accept the placement of a surveillance camera in every home as a way of preventing crime? By the same token, gathering data on everyone without probable cause in order to locate possible terrorists should be abhorrent to people who prize their freedom and privacy. Since we’re assuming pure motives, we’ll ignore the specter of deliberate abuse. In our hypothetical case, no one would use the information in a way not intended to promote the general welfare. Pure motives, however, do not rule out error. So the danger remains that innocent people could have their lives seriously disrupted — or worse — by a zealous agent of government who sees an ominous pattern in someone’s data where none in fact exists. Author Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out that human beings are more likely to see order in randomness than vice versa. As a result, a blameless individual could have his life turned upside down by a bureaucrat who goes the extra mile to ensure that no terrorist act occurs on his watch. Think of the turmoil created for those falsely accused of the bombing at the Atlanta Olympic games and of sending anthrax letters after the 9/11 attacks. The odds of such an error for any particular individual may be slight, but they are big enough if you put yourself into the picture. However, that is not the only reason to reject even a well-intentioned surveillance state. Julian Sanchez, who specializes in technology and civil liberties, points out that a person who has nothing to hide from government officials — if such a person actually exists — would still not have a good reason to tolerate NSA surveillance, because the general awareness that government routinely spies on us has an insidious effect on society: Even when it isn’t abused … the very presence of that spy machine affects us and poisons us.… It’s slow and subtle, but surveillance societies inexorably train us for helplessness, anxiety and compliance. Maybe they’ll never look at your call logs, read your emails or listen in on your intimate conversations. You’ll just live with the knowledge that they always could — and if you ever had anything worth hiding, there would be nowhere left to hide it. Is that the kind of society we want, one in which we assume a government official is looking over our shoulders? Because government is force — “a dangerous servant and a fearful master” [...]

Our Fruitless Quest for Missile Defense

Thu, 21 Mar 2013 10:40:00 -0400

Foreign policy is often a form of theater, with elaborate rituals and pretenses that no one takes too literally. But rarely have the gimmicks of stagecraft been as obvious as in the latest standoff between North Korea and the United States. Lately, even more than usual, the Pyongyang regime has been a picture of belligerence, threatening to hit the U.S. with a nuclear strike. A foreign ministry spokesman announced that "we will be exercising our right to preemptive nuclear attack against the headquarters of the aggressor in order to protect our supreme interest." Sure you will. Joseph Cirincione, a nuclear arms expert at the Ploughshares Fund, told CNN that North Korea is "years away from the ability to field a missile with a nuclear warhead that could hit the United States." But it's useful for the North Koreans to pretend they could obliterate Los Angeles or make Detroit even less livable. Apparently President Obama is willing to play along, countering fiction with fiction. "I can tell you that the United States is fully capable of defending against any North Korean ballistic missile attack," said White House spokesman Jay Carney, citing the missile defense system arrayed on the Pacific Coast. But in case anyone had doubts, the Pentagon announced last week it would spend $1 billion to add more interceptors. Never mind that the ones it has are of doubtful utility. In controlled tests against sitting ducks, these weapons miss their targets as often as they hit them. It's tempting to think that we must have mastered missile defense, if only because we've been working on it for so long. This episode comes shortly before the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" speech, in which he envisioned making "nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete." It's also tempting because the idea is so darn agreeable. Who wouldn't want the U.S. military to be able to knock down incoming warheads like King Kong swatting away biplanes? Who wouldn't want to make sure no deranged dictator can vaporize Times Square? Keep wishing. Over the past three decades, the Defense Department has burned through some $200 billion chasing this dream—more, adjusted for inflation, than NASA needed to put all those men on the moon. While it took less than a decade for astronauts to plant the American flag in the lunar dust, we are still waiting for that missile shield. The military-industrial complex was supposed to convert enemy missiles into giant, shiny museum pieces. Yet the rulers in Tehran and Pyongyang persist in thinking that nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles are worth their weight in gold. The U.S. missile defense program has been an exercise in frustration. The undertaking is so difficult that the Pentagon no longer even dreams of being able to foil a massive attack by Russia or China. Its biggest ambition is to knock down a rocket or two from some rogue nation that is willing to risk being turned into a radioactive pile of gravel. Even there, the technical requirements are several bridges too far. Last year, a report by the National Academy of Sciences noted the essential requirements of such a system and concluded the existing one is "deficient with respect to all of these principles." To have any realistic hope of shooting down an intercontinental ballistic missile, you have to be able to track it while it's above the atmosphere ("midcourse"). But the enemy probably won't cooperate. The CIA has said North Korea and Iran should be able to develop countermeasures by the time they have usable ICBMs. The simplest is to simultaneously release dozens of other objects that, in the vacuum of space, would travel at the same speed as the warhead and be extremely difficult to distinguish. That was the unsolved problem in 1983, and it's the unsolved problem today. David Wright, co[...]

Steve Chapman on Our Fruitless Quest for Missile Defense

Thu, 21 Mar 2013 10:40:00 -0400

(image) Foreign policy is often a form of theater, with elaborate rituals and pretenses that no one takes too literally. But rarely have the gimmicks of stagecraft been as obvious as in the latest standoff between North Korea and the United States. Lately, even more than usual. Steve Chapman discusses the posturing from North Korea and our president's response.

The Iraq War's Unhappy Anniversary

Tue, 19 Mar 2013 18:00:00 -0400

At about 9:30 p.m. on March 19, 2003, the shooting phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom began, with an unsuccessful "decapitation strike" aimed at top Iraqi leadership, including Saddam Hussein. Shortly thereafter, President George W. Bush told the American people in a nationally televised address that we'd gone to war "to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger." Ten years later, the future of "Iraqi Freedom" is unclear at best, but it's evident that there wasn't much to disarm and that the world was never in grave danger. What has the Iraq War cost us, and what lessons, if any, have we learned? Placing all the blame for the war on neoconservatives lets everyone else off far too lightly, it seems to me. The 2002-03 rush to war was a bipartisan flight from responsibility. In 2002, very few of our elected representatives were interested in doing basic due diligence before exercising the solemn responsibility that the Constitution gives Congress in the power "to declare War." From late September 2002 on, copies of the 92-page National Intelligence Estimate on the Iraq threat were available to any member of the House or Senate who wanted to review it. Only a handful even bothered. Then-Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.)—our current secretary of state and his predecessor—weren't among the six senators who took the time to read the report before voting for war. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) explained that getting away to the secure room to read the NIE—a short walk away across the Capitol grounds—is "not easy to do" and that NIEs make for "extremely dense reading." The Beltway intelligentsia didn't comport itself any better. In a recent article for the New Republic, "The Eve of Destruction," TNR's John B. Judis describes "what it was like to oppose the Iraq War in 2003." Lonely: "within political Washington, it was difficult to find like-minded" opponents of the war. "Both of the major national dailies—The Washington Post and The New York Times (featuring Judith Miller's reporting)—were beating the drums for war," as were most of "Washington's thinktank honchos." Not all of them, however. In a 2001 debate on Iraq with former CIA Director James Woolsey, my Cato Institute colleague, then-Chairman William Niskanen, argued that "an unnecessary war is an unjust war" and one we would come to regret having fought. Niskanen was right. A new report from the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University tallies up the costs: nearly 4,500 U.S. troop fatalities, an eventual budgetary cost of some $3.9 trillion and more than 130,000 civilians as "collateral damage." Amateur ornithologist Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) calls the dovish Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) a "wacko bird" for raising questions about unchecked presidential war-making. Still, Paul ruled the roost at last weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference, winning CPAC's presidential straw poll. The Christian Science Monitor reports on another poll of CPAC attendees, in which "only 34 percent said the US should adopt a more muscular role [abroad]; 50 percent said the US should pull back, leaving it more to allies to take care of trouble spots." George Will reported on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that what he saw at CPAC was "the rise of the libertarian strand of Republicanism, which has an effect in foreign policy that is a pullback from nation-building and other ambitions aboard that they never countenance from government at home." Bill Niskanen, who passed away last year at the age of 78, never tired of reminding conservatives that war is a government program—and an especially destructive one at that. The message may be starting to sink in. This article originally appeared[...]

Air Force Mulls Underground Tunnel Network for Nukes

Thu, 14 Mar 2013 11:52:00 -0400

The Air Force wants to upgrade its aging nuclear missiles and the hundreds of underground silos that hold them. One idea it’s exploring: the construction of a sprawling network of underground subway tunnels to shuttle the missiles around like a mobile doomsday train. As one does.

As first reported by Inside Defense, the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center will award several study contracts next month worth up to $3 million each to research the idea. A broad agency announcement from the Air Force describes the hair-raising concept, intended to keep the weapons secure through 2075, as a system of tunnels where nuclear missiles are shuttled around on rails or some undefined “trackless” system.

The advantage of the world’s deadliest subway: During an atomic holocaust, mobile missiles are harder for an adversary to target than a static silo. Missiles could be positioned at launch holes placed at “regular intervals” along the length of the tunnels.

Susan Rice May Become National Security Adviser

Mon, 11 Mar 2013 14:52:00 -0400

US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice is lined up to become President Barack Obama's national security adviser after the disappointment of being forced out of contention for secretary of state, it was reported on Sunday.

According to the Washington Post, Rice has emerged as the "far and away" favourite to replace incumbent national security adviser Thomas Donilon later this year.

If true, it would mark a speedy political rehabilitation for the senior diplomat, whose bid to succeed Hillary Clinton in the State Department was derailed under a barrage of Republican criticism over her potential nomination.