Hornberger's Blog

Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Hornberger’s Blog, March 2008

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Monday, March 31, 2008

Attacking Basra on the Way to Iran?

by Jacob G. Hornberger

As most everyone knows, since last week the Iraqi government, supported by U.S. troops and warplanes, has been engaged in fierce battles for control of Basra.

The question, of course, is: Why now, and why is control over Basra so important? We can only hope that the answer does not lie in any plans that President Bush might have to bomb Iran.

As things stand right now, the Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr and his fighters control Basra. Al-Sadr is closely aligned with the Shiite regime in Iran. In fact, one could easily argue that matters in Basra are effectively controlled by Iran.

What would an Iraqi-U.S. assault on Basra have to do with a possible plan to bomb Iran?

The answer is found in a recent article entitled “Operation Cassandra” by William S. Lind, an expert on military affairs.

Lind outlines the danger of a potentially catastrophic outcome on U.S. forces in Iraq of a U.S. attack on Iran. He posits the likelihood that Iranian forces, combined with Iraqi Shiite forces, would move into Southern Iraq to attempt to cut off supply lines to U.S. troops in Iraq. He points out that most U.S. army units in Iraq depend on supplies that come up from Kuwait.

Lind points out that if Iranian and Iraqi Shiite forces were successful in cutting off that Southern supply line, army forces in Iraq would soon find themselves without oil, food, parts, and other essential supplies, making them easy prey to enveloping enemy forces. Lind describes the possibility of a massive military catastrophe, the type that has struck hubris-filled imperial armies in the past that were considered invulnerable.

If a war against Iran were to break out, the situation that Lind posits would obviously be significantly aggravated if Iran is controlling a major port city — Basra — that is situated just a few miles away the Kuwaiti border.

Lind writes:

“The purpose of this column is not to warn of an imminent assault on Iran, though personally I think it is coming, and soon. Rather, it is to warn of a possible consequence of such an attack. Let me state it here, again, as plainly as I can: an American attack on Iran could cost us the whole army we now have in Iraq.”

He continues:

“How probable is all this? I can’t answer that. Unfortunately, the people in Washington who should be able to answer it are not asking it. They need to start doing so, now. It is imperative that we have an up-to-date plan for dealing with this contingency. That plan must not depend on air power to rescue our Army. Air power always promises more than it can deliver. As I have warned before, every American ground unit in Iraq needs its own plan to get itself out of the country using only its own resources and whatever it can scrounge locally.”

Let’s just hope that Bush isn’t foolish enough to attack another country that hasn’t attacked the United States. Let’s just hope that his recent firing of Admiral William J. Fallon, who opposes a war on Iran, and the recent assault on Basra are not preparatory steps on the way to attacking Iran. Otherwise, the American people might well find themselves “supporting the troops” by praying that all 158,000 of them make it out of Iraq on their own.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A Problem with Conservatives
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Two new articles in the mainstream press demonstrate a problem that afflicts conservatives. The two articles are “Tax Tyrannies” by Richard Rahn, which appears in today’s Washington Times, and “Stop Those Checks” by Bruce Bartlett, which appeared in the March 24 issue of the New York Times.

Rahn makes some good points about taxation. He points out that taxation can be tyrannical even in a representative democracy. Taxation tyranny, he says, occurs when taxes are levied at a higher level than the “revenue maximizing rate.” Taxation tyranny also exists, he states, when “coercive taxation is used to fund government programs of little or no value, or where the expenditure programs are rife with corruption or mismanagement.” He is critical of certain aspects of progressive taxation. Quoting Milton Friedman, he points out that “inflation is taxation without legislation.” He quotes Chief Justice John Marshall’s famous dictum “The power to tax is the power to destroy.”

All fine and good. But notice something important about Rahn’s article: He doesn’t address two critically important issues: (1) The role of government in a free society, and (2) The out-of-control federal spending that currently afflicts our nation.

Without addressing those two issues, Rahn’s article is just meaningless “feel-good” conservative fluff.

The major fiscal problem facing our nation is the fact that federal spending far exceeds tax revenues. This is primarily because of (1) U.S. foreign policy, which includes the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and the maintenance of U.S. military bases all over the world, and (2) the U.S. government’s socialist, interventionist, and regulatory programs and departments, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Homeland Security, DEA, HUD, SEC, INS, the Departments of Education, Commerce, and Agriculture, and many more.

Conservatives hate addressing those two fundamental issues. They would rather play like everything is going to be fine by keeping all these programs and departments in existence and just keep tinkering with tax rates to finance them. They don’t want to face the fact that at some point, no amount of tax-tinkering will magically produce the necessary tax revenues to pay for the ever-soaring government expenditures.

That’s where the following questions become so critical: What should be the role of government in a free society? Should it entail the establishment of a vast overseas military empire? Should it entail invading and occupying countries that have never attacked the United States? Should it entail federal payments to foreign regimes? Shuold it entail a vast military-industrial complex? Should it entail the power to take money from one group of people in order to transfer the money to another group of people? Should it entail the regulation of peaceful behavior? Should it entail such governmental wars as the war on drugs, poverty, immigrants, and illiteracy?

Alas, these are questions that conservatives just do not wish to ask. And one of the reasons for this is that conservatives really do believe that government should be engaged in imperialism, socialism, and interventionism.

For example, consider Bartlett’s article. He objects to President Bush’s economic stimulus package in which people are receiving a rebate check from the government, not because it’s wrong in principle but because he feels that the government is giving the money to the wrong people. He wants Congress to cancel the economic stimulus checks (fat chance of that in an election year) because it’s really just a bribe to voters and redirect the money “into a package of measures that would help the housing sector and those people who actually need assistance.”

Conservatives, like liberals, remain mired within their statist paradigm. Thus, it’s not surprisingly that they continue doing their best to come up with some new-fangled way to make empire, socialism, and interventionism work. Decade after decades, they have jerry-rigged the system in response to each new crisis their statist paradigm has produced.

One cannot help but wonder, however, whether a point is being reached where decades of statism is threatening a series of simultaneous economic, banking, and financial crises which no amount of jerry-rigging can fix. It’s a question that conservatives would rather not think about.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Deadly Sanctions on Iraq
by Jacob G. Hornberger

The federal government has indicted an American man from Detroit, Muthanna al-Hanooti, for working on behalf of the Saddam Hussein government to help get the brutal sanctions lifted that the U.S. government was enforcing against Iraq for more than a decade. While working for a Detroit-based charity whose mission was to fund humanitarian work in Iraq after the first Gulf War, al-Hanooti allegedly was secretly working for the Iraqi government to help secure the lifting of the sanctions.

According to the BBC, “Prosecutors also said he was responsible for monitoring Congress for Iraqi intelligence — allegedly providing Baghdad with a list of lawmakers he believed favoured lifting economic sanctions against Iraq.”

Even worse, from the standpoint of the feds, is that al-Hanooti was allegedly working for money — million of dollars in Iraqi oil contracts in exchange for his assistance.

What better textbook example of a case where law and morality are in contradiction to each other than that?

First of all, let’s not forget what the cruel and brutal sanctions were accomplishing, year after year, with the full knowledge and indifference of U.S. officials — death. Massive death. Deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. Almost as much death as that wreaked on Iraq during the first few years of the U.S. invasion and occupation of that country.

The U.S. position toward the Iraqi deaths caused by the sanctions was summed up in the words of UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright when she told “Sixty Minutes” that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions were “worth it.”

We also shouldn’t forget that during the Gulf War the Pentagon knowingly, intentionally, and deliberately bombed water-and-sewage treatment plants in Iraq, with full knowledge of the effect that would have on the health and safety of the Iraqi people, especially when combined with tightly enforced sanctions that would prevent the repair of such facilities at the conclusion of hostilities.

So, in response to the massive death of Iraqi children resulting from the sanctions, the Iraqi government apparently hires an American man, one who is already terribly concerned with the plight of the Iraqi children and their families, to monitor efforts in Congress during the 1990s to get those sanctions lifted.

Under modern-day U.S. law, al-Hanooti is a bad man for doing that. A good man, federal thinking goes, would have instead done what Madeleine Albright did — proclaim that the killing of Iraqi children was “worth it” — as a proper step in getting Iraq closer to the ouster of Saddam Hussein and to his replacement by a U.S.-approved ruler.

After all, let’s not forget that that was the real intent behind the sanctions. Oh yes, I know what President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton said — that the sanctions were intended to make Saddam Hussein rid himself of those infamous weapons of mass destruction. But the truth was that the sanctions had nothing to do with WMDs. The WMDs were nothing more than the cover story for the sanctions. The real purpose of the sanctions was to get rid of Saddam Hussein because he wouldn’t “play ball” with U.S. officials. If he had “played ball,” he’d still be in office, just as the brutal military dictator of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, is still in power as a loyal ally of the U.S. government.

In their charges against al-Hanooti, the feds allege that he helped set up a trip to Iraq for three U.S. congressmen who were opposing the sanctions. The idea was to demonstrate to Congress the brutal consequences of the sanctions as well as the fact that there were no more WMDs in Iraq, not even those that the U.S. had delivered to him during the 1980s. Today, the three congressmen, who weren’t indicted, are running for cover, exclaiming that if they had known that the Iraqi government was funding their trip, they would never have made it.

Apparently, a man named Bert Sacks helped coordinate the congressmen’s trip to Iraq through the Detroit-based charity that al-Hanooti was working for. Sacks also didn’t know that the money was coming from the Iraqi government.

The reason that Sacks’ involvement in the case is interesting is because he too has been at the receiving end of federal wrath for helping the Iraqi people during the sanctions regime. The feds fined him $10,000 for violating the sanctions by bringing humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people.

In the eyes of the feds, Sacks is another bad man who deserves to be punished for trying to mitigate the effects of the brutal sanctions rather than celebrating their adverse effects on the Iraqi children. That’s why they’re still trying to collect their $10,000 fine from him. To Sacks’ everlasting credit, he has steadfastly refused to pay the fine.

We probably also shouldn’t forget that there were other people who were angry and outraged over the brutal effects that the sanctions had on Iraqi children. There were also high UN officials Dennis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, both of whom resigned in protest against the deadly horrors produced by the sanctions.

Halliday and von Sponeck were “bad” people too. Thus, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that “the U.S. State Department has been unrelenting in its criticism of Mr. von Sponeck,” as the BBC reported.

But in the minds of U.S. officials, all these people — al-Hanooti, Sacks, Halliday, von Sponeck, and all the others who opposed the sanctions on Iraq — were bad people because they were opposing U.S. foreign policy on Iraq. Once U.S. officials had concluded that regime change was necessary for Iraq (just as they had concluded that regime change had been necessary for Iran in 1953, in Guatemala in 1954, in Cuba in the 1960s, and in Chile in the 1970s), in the minds of U.S. officials all those bad people should have risen to the support of U.S. policy, just as Madeleine Albright had loyally done. In the absence of such unconditional “patriotic” support, they would just have to suffer the consequences — indictments, fines, and public condemnation.

By the way, doesn’t the U.S. government fund individuals and groups in foreign countries to monitor political activity in such countries? In other words, don’t U.S. officials do the same thing in foreign countries that the Saddam Hussein regime was doing with Muthanna al-Hanooti, the man the feds have now indicted? Well, of course they do, and they’re proud of it, as proud as they still are with the results of their deadly sanctions on Iraq.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Free to Ask Permission to Conduct Business
by Jacob G. Hornberger

The Justice Department has consented to the proposed merger between satellite radio providers XM and Sirius.

Well, isn’t that nice — government officials giving private businesses permission to combine their operations? I suppose that’s what government officials mean by the term “free enterprise” — the freedom to seek government permission to do what you want with your own business enterprise.

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson pointed out what was evident to the English colonists: that people have been endowed by nature and God with certain fundamental and unalienable rights. He pointed out that among such rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He might also have added the concept of property, given that he had drawn upon the works of the English philosopher John Locke, who had used the expression “life, liberty, and property” to describe some of man’s fundamental and inherent rights.

Our American ancestors understood that liberty included the right to sustain one’s life through labor by furnishing goods and services to others in mutually beneficial economic transactions. In the process of doing so, people would accumulate the fruits of their earnings — wealth — a process that they also considered among the fundamental and inherent right of man, which was why there were no taxes on people’s income.

It was that process — a process unhampered by government permission and interference — that came to be known as “free enterprise.” The term meant enterprise that was free of government regulation or interference.

The thought that people should have to ask permission of some politician or bureaucrat to open a business would have been considered anathema to our American ancestors. If you have to ask the permission of some dictocrat to sustain your life, then liberty couldn’t really be considered a right but rather simply a government-granted privilege.

Unfortunately, today hardly anyone bats an eyelash over the fact that American businesses, such as XM and Sirius, have to curry favor with some government official to do what they want with what is supposedly their own money and property. Most everyone just accepts the fact that kneeling before a government official and kissing his ring is just part of doing business in America’s “free-enterprise system.”

The fact that XM and Sirius must ask for government permission to merge their businesses just goes to show how far we have strayed from America’s founding principles of freedom and free enterprise, as enunciated in the Declaration of Independence. If Americans would only rediscover their heritage of economic liberty, they would scoff at the notion that people must seek the permission of Caesar to exercise rights endowed in them by nature and God.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Capacity of Ordinary Citizens to Do Evil
by Jacob G. Hornberger

In his Washington Post column today, “The Ultimate Casualty,” Richard Cohen makes a reference to a fascinating book entitled “Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland” by Christopher R. Browning, published in 1992. The book is about ordinary German citizens who loyally and obediently followed orders to murder people while serving as soldiers in the German army.

Consider the following excerpts from a New York Times review of the book:

“This group of 500 policemen, most of them from Hamburg, was made up of truly ordinary men. Most were in their 30’s and 40’s — too old for conscription into the army — and of middle- or lower-class origins. They included men who, before the war, had been professional policemen as well as businessmen, dockworkers, truck drivers, construction workers, machine operators, waiters, druggists and teachers. Only a minority were members of the Nazi Party, and only a few belonged to the SS. During their stay in Poland they participated in the shootings, or the transport to the Treblinka gas chambers, of at least 83,000 Jews….”

“In the end, what disturbs the reader more than the policemen’s escape from punishment is their capacity — as the ordinary men they were, as men not much different from those we know or even from ourselves — to kill as they did.”

“Battalion 101’s killing wasn’t, as Mr. Browning points out, the kind of ‘battlefield frenzy’ occasionally seen in all wars, when soldiers, having faced death, and having seen their friends killed, slaughter enemy prisoners or even civilians. It was, rather, the cold-blooded fulfillment of German national policy, and involved, for the policemen, a process of accommodation to orders that required them to do things they would never have dreamed they would ever do, and to justify their actions, or somehow reinterpret them, so that they would not see themselves as evil people….”

“…The Jews were presented not only as evil and dangerous but also, in some way, as responsible for the bombing deaths of German women and children.”

“…Blame lies with those who kill and those who order them to kill, no matter what the psychological rationales may be that allow the killings to take place.”

Ever since 1945, there have been those who have suggested that only ordinary German citizens during World War II were capable of committing heinous crimes in loyal and obedient service to their government in time of war.

Not so. The capacity to do evil in the name of loyal and obedient “patriotic” service to one’s own government exists in all men regardless of nationality.

Moreover, even in the midst of World War II, the capacity to oppose perverted patriotism existed among Germans, as the members of the White Rose organization demonstrated.

In the long run it is only the dictates of one’s conscience, not the orders or needs of one’s government, that matter. That’s why everyone, regardless of nationality, must constantly search his conscience in response to orders of his government or calls to support his government, especially during time of war, when the capacity to do evil is greatest.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Killing and Dying in Iraq for Nothing
by Jacob G. Hornberger

At the five-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. government has hit another milestone — 4,000 U.S. soldiers dead.

And what have those soldiers died for? They died for the same thing that 58,000 soldiers died for in Vietnam — nothing.

Well, okay, not exactly nothing:

(1) They died to oust a dictator from office that U.S. officials didn’t like, only to be replaced by a radical Islamic regime that has aligned itself with Iran, which U.S. officials are still considering starting a war against.

(2) They died because U.S. officials need to save face through some sort of “victory” (whatever that means) despite the fact that the U.S. government has no legal or moral right to be in Iraq.

(3) They died in the destruction of an entire country, one whose government and citizenry had never attacked the United States and which, in fact, did not want a war with the United States.

(4) They died as part of an imperial adventure that has sent the U.S. economy into a tailspin, led by a dollar whose value, not surprisingly, continues to plunge in international markets.

At least we know the exact number of U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq. Early on, the Pentagon decided that Iraqis killed in the war simply would not be counted. That’s why there are only estimates of Iraqi dead, estimates that go as high as a million. The idea was that since the goal of helping the Iraqi people was considered a noble one, no one should really care how many of them died in the operation. In the minds of U.S. officials, no price was too high in the number of Iraqi deaths to achieve their goal.

In a fascinating use of language, U.S. military officials are still referring to the Iraqis they kill as “terrorists” rather than as “insurgents.” For example, according to a front-page article in today’s New York Times, “American forces on Sunday reported killing ‘12 terrorists’ who had attacked ground troops east of Baquba.”

But what U.S. officials never explain is why a person who is fighting to rid his country of an illegal foreign occupier (a war of aggression was punished as a war crime at Nuremberg) is a “terrorist.” I thought that a terrorist was a person who attacked civilian targets for political ends. Since U.S. occupation forces in Iraq are military personnel, not civilians, why are those Iraqis who are trying to oust the occupiers considered “terrorists?”

As the occupation of Iraq continues indefinitely, there will of course be more deaths, American and Iraqi. According to yesterday’s Washington Post, at least American widows or widowers receive half-a-million U.S. dollars for the loss of their spouses. While the U.S. government sometimes makes nominal payments to Iraqis, mostly Iraqis survivors are left with nothing but anger, resentment, and grief, which shouldn’t surprise anyone, especially since no one asked their consent to the U.S. invasion and occupation of their country.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Immigration Enforcement and Sex
by Jacob G. Hornberger

U.S. officials often look down their noses at the corruption in the Mexican government, especially with respect to the war on drugs, where drug laws have long enriched the coffers of Mexican officials through bribery, extortion, and blackmail. U.S. officials behave as if somehow they are above such things.

Not so. The beauty of economic regulations, from the standpoint of government officials everywhere, is that they provide government officials a means by which to improve their own position in life.

In the absence of regulations, people go about their normal business of engaging in mutually beneficial transactions with one another. A regulation interferes with their ability to do that.

People then have a choice. They can comply with the regulation and thereby have their wishes frustrated. Or they can come up with a means by which the government official is persuaded to look the other way to avoid enforcement of the regulation.

In Mexico and other Latin American countries, this is done through a process known as a “mordida.” The translation: A bite. Which means the payment of a bribe.

According to a front-page article in the New York Times today, the process is the same in immigration regulations, except for one difference. As a 22-year-old Colombian woman has discovered, sometimes U.S. immigration officials seek not just money, as Latin American officials do in the drug war, but also sex in return for helping the person avoid the effects of the regulation.

The woman, who is legally residing here in the United States, was seeking her green card. This is card that would permit her to work here in the United States. It also permits her to return to Colombia for visits and freely reenter the United States.

In other words, although the woman is living her legally and would like to enter into a mutually beneficial work relationship with an employer, a federal regulation prohibits her from doing so. It also prohibits her from traveling abroad and freely reentering the United States, even though she is already legally residing here.

Obviously this provides a great opportunity for immigration officials. They have the power to give the woman what she wants in return for what they want. In this case, according to the woman the immigration official wanted sex.

When the immigration official summoned the woman for a special meeting regarding her green-card application, the woman says that he forced her to provide oral sex in return for his assurances that her green-card application would receive smooth sailing. Although the official has pled not guilty to the charges, he might have a difficult time defending himself in court given that the woman just happened to turn on the recording device of her cell phone during the meeting.

According to the Times’ article, “Money, not sex, is the more common currency of corruption in immigration, but according to Congressional testimony in 2006 by Michael Maxwell, former director of the agency’s internal investigations, more than 3,000 backlogged complaints of employee misconduct had gone uninvestigated for lack of staff, including 528 involving criminal allegations.”

Unfortunately, the Colombian woman still hasn’t received her green card. More unfortunate is the fact that although she tried to keep the experience secret from her husband, he found out about it anyway and has left her.

According to the Times, the charges against the official “appear to be a part of a larger pattern, according to government records and interviews. Mr. Maxwell, the immigration agency’s former chief investigator, told Congress in 2006 that internal corruption was ‘rampant,’ and that employees faced constant temptations to commit crime.”

But as government officials in both Latin America and the United States have learned, that’s the true benefit of economic regulations, at least from the perspective of government officials. After all, in the absence of the regulation why would anyone have the incentive to pay a bribe to a government official, either in the form of money or sex?

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

McCain’s Al-Qaeda Scare
by Jacob G. Hornberger

During his recent trip to Iraq, Republican presidential candidate John McCain proclaimed,

“Well, it’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.”

According to the New York Times, Senator Joseph Lieberman, who was traveling with McCain, whispered in his ear that such was highly unlikely since Iran is a Shiite country and al-Qaeda is a Sunni group.

That caused McCain to issue an embarrassing apology and correction: “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not Al Qaeda.”

Why would McCain be eager to bring up al-Qaeda in the context of Iraq, a country that the U.S. government invaded in a war of aggression, as well as Iran, a country that U.S. officials are still contemplating attacking?

The reason is that McCain is not a dumb politician. Like both President Bush and Vice-President Cheney, he knows the visceral and emotional reaction he is able to arouse within many Americans the minute they hear the words “Al-Qaeda,” words that McCain knows immediately tend to short-circuit any reasonable and rationale thinking.

We witnessed this phenomenon with respect to two other words soon after 9/11. What were those two words? “The terrorists.” U.S. officials soon discovered that whenever they emitted those two words — “the terrorists” — the knees of many American men (and women) would immediately begin quivering and quaking, ending any chance of reasoned, rational thinking. Hearing any mention of “the terrorists,” people’s minds would immediately be filled with catastrophic thoughts in which the terrorists were going to invade and conquer America, taking over the IRS and the public schools.

This is, of course, how we got such things as the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, the NSA spying, Gitmo, torture, kidnapping, rendition, cancellation of habeas corpus, and all the rest of the infringements on privacy and civil liberties. U.S. officials had been trying for years to achieve expanded powers, usually under the guise of the war on drugs, but had had difficulty doing so. Periodic usage of those two words — “the terrorists” — after 9/11 disintegrated potential opposition to the assumption and exercise of such powers.

This phenomenon is not significantly different with respect to the term “al Qaeda,” which is why U.S. officials have come to adopting it when referring to the death, destruction, and suffering in Iraq. In order to salve the consciences of Americans who might be struggling with the fact that their government has killed and maimed countless Iraqis in a war of aggresssion, U.S. officials have learned that the best thing to do is simply use the term “al Qaeda” in response to reports of deaths or suffering in Iraq.

The idea is that by employing the term “al Qaeda,” the minds of Americans will immediately be shifted to the 9/11 attacks and will subconsciously associate those attacks with killings in Iraq, enabling people to convince themselves that the death and destruction in Iraq is all because of “al Qaeda.”

That’s undoubtedly why Vice President Cheney has been doing everything he can to cause people to think that there was a partnership between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. By convincing Americans that such a connection existed, Americans wouldn’t have to feel bad about all the Iraqis killed and maimed during the invasion and occupation. As CNN reported on June 18, 2004, Cheney claimed that the evidence is “overwhelming” that al-Qaeda had a relationship with Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. “There clearly was a relationship. It’s been testified to. The evidence is overwhelming,” Cheney said.

Alas, along comes an exhaustive Pentagon study released last week that involved a careful review of 600,000 Iraqi documents captured after the invasion. And guess what! The Pentagon study found no link between Saddam Hussein, Iraq, and al Qaeda.

Of course, even that report is unlikely to discourage U.S. officials from employing “al Qaeda” whenever new deaths are reported in Iraq. They know how powerful the term is within the minds of the American people. For example, just last March, in response to the deaths of 23 people from bombs and shootings, a U.S. military official exclaimed, “Coalition forces believe Al-Qaeda is responsible for these murders.”

Are there, in fact, members of Al Qaeda in Iraq? Undoubtedly, along with many other foreigners who have come to the defense and aid of the Iraqi insurgents, just as U.S. officials, Osama bin Laden, and other foreigners came to the defense of Afghani insurgents after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

In fact, one of the groups of Iraqi insurgents that has arisen after the U.S. invasion of Iraq is entitled “Al Qaeda in Iraq,” which U.S. officials use to maximum propaganda effect in the hopes that their invasion of a country that never attacked the United States could become justified in the minds of the American people.

So, in applying the term “Al Qaeda” to Iran, McCain was doing nothing more than what U.S. officials have been doing for years with respect to Iraq. He just got caught in a flagrant misuse of the term, causing him to have to apologize and retract what he had said.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Both Obama and Clinton Miss the Point on Iraq
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Throughout the race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, Barack Obama has taken Hillary Clinton to task for her 2002 vote authorizing President Bush to attack Iraq. Obama says that Clinton’s vote reflected poor judgment on her part.

Clinton has claimed that when she voted in favor of the authorization, she never imagined that President Bush would actually use it go to war. She thought it was only going to be used for negotiating purposes to encourage Saddam Hussein to “disarm.”

Both Obama and Clinton miss the real point, however—the Constitution, and specifically that portion of the Constitution relating to the powers to declare war and wage war.

We should remind ourselves, first and foremost, what the Constitution actually is. The Constitution is a set of rules that the American citizenry have imposed on the federal government (and the state governments). Just as federal officials impose laws on us, we have imposed a law on them, which is the Constitution. Just as we are expected to obey their laws, they are expected to obey our law.

In addition to setting up the federal government, the Constitution establishes the powers that can be exercised by each of the three branches of government. The Constitution enumerates the powers for each branch. If a power isn’t enumerated, then it cannot legally be exercised.

By the same token, a power delegated to one branch of government cannot be delegated to another branch of government. The power belongs only to the branch of government to which it has been delegated in the Constitution.

With respect to war, the Constitution delegates to the president the power to wage war. However, it delegates to Congress the power to declare war.

What’s the difference between these two powers? The power to declare war is the power to decide whether to go to war or not. Under the Constitution, the president cannot legally wage war against another nation unless Congress first declares war. Again, that’s the law of the land — the law that the American people have imposed on the president, the Congress, the judiciary, and all of their subordinates.

Why did the Framers divide the power to declare war and the power to wage war? Because they didn’t want the president making the decision to go to war. They knew that throughout history rulers have gone to war for the stupidest of reasons, including pride and hubris, and thus they wanted the decision to be made by Congress, the elected body of representatives of the people.

The Iraq War is a perfect example of what the Framers were trying to protect us from. In the build-up to the 2002 invasion, President Bush scared the American people half to death with the prospect that Saddam Hussein was about to unleash WMDs on the United States. “Saddam must disarm!” he repeatedly cried. Alternatively, he argued, the United States should go to war in order to spread democracy in the Middle East. Alternatively, he suggested, there was an al-Qaeda-Saddam link. As Americans are slowly discovering, all of the president’s rationales for going to war have turned out to be bogus.

Hillary Clinton, along with many Americans, argued the importance of placing our faith and trust in the president. “He knows best. He’s got information that we’re not privy to. He would never lie to us.”

Those who made such an argument forgot one important thing: the Constitution, and specifically the part dealing with declaring war. Under the law, President Bush’s judgment on invading Iraq was quite irrelevant, except as a factor that Congress could have taken into consideration in deciding whether to declare war on Iraq.

The law required President Bush to go to Congress and request a declaration of war against Iraq. When Congress convened, the president would have had ample opportunity to make his case for declaring war on Iraq. By the same token, the members of Congress would have had ample opportunity to show that the president’s reasons for going to war were bogus and that all he wanted to do was to effect a regime change in Iraq.

Would Congress have declared war after hearing the president make his case for war? It is impossible to know, but it is entirely possible that the president’s case for going to war might have collapsed like a house of cards under close scrutiny by a few conscientious members of Congress. What we do know is that by declaring war himself, President Bush violated the law — the supreme law of the land that the American people have imposed on him.

But Clinton and the other members of Congress also violated the Constitution as well as and the trust that Americans have place in them as members of Congress. With their vote authorizing the president to decide whether go to war, they essentially said, “Mr. President. We know that it’s our responsibility under the Constitution to decide whether to declare war. But that’s going to be a tough call, especially in an election year. We want you to make the decision. Therefore, we are authorizing you to decide whether the nation is going to war against Iraq.”

Yet, under the Constitution the Congress is precluded from delegating its power to declare war to the president. Therefore, the congressional vote authorizing President Bush to make such a determination was illegal under our form of government. (By the way, it was also quite cowardly.)

Obama’s beef is that the president exercised bad judgment in going to war on Iraq. Clinton’s response is that she didn’t realize that the president would exercise bad judgment after she authorized him to exercise his judgment. What neither of them get is that under our system of government, the issue of going to war against Iraq does not depend on the judgment of the president but rather on the judgment of Congress. This is where Obama, Clinton, McCain, and other members of Congress failed America.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The D.C. Gun Ban Doesn’t Work
by Jacob G. Hornberger

In yesterday’s Washington Post, there was an article about gun traffickers who are robbing gun stores in Virginia in order to sell the guns to people in Washington, D.C. The story is timely given that the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today in a case involving the constitutionality of D.C.’s gun ban.

According to the article,

“Firearms traffickers such as Lewis profit in an underground economy that has bustled for decades in the District, regardless of the city’s long-debated prohibition on handgun ownership, one of the toughest gun-control laws in the nation.”

It is not a coincidence that a black market in D.C. handguns has been going on for decades and that the handgun ban in D.C. has been in effect for 32 years. The handgun ban itself gives rise to a black market in handguns, just as making drugs illegal has given rise to a black market in drugs.

At least one government official seems to be aware of this economic phenomenon. As Edgar A. Domenech, head of the Washington field office of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, aptly put it, “You’re talking about supply and demand.”

There are two lessons to be learned from this.

First, making guns illegal gives rise to collateral crime — theft of guns. Why is this? Because the illegality makes the price of guns in D.C. artificially high, making it extremely profitable to steal them in Virginia and sell them in D.C. (The drug war has produced a similar cascade of collateral crime, such as muggings, thefts, and robberies in order to get the money to pay the exorbitant black-market prices of illegal drugs.)

Second, real criminals don’t give a hoot about gun-control laws. In other words, a robber or a rapist in D.C. isn’t going to say to himself, “I can’t use a gun to commit this crime because that would be illegal.”

Therefore, the people who are disarmed by a gun ban are not the violent criminals but rather the peaceful and law-abiding people who now are unable to defend themselves and their families from the violent criminals who don’t care that they are violating a gun ban by using a prohibited handgun in the commission of the crime.

Is it any surprise that Washington, D.C., has been called the murder capital of the United States? After enacting their gun ban 32 years ago, D.C. officials should have initiated a nationwide advertising campaign proclaiming: “Attention robbers, murderers, muggers, burglars, rapists, and thieves! Come to the most glorious model city in the country — Washington, D.C. — a gun-free zone, one where people are prevented from defending himself from you.”

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Was Getting Rid of Saddam Worth It?
by Jacob G. Hornberger

More federal chickens are coming home to roost every day. Yesterday — yes, Sunday — the Federal Reserve, in obvious panic over the state of the financial markets, was working overtime to come up with a bailout plan for Bear Stearns, also using the opportunity to lower interest rates again rather than simply wait until its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday.

Do you remember in 2003 when President Bush and Vice President Cheney were saying that an invasion of Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein wouldn’t cost Americans very much money? Among the many things they told the American people (the WMD threat being among the more notable), was that a “coalition of the willing” would help bear the costs of the war. They also suggested that once U.S. forces took over the country, U.S. officials could use Iraqi oil to “rebuild” Iraq.

Alas, it was not to be. After a year or so, it was obvious that the coalition of the willing either wasn’t willing to keep forking over the money or its members were too broke to do so.

Using Iraqi oil to fund the operation hasn’t panned out either. According to an article in the Washington Post today, Iraqi oil production under U.S. occupation is less than it was during the pre-invasion period. Part of the reason for this, according to another article in the New York Times yesterday, is that Iraqi insurgents are skimming large portions of the oil profits to fund the insurgency, with bribes playing a major role in the operation.

Meanwhile, it turns out that it’s not just the much-vaunted surge in U.S. forces that has brought down casualty levels of U.S. troops. Another reason is that U.S. officials have been doing a bit of bribing themselves — paying off members of the Iraqi insurgency to switch sides. Those bribes are costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and obviously must go on indefinitely since everyone knows what will happen if the bribes stop.

So, what’s the cost of getting rid of Saddam Hussein?

Well, one cost is 4,000 U.S. troops who are now dead. By and large, Americans still feel that that cost has been worth it.

Another cost is the estimated one million Iraqis who are now dead. By and large, Americans feel that that cost has been worth it.

There are also all the injured, maimed, and disabled U.S. soldiers and Iraqis. By and large, Americans feel that that cost has been worth it.

There is also the total destruction of Iraq and the millions of Iraqis who have had to flee the country. By and large, Americans feel that that cost has been worth it.

There is also the torture, spying, and assaults on privacy and civil liberties at the hands of U.S. officials. By and large, Americans feel that that cost has been worth it.

But now comes Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, who has co-authored a book with Linda Bilmes, former assistant secretary of commerce, entitledThe Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict. According to them, the U.S. government has spent $600 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, that figure omits several important hidden costs, such as medical care and disability benefits for veterans, which will have to be paid out for decades. When such hidden costs are factored into the calculations, Stiglitz and Bilmes contend that the costs of the war and occupation will exceed $3 trillion.

Now, isn’t that a wonderful thing for young families to look forward to — working diligently for the next 20 or 30 years with an enormous tax albatross over their heads to not only pay off the costs of getting rid of Saddam Hussein but also to fund the generous Social Security benefits of those who were responsible for incurring the costs to get rid of Saddam. I’ve got a strong hunch that as the years continue, those Americans who are in their 20s and 30s today are going to conclude that getting rid of Saddam just wasn’t worth it after all, at least not for them.

In fact, as more people continue to losing their homes to foreclosure, as the dollar continues to crash in international markets, and as the entire financial system begins to teeter, I can’t help but think that some of the older crowd might start thinking the same thing.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Immigration Central Planning
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Farmers in California have suffered enormous economic losses due to a shortage of labor to harvest their crops. It’s just another devastating consequence of immigration controls.

Now, small businesses as far away as New England are suffering the consequences of immigration controls. According to an article in the New York Times, small businesses in that part of the country are now facing major financial losses as a result of a shortage of seasonal workers.

The basic problem is one of socialism. When people hear that word, they often think in terms of either government ownership of the means of production or coercive redistribution of wealth. But there is actually another aspect to socialism — central planning.

Central planning is a process by which some group of government officials attempts to plan, in a top-down, command-and-control fashion, the economic affairs of some part of society. Inevitably, all sort of perversities result from the central planning, as people in socialist countries have long experienced. Shortages are one of the main consequences of socialist central planning.

The fundamental economic problem, as Ludwig von Mises pointed out, is that central planning is inherently defective. That is, no matter whose plan is adopted, it can never work. Why is this? Because the central planner can never possess the requisite knowledge to plan the activities of thousands or millions of people, especially given that people’s valuations and market conditions are constantly changing. Central planners who think they possess such knowledge and expertise have what Friedrich Hayek called a “fatal conceit.”

Immigration controls are a good example of socialist central planning. The planners come up with some arbitrary number of immigrants to enter the United States. The economic problem is that the number is usually far less than the number of immigrants who would normally enter the country in response to natural laws of supply and demand. All sorts of perversions then result, including shortages.

For example, according the Times’ article, “For Cape Cod, the impact has been devastating. Employers will receive only 15 of the 5,000 visas they had requested, according to the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce…. Employers say that unless Congress acts, they will have to scale back operations, because the labor pool in many resort areas is not deep enough to provide new workers, and many people do not want seasonal jobs.”

What will it take for Americans to finally abandon their commitment to socialism and restore a free market to our land? A good first step would be a recognition that it’s socialism, not the free market, that is the root of their economic woes.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bush’s Freedom Delusion
by Jacob G. Hornberger

In a further attempt to preserve his legacy, President Bush delivered a rousing speech in Nashville in which he said that he invaded Iraq to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people. According to the New York Times, he told the audience that freedom was a God-given right and “every human being bears the image of our maker.”

There’s just one big problem with Bush’s reasoning: What he says just ain’t so and it’s just not reality.

For one thing, Bush’s invasion and occupation have produced the deaths of an estimated one million Iraqi people. They are not free. They are not enjoying the fruits of democracy. They are dead, thanks to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Dead people cannot experience freedom or democracy.

Now, Bush would argue that those deaths were worth his purported attempt to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq. One big problem, however, is that he didn’t ask all those dead Iraqis if they preferred to die in his quest. They might well have chosen life under Saddam Hussein to death in Bush’s crusade.

By the way, this was the same cavalier mindset that characterized the Bill Clinton and the George W. Bush administrations, whose brutal sanctions against Iraq contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.

In fact, when you add the number of Iraqis killed in the Persian Gulf intervention to the number killed by the sanctions to the number killed in the invasion and occupation, you reach a number of dead Iraqis that is not exactly small. It’s equal to about one-fourth the number of people killed in the Holocaust.

Don’t forget also the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have fled to other countries to escape the chaos and violence produced by Bush’s war and occupation. They are not experiencing the joys of freedom and democracy to which Bush referred in his speech in Nashville. They are living lives of utter desperation and poverty in a foreign land.

Contrary to what Bush might think, not even the people of Iraq are experiencing the joys of freedom and democracy. How could they given that they’re living under one of the most oppressive and brutal military occupations in history? Torture. Murder. Denial of due process. Denial of trial by jury. Cruel and unusual punishments. Bombs. Missiles. Checkpoints. Curfews. Suicide bombers. Arbitrary arrests. Censorship. Gun control. Indefinite incarcerations. I wonder if Bush realizes that there are some 26,000 prisoners in U.S. custody in Iraq who have languished there for years without trial.

What Bush still will not permit himself to confront is that his invasion and occupation of Iraq had nothing to do with freedom and democracy or WMDs or al-Qaeda or the terrorists or the Muslims or with anything else, except one thing: regime change — the ouster of Saddam Hussein from office and his replacement with a U.S.-approved regime. It’s a goal, ironically, that wasn’t even achieved, given that the regime now governing Iraq has aligned itself with the radical Islamic regime in Iran.

In a sense, Bush’s aim in Iraq was no different from political activity here in the United States, when Republican and Democratic presidents attempt to oust people in the opposite party from office in order to replace them with one of their own. The only difference is that in Iraq, it took an invasion and occupation to accomplish that. Bush’s war on Iraq was simply “an extension of politics, but by other means.”

If freedom and democracy really was the be-all and end-all for President Bush, would he really have spent the last several years funneling millions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer aid to his close friend and partner Pervez Musharraf, the unelected brutal military dictator of Pakistan? The reason that Bush has never supported democracy in Pakistan is because it might produce a regime that isn’t favorable to the U.S. government. Given that freedom and democracy in Pakistan are irrelevant issues for President Bush, why would they be important issues for him in Iraq?

If Bush really invaded Iraq to bring freedom to the Iraqi people, then why has he treated them so badly? Let’s not forget Abu Ghraib, which consisted of torture, sex abuse, and murder of Iraqi people, even while Bush was publicly announcing, falsely, that “we don’t torture.”

Moreover, how many Iraqis fleeing the country has Bush permitted into the United States? Answer: While other countries have accepted hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees, Bush had steadfastly refused to permit more than a few thousand Iraqis to come to the United States.

If Bush was so concerned about helping the Iraqi people, then why did he permit their museums to be plundered and looted during the early parts of the invasion?

Would Bush have treated the British people like he has the Iraqi people given similar circumstances?

The truth — which perhaps Bush simply cannot bring himself to confront, perhaps from a psychological standpoint — is that neither he nor other U.S. officials give a hoot for the Iraqi people and they never have. All that has mattered from the time of the Persian Gulf War, to the sanctions, to the invasion, to the occupation is the ouster of Saddam Hussein and the installation of pro-U.S. regime in Iraq. That’s why they have cavalierly been willing to sacrifice any number of Iraqis over the years to achieve their political aims.

Even more ironic is the fact that in the process of supposedly bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq, Bush has brought to the American people a regime of torture, snitches, military tribunals, warrantless searches, immunity for crimes, denial of due process, denial of trial by jury, cancelation of habeas corpus, NSA spying on Americans, and other infringements on civil liberties. No doubt the president has convinced himself that all these measures are freedom and democracy too.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Patriotic Bust of Spitzer
by Jacob G. Hornberger

American conservatives should be really proud of how the feds caught New York Governor Eliot Spitzer patronizing a prostitute. It all has to do with patriotism, conservative-style. After all, it was the USA Patriot Act itself that put the feds on Spitzer’s trail.

The Patriot Act requires American bankers to be federal snitches. Whenever bankers notice an unusual financial transaction, they’re now required by law to snitch on their customer to the feds. The purpose, of course, is to protect us from the terrorists.

Well, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to know that the terrorists quickly adjust to the new snitch rules. But apparently the same doesn’t hold true for people who are trying to keep payments to prostitutes secret from their family. Because Spitzer was apparently structuring his payments to the prostitution company in some sort of secret way, his transactions caught the attention of his bankers, who then snitched to IRS officials, who then shared the information with the FBI.

When I visited Cuba several years ago, a resident of Havana told me that every neighborhood has an official snitch whose job is to report unusual occurrences to the authorities. The Cuban authorities consider these snitches to be highly patriotic citizens, just as conservatives view American bank snitches as highly patriotic citizens.

In fact, when you think about it, what’s the difference between the American conservative perspective on patriotism and the Cuban communist perspective on patriotism? Don’t they both exalt snitches and consider them heroes? Don’t they also both believe that the government and the country are the same thing? Don’t they both believe in unswerving allegiance to the government, especially during times of “war”? Don’t they both condemn the concept of personal privacy, especially financial privacy? Don’t they both consider criticism of the national (i.e., federal) government to be unpatriotic, especially during “wartime”?

In the olden days, our American ancestors placed a very high value on privacy, including financial privacy. What they did with their money was their business, not the business of government officials. Like the Swiss today, they considered financial privacy to be an essential part of freedom.

Who would have ever thought that their descendants, in desperate fear of the drug dealers and the terrorists, would abandon these notions of privacy, freedom, and patriotism in favor of the protective umbrella of the omnipotent, all-knowing state, just as the Cuban people have?

I can’t help but wonder whether the bank snitch in the Spitzer case is feeling patriotic or shameful. No doubt the IRS agents and the FBI agents who received the Spitzer information will receive some sort of special Patriot Act medal for ferreting out Spitzer’s dangerous activity.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Those Dangerous Prostitutes
by Jacob G. Hornberger

If there is another terrorist attack on American soil, it would be natural to ask the same two questions that libertarians asked soon after 9/11:

(1) Is the attack another instance of blowback from U.S. foreign policy, for example, from the death and destruction from the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq?

(2) Was the failure to prevent 9/11 due to a lack of power among federal officials or was it instead due to gross incompetence and gross negligence, including the fact that on 9/11 federal agents were doing things they shouldn’t be doing, such as protecting the American people from prostitutes? After all, let’s not forget that on 9/11 the FBI was engaged in the terribly important task of investigating bordellos in New Orleans?

We now have received assurance that the FBI is still on the job, protecting Americans from all those dangerous prostitutes (who could conceivably be terrorists) who are luring American men into their lairs.

One thing that I’ve always found amusing about the post-9/11 U.S. regime change in Afghanistan is how American conservatives, along with lots of liberals, declaim vociferously against the Taliban but yet, at the same time, share one of the core values of the Taliban — the use of state coercion to punish people for engaging in non-approved peaceful behavior.

As most everyone knows by now, the FBI has pulled into its prostitution dragnet the current governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who was caught with a prostitute by FBI wiretaps. Presumably the wiretaps were part of an FBI investigation into tax evasion rather than part of an overall war-on-terrorism telephone monitoring scheme involving the NSA and American telecommunication companies.

No one should feel sorry for Spitzer, however, for he is your standard pro-war-on-drugs, pro-war-on-prostitution hypocrite. As state attorney general, he reveled in prosecuting prostitutes and drug users.

What was Spitzer’s response to getting hoisted on his own hypocritical petard? He said that what he did with the prostitute is strictly a “private matter.” Fair enough. But then why wasn’t it also only a “private matter” when he was prosecuting people for doing the same thing? Isn’t that what’s called hypocrisy.

One option would be for Spitzer to simply walk into a New York federal courtroom and announce, “Your honor, I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I have committed a grave federal offense: paying a woman to have sex with me. (I also committed adultery but for some reason that’s not a federal criminal offense yet.) No, I didn’t simply buy my sex partner an expensive dinner, a nice new outfit, and a beautiful bracelet. If I had done those things, the feds couldn’t have prosecuted me. I decided to simply give the woman cash instead, which makes me a real federal criminal. I have prosecuted many people for this same offense because I believe that people who commit such an offense should be punished. Therefore, I need to be punished for my offense and I wish to punished for it. I hereby plead guilty. Please sentence me to jail at once to the maximum number of years that the law allows.”

My hunch? He’ll never do it. Instead, to paraphrase an old Texas criminal-defense attorney, Spitzer’s position will be, “I sought ‘justice’ for all those prostitutes and their clients who I prosecuted. But as for me, I don’t want justice. I want freedom.”

As The Future of Freedom Foundation has long argued (here and here) government has no business interfering with peaceful, consenting acts of adults, including prostitution and drugs. How can anyone truly be considered free if he is denied the right to make peaceful choices — rightful or wrongful, sinful or virtuous? Under what moral authority does Caesar — the organized means of coercion and compulsion —punish people for making the wrong peaceful choices in their lives? It’s one thing for the state to punish a person who commits an act of violence against another person. It’s quite another thing to punish a person who engages in a mutual exchange with someone else, including one that involves sex.

Spitzer has no one to blame but himself, especially for his stupidity, hubris, arrogance, and hypocrisy. But the truth is that the feds should simply leave him alone and investigate real crime — that is, crime that involves the initiation of force against peaceful people. Maybe that way, we’ll have a better chance of preventing the next act of terrorist blowback on American soil arising from U.S. foreign policy, especially the federal invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Are Americans Sacrificing Enough Now?
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Throughout the long history of the Iraq War and occupation, the measure of success for many Americans has been the number of U.S. soldiers killed in the conflict. As long as the number of U.S. deaths was kept to a “reasonable” level, Americans would cheer the conflict, but if U.S. casualties were to begin rising precipitously, the demand for exiting Iraq would go up as well.

There has hardly been any consideration for the basic morality of the entire operation. Few Americans seem to care that their government has attacked a country that never attacked the United States and killed and maimed lots of people in the process. The fact that their government is the aggressor regime in the conflict doesn’t seem to bother them a bit.

By the same token, the number of Iraqi deaths has been irrelevant for many Americans, which would seem somewhat odd given that many people still believe that the U.S. government aggressed against Iraq in order to help out the Iraqi people. Iraqis who have resisted the invasion and occupation of their country have been considered “bad guys” or “terrorists” who deserved to be killed.

Moreover, from the very beginning there has never been an upper limit on the number of Iraqis killed that would cause many Americans to question the entire operation. The notion has been that any number of Iraqi deaths — a hundred or a million — is worth the effort to bring democracy to that country (even while supporting the unelected military dictator ruling Pakistan). In the minds of many Americans, the Iraqi people actually owe a debt of gratitude to the United States for the sacrifices that Americans have made in invading and occupying Iraq.

Time will tell whether Americans will pay a price for the Iraq intervention in terms of terrorist blowback, just as Americans on 9/11 paid a price for the U.S. government’s pre-9/11 interventions in the Middle East, (e.g., the Persian Gulf War, the brutal sanctions against Iraq, the no-fly zones over Iraq, the unconditional military and financial aid supplied to the Israeli government, and the stationing of U.S. troops on Islamic holy lands).

Throughout the war and occupation, there have been those Americans who have lamented the fact that Americans generally haven’t been sharing in the sacrifice that U.S. soldiers in Iraq have been making.

Well, they can’t say that anymore, at least not in terms of a financial sacrifice. Many Americans are learning the hard way — i.e., at the School of Hard Knocks — the fundamentals of Empire 101 — that empires and imperial adventures are not cheap and they’re not free.

Prior to the inception of the Iraq invasion, President Bush and other U.S. officials were doing their best to convince Americans that this was going to be a low-cost adventure. They suggested that other countries would be willing to share the expenses and, anyway, there would always be Iraqi oil that could be used to fund U.S. military operations.

Americans permitted themselves to be hoodwinked into believing those representations as effectively as they’ve permitted themselves to be hoodwinked into believing that their Social Security taxes have gone into some sort of trust fund.

Today they are learning that the entire Iraqi operation wasn’t free or cheap after all. While Americans have been able to block out of their minds the Iraqi deaths and perhaps even the U.S. deaths, reality is now mugging them in the face with the home-mortgage crisis, soaring prices, and the crashing dollar.

What’s amusing is how so many economic analysts are simply ignoring the Iraq War in their economic analyses. It’s all because of the “business cycle.” Or it’s “bad weather” (bringing to mind all those “bad weather” explanations that Soviet officials used to give their people for economic problems in the Soviet Empire). Or it’s “greedy speculators.” Why, it’s even OPEC again, which is why President Bush is pleading with OPEC to open the oil spigots. Or best of all, it’s just that the economy needs a “stimulus.”

Yes, in the minds of U.S. officials and their ardent pro-war supporters, the economic woes are just some sort of mysterious ailment, just like terrorism, that somehow or another strikes at some countries and not others.

But the fact is that the root of America’s economic woes lies in massive, out-of-control federal spending, a problem that has been enormously exacerbated since 2002 with spending on Iraq and the military-industrial complex. To get the money they needed to fund their Iraq adventure, U.S. officials simply went out and borrowed it, which succeeded in sucking billions of dollars out of the capital markets. Why does it surprise anyone that there is now a shortage of capital to fund home mortgages?

At some point, the government has to pay off those debts. Why does it surprise anyone that the Fed is now doing that by printing the money? Why does it surprise anyone that the value of the dollar has been crashing in international markets? Haven’t empires always funded their operations in this way? Isn’t that what the Soviet Empire did before it collapsed?

People have been focusing much of their attention on oil prices and the prices at the pump. But my hunch is that the price of oil hasn’t really been soaring that much, at least not in comparison with other commodities. For example, if one compares the price of oil in terms of the price of silver or gold from 2002 to present, there will be some variation but it won’t be a tremendous variation. It’s only when you compare the price of oil to dollars that we see a fourfold increase—from $25 a barrel to $100 a barrel.

What does this tell us? That it’s not that oil prices have soared but rather that the value of the dollar has plummeted. And why has it crashed? Because the supply of dollars has soared, thanks to the printing presses at the Federal Reserve. And why have the printing presses been working overtime? To pay for the ever-increasing debts of the federal government, especially the soaring expenses associated with “rebuilding Iraq.”

Wouldn’t it be ironic if after five years of believing that any number of Iraqi deaths is worth bringing democracy to Iraq, the American people were to conclude that bringing democracy to Iraq just hasn’t been worth the economic pain to their home values, their non-renewable mortgages, and their pocketbooks?

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Friday, March 7, 2008

U.S. Regime Change in Iran
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Last night I attended a talk by Stephen Kinzer, who is one of the speakers at our upcoming June 6-8 conference “Restoring the Republic 2008: Foreign Policy & Civil Liberties.” The talk was held at the Washington, D.C., campus of the University of California and was part of a 22-city tour by Kinzer entitled “The Folly of Attacking Iran.”

Kinzer delivered one of the most fantastic, captivating talks I’ve ever heard. Drawing on his great book All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, which has just been reprinted with a new introduction, Kinzer provided a fascinating 40-minute encapsulation of the CIA’s 1953 coup in Iran and the long-term blowback that resulted from the coup.

Kinzer carefully explained the process by which the CIA was able to oust the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, from office, reinstalling the Shah of Iran into power.

Mossadegh had persuaded the Iranian Parliament to nationalize the nation’s oil, an act that was not well-received by the British Empire, given that it owned most of it. Bucking the British Empire was considered a real no-no, especially by smaller countries that were expected to behave like British colonies.

Faced with the possibility of adverse action by the United Nations, Mossadegh traveled to the United States, where he figured that his opposition to the British Empire would be well-received by a nation that was born out of opposition to the British Empire. His rousing speech to the United Nations succeeding in preventing UN action against Iran. In a train trip to Washington to meet with President Truman, he stopped to visit the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and then insisted on visiting George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon. He was later named Timemagazine’s Man of the Year.

British officials were intent on getting rid of Mossadegh in order to get their oil back. But Mossadegh was able to stymie their efforts by throwing British diplomats out of the country. The British turned to the United States to accomplish the dirty deed. Led by a flamboyant agent named Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, the CIA hired gangs of thugs and bribed the Iranian news media to foment an environment of chaos and violence that led up to the coup. Mossadegh was removed from power, and the brutal dictator the Shah of Iran, who hated American values but who would do what U.S. officials told him to do, took over.

That was the root of the anger and resentment that finally boiled over in the 1979 Iranian Revolution in which U.S. officials were taken hostage. Kinzer related a fascinating story about one of the a high-ranking U.S. diplomats that were taken hostage. After a year in jail, one of his captives opened the door to his cell and the U.S. diplomat began screaming and berating him, exclaiming that civilized people don’t take innocent people hostage. After patiently listening to the man’s tirade, the Iranian told the man that he had no right to complain, given that the United States had taken his entire country hostage in 1953 and had held it hostage ever since.

Kinzer then carefully outlined the long-term consequences of the Iranian coup, including the U.S. government’s partnership with Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. Kinzer then pointed out the obvious lesson — that U.S. interventions into other countries produce horrific long-term consequences, including for the American people.

It was a fascinating, gripping talk. Kinzer’s passion and commitment to getting America back on the right track exuded through his talk. I cannot recommend his books highly enough:

All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror

Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq

Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala

The title of Kinzer’s talk at our upcoming conference is “Regime Change: Promise and Peril.” His speech will definitely be one of the highlights of the conference, which promises to be one of the finest, most important conferences in the history of the libertarian movement.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Embargoes Attack Freedom at Home
by Jacob G. Hornberger

President Bush recently took Barack Obama to task for Obama’s willingness to meet with Raul Castro, the newly elected president of Cuba. Bush suggested that it was important for a U.S. president to establish preconditions before engaging in such a meeting. Bush said, “It will send the wrong message…. It will give great status to those who have suppressed human rights and human dignity.”

Obama responded to Bush’s attack by pointing out, “The American people aren’t looking for more of a do-nothing Cuba policy that has failed to secure the release of dissidents, failed to bring democracy to the island and failed to advance freedom for 50 years.”

Actually, both Bush and Obama are wrong. What the U.S. government needs to do is simply lift its cruel and brutal embargo against Cuba. That can and should be done unilaterally, without meetings or negotiations with Cuban officials.

That same principle applies to every other sanction or embargo that the U.S. government has imposed against other countries. All the U.S. government has to do — and should do — is cease its own wrongful conduct. Doing so does not require any meetings or agreements with the leaders of the affected countries.

In fact, that’s also the answer with respect to all trade. For example, the reason that NAFTA was bad was not because it liberalized trade between Americans and Latin Americans (which is good) but because it was a negotiated agreement between governments — one in which the governments were “permitting” their respective citizens to trade with each other.

As the U.S. government purports to “spread freedom” around the world with its sanctions and embargoes, the American people should be asking themselves important questions about the nature of rights and freedoms: Is the right to trade with others an inherent, fundamental right or not? Under what moral authority does the U.S. government interfere with people’s freedom to trade with others, especially through the threat of prosecutions, fines, and incarceration?

The Declaration of Independence points out that everyone has been endowed with inherent, fundamental rights. Such rights come not from government but rather from God or nature. They preexist government.

Among these inherent, God-given rights is the right to do what one wants with his own money and his own life, so long as his conduct is peaceful. That’s part of what the phrase “life, liberty, and property” is referring to in the Declaration.

As the Declaration points out, the reason that government is called into existence is to protect the exercise of such rights, not to destroy them. Yet, the U.S. government’s embargo against Cuba has destroyed the natural, God-given right of the American people to trade with the Cuban people.

Sadly, over the years the American people have quietly acquiesced in the destruction of this important God-given right. Convincing themselves that the embargo against Cuba has adversely affected only Cuba’s leaders and not the Cuban people, Americans have compounded this “life of the lie” by blocking out of their minds that the embargo also constitutes a direct attack on their own fundamental, God-given rights and freedom.

A restoration of the right of the American people to travel anywhere they want and spend their money any way they want does not require negotiated trade agreements or meetings between U.S. and foreign officials. It simply requires an aroused citizenry that demands the restoration of its fundamental, God-given rights and that will settle for nothing less.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

No Standing to Lecture on Justice
by Jacob G. Hornberger

U.S. officials are hopping mad over the outcome of a criminal prosecution in Iraq. Two Iraqi officials who had been accused of kidnapping and murder walked out of an Iraqi court Monday as free men after the prosecutor moved to drop the case for lack of evidence. The two men were former Iraqi Health Ministry officials. The case was being tried in the multimillion-dollar Rule of Law Complex, which is quite a site to behold.

Why were the American officials, who chose to remain anonymous, so angry and upset? Because the prosecutor’s decision was not in accord with what American officials felt should have been done. They felt that the defendants should have been prosecuted and convicted. According to one anonymous U.S. official quoted in the Washington Post, the dropping of the charges “shows that the judicial system in Iraq is horribly broken.”

One obvious question arises: What business do U.S. officials have intervening in Iraqi judicial matters? But a much more important question arises: What standing does the U.S. government have to be lecturing anyone, including the Iraqis, on a proper judicial system?

After all, let’s not forget the U.S. government’s model “judicial” system in Cuba. It’s “principles” include:

1. The accused are denied the right to an independent judiciary to preside over their case. Instead, the trials are conducted by military tribunals headed by biased U.S. military officials who answer to President Bush as their commander in chief.

2. Trial by an impartial jury is not permitted. The guilt or innocence of the accused is decided by military officials who have to answer to President Bush as their commander in chief.

3. The judges get to make up the rules of procedure as they go along, producing a perfect model of arbitrariness at every step of the proceeding.

4. The accused are denied speedy trials. Some of them have been incarcerated for several years without trial.

5. The accused are tortured into confessing their guilt.

6. Evidence acquired by torture can be used to convict the accused.

7. Hearsay evidence is admissible to convict the accused.

8. Defendants are not guaranteed the right to confront their witnesses and cross-examine them.

9. Cruel and unusual punishments, including torture, can be inflicted on the defendants, even before conviction.

10. Defendants are denied the right to habeas corpus.

In fact, it’s entirely appropriate that this despicable and shameful kangaroo system is located in Cuba because it is quite similar to the one run by Fidel Castro’s minions on the other side of the island. One thing is for sure: the U.S. government’s model “judicial” system in Cuba flies in the face of every procedural principle of due process enunciated in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Also, it’s ironic that the judicial complex in Iraq is called the Rule of Law Center, given it would be difficult to find a better example of a violation of the “rule of the law” than the U.S. government’s arbitrary post-9/11 power to send accused terrorists either down the federal-court route or the kangaroo military-tribunal route.

We also shouldn’t forget the U.S. government’s kidnappings, torture, rendition, torture-through-proxy, indefinite incarceration, murder, disappearances of detainees, spying, and warrantless searches, along with its practice of granting immunity to U.S. officials and their compatriots in the private sector who commit such crimes.

The best thing that U.S. officials could do is close down their kangaroo “judicial” tribunal system at Guantanamo Bay, transfer all prisoners to the jurisdiction of U.S. federal courts, leave the Iraqi people alone, and stop lecturing the world on law and justice. It would be a good first step toward restoring America’s moral standing in the world.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Bringing Iraq and Iran Closer Together
by Jacob G. Hornberger

Amidst all the hoopla over whether the surge in Iraq has been a success, Americans might have missed the latest development in the Iraq mess — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s historic and much-acclaimed visit to Iraq, one in which the presidents of Iraq and Iran even held hands.

That’s right — I said, Iraq … and Iran. Iraq, as in the country that the U.S. government invaded six years ago and has occupied ever since. And Iran, as in the country that the U.S. government might yet invade before President Bush leaves office.

As some of us have long been pointing out, the real winner of the Iraq War was Iran, not the United States. The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq succeeded in installing a radical, Islamic, Shiite regime in Iraq, one that aligned itself with Iran, a country that President Bush and Vice President Cheney are sanctioning and still might even bomb.

Now, if that’s not a perverse outcome of an invasion of a country that never attacked the United States and which has killed hundreds of thousands of people, I don’t know what is. It means that U.S. troops have killed and died for the sake of an Islamic regime — one that they continue to kill and die for as part of their indefinite occupation of Iraq.

One irony, of course, in this perversity is that many supporters of the invasion and occupation still justify the intervention on the grounds that Islam presents a dire threat to the United States. Well, what in the world do they think is the guiding religion of the regime that now governs Iraq? It was Saddam Hussein’s regime that was secular, not the regime that the U.S. invasion and occupation ended up installing in Iraq. Fortunately, the anti-Islamic neo-con crowd here in the United States hasn’t yet started calling for the bombing of the radical Islamic regime that now governs Iraq and that has aligned itself with Iran.

My hunch is that this discomforting fact — i.e., the partnership between Iraq and Iran — has still not settled into the consciousness and conscience of the American people, in large part because they generally don’t like to hear or read bad news about Iraq.

Think about it: 4,000 American troops dead. Thousands more wounded. A million Iraqis dead. Countless more wounded. The entire country destroyed. Museums ransacked. Suicide bombers. Millions of Iraqis fleeing the country. Torture. Gangs. Arbitrary searches, seizures, and arrests. Indefinite incarcerations.

And all for what?

So that a brutal pro-Iran regime could rule Iraq rather than Saddam Hussein.

In case you missed it, here’s a link to Reuter’s account of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Bhagdad:

“Pomp and ceremony greeted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his arrival in Iraq on Sunday, the fanfare a stark contrast to the rushed and secretive visits of his bitter rival U.S. President George W. Bush. Ahmadinejad held hands with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani as they walked down a red carpet to the tune of their countries’ national anthems, his visit the first by an Iranian president since the two neighbours fought a ruinous war in the 1980s. His warm reception, in which he was hugged and kissed by Iraqi officials and presented with flowers by children, was Iraq’s first full state welcome for any leader since the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003. His visit not only marks the cementing in ties between the neighbours, both run by Shi’ite majorities, but is seen as a show of support for the Iraqi government and an act of defiance against Iran’s longtime enemy, the United States, which has over 150,000 troops Iraq. A line of senior Iraqi political leaders welcomed Ahmadinejad when he arrived at Talabani’s palatial home.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, Ahmadinejad promised a $1 billion loan to Iraq and “the two countries negotiated seven deals on economic and cultural cooperation.”

Oh well, faced with an indefinite occupation of Iraq, a continually crashing dollar, ever-rising prices, and devalued homes, Americans can console themselves with, “At least we’re rebuilding Iraq!”

Let’s just hope that President Bush doesn’t try to save his legacy by starting a war against Iran before he leaves office because there’s little doubt that Iraq would align itself with Iran in such a war, leaving American troops to fight enemies in front, in back, and in the middle of them. And think how much time, money, and lives it would take to rebuild Iraq again!

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Hillary Should Have Apologized for Waco in Waco
by Jacob G. Hornberger

While making a campaign stop in Waco, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton praised the U.S. military for “defending and protecting our country.”

I couldn’t help but wonder whether she was talking about the military’s role in Iraq or Waco.

You’ll recall that under her husband’s regime, U.S. officials from the ATF and FBI, supported by the U.S. military, massacred 74 men, women, and children at the Branch Davidian compound at Waco. The massacre was accomplished through the intentional injection of flammable gas from U.S. military tanks into the compound and then, as the Emmy Award winning documentary “Waco: The Rules of Engagement” showed, the intentional firing of incendiary devices into to the compound that ignited the flammable gas. Shortly after the massacre, U.S. officials quickly bulldozed the entire site so that a proper investigation into how the incineration got started could not be conducted.

One of the rationales employed by President Clinton and his attorney general, Janet Reno, for the raid was to protect the Branch Davidian people, including the children, from their leader David Koresch. Of course, never mind that the raid succeeded in killing most of the people, including the children, that the raid was supposed to save.

Who could guess that the same rationale would be employed several years later by President Bush in regard to the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people? Among the many alternative rationales provided by the president for his invasion of Iraq was that he was doing it to save the Iraqi people from their leader. Never mind that his invasion has succeeded in killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people, many of whom have been Iraqi children.

Another similarity between Waco and Iraq is with respect to terrorism and patriotism.

Two years after Waco, terrorist Timothy McVeigh retaliated for Waco by bombing a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. After the attack, libertarians called on the American people to focus on McVeigh’s motivation for the attack, prompting President Clinton and his subordinates to immediately go on the attack. They condemned any such exploration into motive because to do so, they claimed, would justify and condone what McVeigh had done.

After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush and his subordinates immediately went on the attack against those who were arguing that the attacks were “blowback” from U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, including the brutal sanctions on Iraq that had contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people. Bush condemned any such exploration because, he claimed, it was obvious that the terrorists simply hated America for its “freedom and values,” not because the U.S. government had done bad things to people in the Middle East.

After the Oklahoma City bombing, Bill Clinton even implied that anyone who condemned wrongdoing by the federal government was an unpatriotic hater of America. Several years later, we would hear the same nonsense from President Bush when people began condemning U.S. foreign policy in the wake of 9/11.

Too bad that Hillary Clinton didn’t take the opportunity to acknowledge and apologize for what the U.S. military did in Waco and Iraq and to call for a change in direction. But of course how could she, given that she shares the mindsets of militarism and empire of both her husband and President Bush?

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.