Written by Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.
The bitterest fights tend to be civil wars. Today, Syria is going through such a brutal bloodletting.
The administration reportedly has decided to provide arms to Syria’s insurgents. It’s a mistake.
This kind of messy conflict is precisely the sort in which Washington should avoid. Despite the end of the Cold War, the U.S. armed services have spent much of the last quarter century engaged in combat. At the very moment Washington should be pursuing a policy of peace, policymakers are preparing to join a civil war in which America’s security is not involved, other nations have much more at stake, many of the “good” guys in fact are bad, and there would be no easy exit.
Military action should not be a matter of choice, just another policy option. Americans should have something fundamental at stake before their government calls them to arms.
No such interest exists in Syria.
Intervention against Damascus means war. Some activists imagine that Washington need only wave its hand and President Bashar Assad would depart. However, weapons shipments are not going to oust a regime which has survived two years of combat. Intervening ineffectively could cost lives and credibility while ensuring heavier future involvement.
There is no serious security rationale for war. Damascus has not attacked or threatened to attack America or an American ally. America’s nearby friends, Israel and Turkey, are capable of defending themselves.
Another concern is the conflict spilling over Syria’s borders. But this does not warrant U.S. intervention. Maintaining geopolitical stability rarely approaches a vital interest justifying war.
While the Obama Administration continues to complain about the sequester, they haven’t exactly been frugal during what is claimed to be tough budgetary times. Back in March, for example, reports surfaced that Vice President Joe Biden and his entourage spent extravagantly on the taxpayer dime during two-night trip to Paris in London.
That trend is continuing. The Washington Post reported yesterday that President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Africa will cost taxpayers anywhere between $60 million and $100 million:
Hundreds of U.S. Secret Service agents will be dispatched to secure facilities in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania. A Navy aircraft carrier or amphibious ship, with a fully staffed medical trauma center, will be stationed offshore in case of an emergency.
Military cargo planes will airlift in 56 support vehicles, including 14 limousines and three trucks loaded with sheets of bulletproof glass to cover the windows of the hotels where the first family will stay. Fighter jets will fly in shifts, giving 24-hour coverage over the president’s airspace, so they can intervene quickly if an errant plane gets too close.
Obama’s trip could cost the federal government $60 million to $100 million based on the costs of similar African trips in recent years, according to one person familiar with the journey, who was not authorized to speak for attribution. The Secret Service planning document, which was provided to The Post by a person who is concerned about the amount of resources necessary for the trip, does not specify costs.
We’ve already covered the conflicting statements that Barack Obama has made concerning government surveillance. As a United States Senator and presidential candidate, Obama said that the Bush Administration “puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and security we provide.” He made a similar statement during his inaugural address, also invoking the Founding Fathers and the Constitution. This rhetoric presents quite a contrast to what Obama is saying today.
Though he’s remained quiet on the current issues with the NSA obtaining the phone records of millions of Americans, Joe Biden wasn’t so quiet on the issue back in 2006. During an interview with CBS News, Biden, who was then-serving as a United States Senator, was very pointed in his oppositition to what he described as “intrusive” surveillance that was being conducted under the Bush Adminstration.
There have been a few different stories about ObamaCare that have popped up over the past couple days that paint a picture of how the law is hurting both businesses and average Americans.
On Tuesday, CBS News reported that a survey of employers shows that they are worried that insurance costs will rise due to ObamaCare. The Associated Press reported yesterday that health coverage may be too expensive for low-wage workers as employers will have to provide more costly insurance plans.
Now, members of Congress are worried that their health insurance premiums will rise because of a provision in ObamaCare that eliminates taxpayer-funded subsidies. How’s this for irony?:
Dozens of lawmakers and aides are so afraid that their health insurance premiums will skyrocket next year thanks to Obamacare that they are thinking about retiring early or just quitting.
The fear: Government-subsidized premiums will disappear at the end of the year under a provision in the health care law that nudges aides and lawmakers onto the government health care exchanges, which could make their benefits exorbitantly expensive.
Democratic and Republican leaders are taking the issue seriously, but first they need more specifics from the Office of Personnel Management on how the new rule should take effect — a decision that Capitol Hill sources expect by fall, at the latest. The administration has clammed up in advance of a ruling, sources on both sides of the aisle said.
There is a civil war brewing on the Right on the issue of civil liberties. With recent revelations that the National Security Agency is conducting broad surveillance of Americans’ phone records and Internet activity, even if they aren’t suspected of terrorist activity, many conservatives and libertarians are fighting back.
“The trump card for McCain-Graham Republicans and their many allies in the Democratic Party is that they can claim various federal actions have prevented terrorist attacks while the alleged proof is usually classified,” wrote James Antle earlier this week at The American Conservative. “When terrorist attacks fail or do not occur, the surveillance state is vindicated. When terrorism happens, it proves the surveillance state needs more power. To think otherwise is to brand patriotic Americans Nazis, which of course only unpatriotic conservatives do.”
“But so far it is Paul’s defense of the Fourth Amendment—conveniently violated by a Democratic administration—that is capturing conservatives’ imaginations. Tea Party groups are railing against the NSA alongside the IRS,” he added. “Grassroots conservatives seem to be standing with Rand rather than rolling their eyes at the wacko birds. They are quoting Sen. Barack Obama, who was skeptical of trading liberty for security, against President Obama.”
There has been a lot of outrage and surprise expressed by members of Congress over the mounting scandals coming out the Obama Administration. But perhaps the real scandal is that the Congress is often complicit when Americans liberties are violated by out-of-control administrations.
During a speech yesterday on the House floor, Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY) pointedly told his colleagues in Washington to “wake up” to the sort of overreach and abuses of civil liberties that are being committed by the government.
“Can’t we see what’s happening? In just the past month we discovered that the NSA is snooping on millions of innocent Americans using the PATRIOT ACT (Congress wrote the Patriot Act!), the IRS is targeting conservative organizations using the tax code (Congress created that tax code), and DHS has 200 million hollow-point bullets stockpiled (Congress funded DHS — just last week!),” explained Massie. “You want me to be surprised? I’m not surprised… I’m outraged! But what’s happening here? In each case of executive overreach, Congress gave an inch, and the executive branch took a mile.”
Massie noted that the outrage from members over the scandals is hypocritical. They complain and investigate then, he said, “Congress turns around and funds and encourages more unconstitutional behavior.”
“If we don’t reverse this trend, we can kiss our civil liberties good–bye,” said Massie.
“The Constitution embodies American principles that men and women have fought and died to protect. We swore an oath to it. Mr Speaker, I encourage my colleagues to reflect on the damage that CISPA, the PATRIOT Act, and the NDAA have wrought on our civil liberties, and implore my fellow members to uphold the constitutional rights they swore to protect,” he added. “Don’t yield one inch.”
Watch Massie’s full speech below:
During a fundraiser for Ed Markey, a Democratic running for the vacant Senate in Massachusetts, Vice President Joe Biden attacked Senate Republicans for the sway over legislation that Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) hold in their caucus:
At a high-dollar fundraiser [Tuesday] night in Washington, D.C., Vice President Joe Biden warned his fellow Democrats about the Republicans.
“It’s a pretty simple proposition: The United States of America, and the state of Massachusetts, does not need another Republican in the Senate,” Biden told the assembled donors, according to the press pool report. “I’m being straight about this. This is not your father’s Republican Party. It really is a fundamentally different party. There’s never been as much distance, at least since I’ve been alive, distance between where the mainstream of the Republican congressional party is and the Democratic Party is. It’s a chasm. It’s a gigantic chasm.”In particular, Biden shared his distrust of two young Republican senators, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.“I’m not talking about the character or even the quality of the minds of the people I’m going to mention. But the last thing in the world we need now is someone who will go down to the United States Senate and support Ted Cruz, support the new senator from Kentucky — or the old senator from Kentucky,” said Biden.
“Think about this. … Have you ever seen a time when two freshman senators are able to cower the bulk of the Republican Party in the Senate? That is not hyperbole.”
Roger Pilon and Richard Epstein are out with an op-ed that argues that the data-mining and surveillance programs we’ve become aware of over the past week aren’t really as big a deal as many libertarians and conservatives are making them out to be:
President Barack Obama is under harsh attack for stating the obvious: No amount of government ingenuity will guarantee the American people 100 percent security, 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. He was answering a burst of more heated responses from left and right alike to the “news” that for years the National Security Agency has been collecting metadata about Americans’ phone calls and certain foreign Internet communications.
Legally, the president is on secure footing under the Patriot Act, which Congress passed shortly after 9/11 and has since reauthorized by large bipartisan majorities. As he stressed, the program has enjoyed the continued support of all three branches of the federal government. It has been free of political abuse since its inception. And as he rightly added, this nation has real problems if its people, at least here, can’t trust the combined actions of the executive branch and the Congress, backstopped by federal judges sworn to protect our individual liberties secured by the Bill of Rights.
While we are still digesting the recent discoveries concerning the IRS and the targeting of its political foes, the agency continues to scramble to respond to an ever-increasing number of questions concerning its operations.
Last week, the agency issued an official order requesting a series of spying devices and technologies to an undisclosed corporation that was later canceled.
Recently, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) raised questions concerning a recent visit to an IRS facility. During his visit, he happened to spot agents that identified themselves as IRS training with semi-automatic AR-15 rifles; the type of firearm that is considered an “assault weapon” in the hands of a law-abiding citizen.
According to the agency, IRS agents must to go under rigorous training at the Federal Law Enforcement Trainining Center. They defend this position by claiming that special agents inside of criminal investigation units in any other state, federal or local law enforcement agencies are required to go under the same type of training.
The fact IRS agents are required to go under training using highly capable firearms might not be the real issue, but the reasoning behind this particular requirement could be.
As we learn more details on the shameless targeting of conservative groups perpetrated by the IRS, we also learn that the tax collecting enforcement division is heavily armed and exceptionally well-prepared. What doesn’t seem clear is why.
Many Americans, particularly conservatives and libertarians are outraged upon discovering their government has authorized a secret surveillance program so invasive, that online browsing, emails and your phone conversations may be monitored.
The whistleblower, Edward Snowden, who revealed the NSA program PRISM, to Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, has been touted as a hero by many, including figures on the left and right such as Glenn Beck and Michael Moore. A petition on the White House website calling for the pardon of Mr. Snowden has accumulated over 61,000 signatures since Sunday, indicating a growing number of Americans find his actions honorable. But not Erick Erickson.
The editor-in-chief of RedState.com made his views known via Twitter recently saying, “Snowden could have gone to Senator Paul, instead he went to China.” Erickson even went so far as to tweet this video from Monty Python and the Holy Grail depicting “Brave Sir Robin” running away from danger.
The mocking of Snowden, (who briefly fled to Hong Kong and is believed to be seeking asylum in Iceland now) continued with Erickson tweeting:
“Remember that time the Founders signed the Declaration of Independence and fled to China? #patriots #brave #snowden”