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More Mideast Bills

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Surveying the history of England in The Rights of Man , Thomas Paine noted that “a bystander, not blinded by prejudice nor warped by interest, would declare that taxes were not raised to carry on wars, but that wars were raised to carry on taxes.” The United States government has followed faithfully in England’s footsteps. But it has added an innovation to the ancient formula: to carry on taxes, it raises peace as well.

Each time an American president gathers the leaders from Israel and the Arab world in order to advance the “peace process” the American taxpayer takes a major blow to his pocketbook. But somehow the peace process is never complete.

I call this power that the president takes with him to Camp David or to Wye River the American Taxpayer Express Card. No president leaves home without it.

The risk to American taxpayers is great because presidents hold Middle East summits out of political desperation. When things weren’t going well between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minster Menachem Begin at Camp David in 1978, President Jimmy Carter was reported to have stormed, “Are you trying to destroy my presidency?” The rulers signed their peace agreement and were paid handsomely with the American Taxpayer Express Card.

No one is more desperate these days than President Bill Clinton. He needs a legacy other that of being the first elected president to be impeached. Thus he huddles at Camp David with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority head Yasser Arafat. According to the Washington Post, whatever deal they come up with could cost U.S. taxpayers $15 billion-“and possibly much more-over the next few years.”

Most of the money would pay for Israel’s security as it adjusts to the new borders that would result from establishment of a Palestinian state. According to the Post : “Israel would then have to spend billions of dollars to relocate military bases and other ‘infrastructure’ in the West Bank and Gaza, to protect Jewish settlements–some of which likely would remain as suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv–and to establish early-warning stations, Israeli officials say.” The Post went on to quote a Republican source who said that Israel wants the United States to put up substantial cash to help remake “the Israeli military in the U.S. image.”

The American taxpayer would also be forced to assist the Palestinians. Money would fund infrastructure in the new country and provide other “development” assistance. We know from experience that government-to-government development assistance is the closet thing to throwing money down a rat hole. Development requires secure property rights and private entrepreneurship. Giving power to government through taxpayer transfers does not create property rights. Quite the contrary.

The Palestinian leaders are also said to be mentioning the figure $40 billion to compensate for the land lost to Israel in the 1948 war. How can the American people compensate Palestinians for this? Are we responsible for everything?

The original Camp David summit has cost the American people $5 billion a year in military and economic aid for Israel and Egypt. The Wye River deal in 1998 cost the taxpayers close to $2 billion. That’s on top of other tax money that flows to the region each year.

While there is some Republican opposition to the levels of aid being mentioned, no one should count on GOP fortitude. Inevitably, a sense of awesome “responsibility” for world peace will overcome them. Witness: “If peace is to be secured, the U.S. is going to have to take major financial responsibility similar to Camp David. The question is simply what will the cost be and over what period of time.” So said Rep. John Edward Porter, a senior Republican on the foreign operations subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

Clinton will lay down the American Express Taxpayer card. We’ll see our wallets cleaned out when the bill arrives, and that will be offered as part of the reason why no taxes can be cut or repealed.

But there won’t be a secure peace. That requires the parties’ taking full responsibility for their own fates, which they will never do if they are relying on the American taxpayer to bail them out.

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.