Monday, March 28, 2011

A Marshall Plan for the Middle East: Part II: The New Vision

The followup to A Marshall Plan for the Middle East:  Part I:  An Old Approach Reborn is now available on FutureChallenges.  The second half, The New Vision, builds on the earlier call to reconcile Western security needs with democracy promotion in the Middle East.  It aims to begin a discussion on what specific forms a new Marshall Plan would take and outline some potential risks and concerns that Western architects should take into consideration before rushing into a new plan.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Time to Support Obama

As the far-left has assumed its normal, although currently somewhat subdued, opposition to war, many Republicans have begun to position themselves against the administration’s actions in Libya. Seemingly, much of this opposition on the right comes from politically- not ideologically-motivated origins. While budgetary concerns are certainly high in the minds of many Tea Party-infused congressmen, the GOP should be careful to avoid opposing a policy just because Obama initiated it.

A number of Republicans have begun speaking out against the mission. Some of this questioning is certainly appropriate. For instance, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) was correct to press Obama on the objectives of the mission in a recent letter sent to the president. However, like many Republicans, Boehner walks a fine line between assisting the war-wary president to define the United States’ goals and commitments and, on the other hand, fomenting an unwise charge against the intervention in Libya.

As outlined in the letter, there are a number of tactical considerations that must be publically clarified. Presumably some of Obama’s hesitation is due to the image of the anti-war president that he assiduously crafted as a candidate. But while questioning these tactical and even broader strategic concerns is valid, the underlying need and motivation for intervention should be off the table.

Not only would such partisan attacks smack of raw politics but they would establish a huge contradiction within Republican ideology. Republicans have spent over a decade defending the need to promote democracy across the globe. While there have arguably been missteps in the implementation of this mission, the underlying goal is sound. For a few partisan points in their political battle with Obama, it would be foolish to throw all of this away.

Instead, Republicans should jump on board with the no-fly zone, throwing their support behind the president and showing America that when the Democrats choose to do the right thing, bipartisanship can prevail. Not every policy initiated by the current administration need be opposed; fighting across the aisle is only warranted when the other side is grossly out of line, for instance as the Democrats were on Obamacare. Americans want to see this country moved in the right direction; they do not want to see consistent bickering.

The call, by some Republicans, including Utah’s congressmen, Jason Chaffetz, for congressional authorization of the no-fly zone is a prime example of this misguided policy. Relying upon Obama’s own asinine comments made to this effect while a candidate, Chaffetz argues that the president must turn to Congress for approval. This argument, though, is a straw-man, used by the opposition party for decades. Congress has not officially declared war since World War II, while numerous military actions have been initiated by presidents in the years since. The ability of the president, as commander-in-chief, to send troops into battle has been a long-settled issue. While Congress should undoubtedly be consulted prior to military action and should maintain certain controls and inputs into its execution, the current criticisms are nothing but transparent attacks on the office of the president.

Republicans should not join the far-left in this attack. That ground should be left to Dennis Kucinich and his loony friends who are mulling impeaching Obama. Instead, if the GOP feels the need to separate itself from the administration, it could look to some of the mistakes made in the implementation of the no-fly zone, in particular the long delay in its initiation. Jonah Goldberg, at National Review Online, makes the most poignant argument in this regard. While fully supporting the mission, he argues that the delay in getting it started has added some considerable difficulties. Goldberg blames this on Obama’s desire to be a multilateralist and fear of “too much unilateral hot-dogging” if the United States had taken the lead. His analysis is quite astute and correctly separates the tactical blunders made by the administration from the strategic necessity of intervention.

For Republicans who cut their teeth on opposition to this president, throwing their weight behind him will be a bitter pill to swallow. But doing right, by American interests, their principles, and the Libyan people, is far more important than partisan brownie points. Republicans need to show their principles and their mettle and support the president.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Marshall Plan for the Middle East - Part I

My newest article, A Marshall Plan for the Middle East:  Part I, on FutureChallenges (a division of the Bertelsmann Foundation) discusses the need to develop a new approach to the current revolutionary fervor in the Middle East and North Africa.  Relying upon lessons from the Marshall Plan, the post-WWII plan to rehabilitate Europe and prevent the growth of communism, the article argues that the West must rely upon techniques to foster democracy in the Middle East in order to not only promote Western ideology but to strengthen Western security.  The frequent debate, within policy and journalist circles, between those who support democracy promotion (liberals) and those who support regime stability in order to maintain security (realists), is increasingly irrelevant - a product of an outmoded way of thinking.  The two goals are, particularly in the long-run, mutually inclusive.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Wisconsin Win

Wisconsin Democrats' refusal to return from their sojourn in Illinois has proven to be a failed strategy against Republican attempts to put severe limits on the practice of collective bargaining for public sector unions.  Earlier this evening, Republicans removed the provision from the budget bill, which required the presence of at least some Democrats to be voted on, and passed it in a separate piece of legislation.  While not yet signed into law, this dealt a severe blow to union monopoly and the state Democrats' stalling tactic.  Wisconsin Democrat's seem to have little remaining reason to remain "abroad" and now hopefully can get back to their work running the state of Wisconsin.

As argued last month, the power of unions needs to be curbed on both fiscal and moral reasons.  While Democratic strategies seemed to willingly ignore both of these concerns and their responsibility to do their job (there is a certain irony in Democrats going on strike to protect union interests), it is laudable that Republicans had the courage to terminate the standoff and begin moving the state forward.  Hopefully, some of the rancor will die down as the naive protestors return home and realize that most will end up better off without grotesque union interference. 

[As a somewhat interesting aside, if one explores who benefits from unions, the numbers are unsurprisngly (or surprisngly if one tilts to the left) small.  With just a rough analysis, it is clear that everyone outside the union is either unaffected or hurt (eg. higher prices for goods, increased taxes (public sector unions), or lower profits (business)).  Within the union, it is arguable that the top 50% of workers (measured in merit or skill) are hurt by the fact that without the union (eg. by their superior skill in a competitive market) they would earn higher wages. (Of course, if you do not believe a comeptitive market exists this is not as convincing.  But then again, there are better ways to get the competitve market than through an anti-competitive union.)  This leaves the bottom 50% who's wages are artifically raised and thus potentially benefit from a union.  If you count union dues and other costs, the average worker who is only marginally helped by unions drops right out of the "benefit-from-unions" category.  While this analysis is obviously rough, it just points to the amazing fact that so many support unions while so few benefit - or are even outright harmed.  None of this is a battle over worker rights, but over the power of a special interest.  Its about time the Left realizes this.]

Bush was Right

As argued over a year ago, military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay are necessary for the security of America.  The Obama Administration, which had previously wanted to try terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad in federal court, now has switched to endorsement of the Bush era policies.  This is relatively unsurprising, given the soundness and necessity of military tribunals.  As the Left is slowly and painfully learning, it is often easier to argue against policies and attempt to smear the name of those running them when one is out of power.

But this need not be simply a cause for celebration by the Right.  The Left was clearly wrong - and lost.  Instead it should be a lesson for all, that even when in opposition, it is far better to judge problems on their merit, rather than through the lens of political expediency.  Military tribunals were an easy target from the perspective of a simplistic morality that is readily understood by the masses.  Much harder was selling the more developed policy of the Bush administration.  But if both sides had analyzed the necessity of such a policy and had worked towards mutual refinement, the last ten years or so would have been considerably less rancorous.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It is the Entitlements, Stupid!

Unsustainable public entitlements seem to be the most talked about secret in the nation.  There does not appear to be a pundit out there who has not addressed the necessity for cuts in or fixes of the entitlement system.  Europe has started facing down this monster while US states (who have to balance their budgets) have begun the reform process.  Yet, strangely the federal government has done little to address the nation's budgetary mess.

In today's Wall Street Journal, Charles Koch wrote a poignant editorial about the need to fix America's fiscal situation.  He called on the government to tackle the overwhelming burden of the nation's entitlement system.
In spite of looming bankruptcy, President Obama and many in Congress have tiptoed around the issue of overspending by suggesting relatively minor cuts in mostly discretionary items. There have been few serious proposals for necessary cuts in military and entitlement programs, even though these account for about three-fourths of all federal spending.
His criticism is not solely reserved for the Democrats.  The GOP is equally culpable in the mismanagement of the national finances.  Koch attacks the concept of crony capitalism, which is seemingly endemic on both sides of the aisle.  Democrats and Republicans alike operate under a system that has utterly failed to face reality.  Koch argues that,
Crony capitalism is much easier than competing in an open market. But it erodes our overall standard of living and stifles entrepreneurs by rewarding the politically favored rather than those who provide what consumers want.

The purpose of business is to efficiently convert resources into products and services that make people's lives better. Businesses that fail to do so should be allowed to go bankrupt rather than be bailed out.
Our elected officials would do well to remember that the most prosperous countries are those that allow consumers—not governments—to direct the use of resources. Allowing the government to pick winners and losers hurts almost everyone, especially our poorest citizens.
Politicians, on both sides of the aisle, should heed these warnings.  Koch makes a powerful - and true - argument.  If American politicians, for fear of electoral retribution, fail to force tough choices on America, everyone will pay the price.  The federal government needs a serious dose of reform.  It needs to be smaller, more efficient, and supportive of free competitive markets.  Time to get started before it is too late.