Barack H. Reagan
Obama goes for the full monty.
My Reaganite heart leapt and skipped when I read this article, “Obama authorizes secret support for Libya rebels,” wherein we learn that “President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi...Obama signed the order, known as a presidential 'finding'....”
CIA Operative Appointed to Run al-Qaeda Connected Libyan Rebelsby Kurt Nimmo
On Saturday, McClatchy reported that Khalifa Hifter, a former Gaddafi military officer, was appointed to lead the rebel army supported by the United Nations, the United States and the Globalist Coalition.
Hifter spent two decades living in suburban Virginia “where he established a life but maintained ties to anti-Gaddafi groups,” writes Chris Adams for the newspaper. A friend told the journalist he “was unsure exactly what Hifter did to support himself, and that Hifter primarily focused on helping his large family.”
As it turns out, Mr. Hifter is a CIA operative, which likely explains his lengthy stay in Virginia. In 1996, the Washington Post reported that a Col. Haftar (a variation on Hifter) had arrived in the United States and he was “reported to be the leader of a contra-style group based in the U.S. called the Libyan National Army,” the Wisdom Fund noted at the time. “This group is supported by the U.S., and has been given training facilities in the U.S. It’s a good presumption that Col. Haftar’s group operates in Libya with the blessings of our government.”
In 2001, Le Monde diplomatique published a book entitled Manipulations africaines stating that Hifter, then a colonel in Gaddafi’s army, was captured while fighting in Chad in a Libyan-backed rebellion against the US-supported government of Hissène Habré. “He defected to the Libyan National Salvation Front (LNSF), the principal anti-Gaddafi group, which had the backing of the American CIA. He organized his own militia, which operated in Chad until Habré was overthrown by a French-supported rival, Idriss Déby, in 1990,” writes Patrick Martin.
Chad served as a base of operations to destabilize Libya, according to Paris-based African Confidential newsletter. It reported on January 5th, 1989, that “the US and Israel had set up a series of bases in Chad and other neighboring countries to train 2000 Libyan rebels captured by the Chad army,” writes author Peter Dale Scott.
In The Secret War Against Libya, Richard Keeble writes for MediaLens:
US official records indicate that funding for the Chad-based secret war against Libya also came from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Israel and Iraq. The Saudis, for instance, donated $7m to an opposition group, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (also backed by French intelligence and the CIA). But a plan to assassinate Gaddafi and take over the government on 8 May 1984 was crushed. In the following year, the US asked Egypt to invade Libya and overthrow Gaddafi but President Mubarak refused. By the end of 1985, the Washington Post had exposed the plan after congressional leaders opposing it wrote in protest to President Reagan.
Hidden in plain view is the fact the CIA and the establishment have appointed a former operative to run the so-called rebel army posed against Gaddafi. In other words, the resistance daily portrayed as heroes by the corporate media – itself controlled by the CIA and the establishment – basically consists of the same folks who opposed the Libyan dictator two decades ago.
The other CIA front in Libya is al-Qaeda under the banner of al-Jama’a al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah bi-Libya, aka the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, LIFG. The LIFG was founded in 1995 by a group of mujahideen veterans who had fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The mujahideen operation was run by the CIA, Pakistan’s ISI, and the Saudis. It eventually became al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and assorted jihadists.
Meanwhile, over at the Soros operation, Think Progress, the libs are desperate to support Obama’s murderous new war and dismiss anybody who would even suggest the heroic rebels are connected to al-Qaeda and the CIA.
“It’s necessary to have a public debate about the U.S. role in Libya, but it’s important to get the facts right – al Qaeda is not driving the Libyan resistance,” the foundation and globalist liberals insist.
They are right, but not in the way they think. The CIA is the driving force and al-Qaeda is just window dressing consisting of the usual dupes, patsies, useful idiots, and assorted psychopaths on the payroll.
Libya, Libertarianism, and the Legacy of Lanny Friedlander
Why we fight: a reminder
This [Sunday] morning, meandering around the Internet, I happened upon the news that Lanny Friedlander, who founded Reason magazine in 1968, had died in a Veterans Administration hospital, largely forgotten by the modern libertarian movement he did so much to create. This hit home in a way that I can only describe as eerie: for a moment, I was the young teenager who’d gotten a long distance phone call from Lanny – long distance was a big deal back then! – on the occasion of Reason‘s first issue, the debut of which was imminent.
I never actually met Lanny, being too young to travel on my own to faraway Boston, but we had been communicating quite regularly through the mails – yes, it was a long time ago. Funny how it seems like only yesterday.
Back in those days, the libertarian “movement” was more than half teenagers, and a sprinkling of oldsters (over thirty!) representing what we regarded as the previous generation, the scattered remnants of the Old Right. This youth movement expressed itself via a plethora of mimeographed magazines, newsletters, and good old fashioned letter-writing, a flourishing samizdat media that paralleled the much-heralded left-wing underground press of the 1960s. Lanny and I inhabited this small but growing parallel underground, and dreamed of the day when it would go above-ground, and burst onto the national scene.
That day seemed not far off when the New York Times magazine published a long piece by two young libertarians, Stan Lehr and Louis Rossetto Jr., that was our “coming out” in the mainstream media. Lehr and Rossetto gave the readers of the Times an overview of what libertarians believed, and who they were, with photos of all the movement stars (including Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard). Re-reading it today, I am struck by how central foreign policy issues were to the young libertarians of 1971. “Conservatives tended to be nationalistic when it came to foreign policy,” the authors noted, and this put them “in the strange position of advocating a stronger nation-state to preserve freedom.” Furthermore,
“The conservative movement attracted a disparate assortment of adherents in the early sixties. Some were rabid anti-Communists who would sooner have seen the world decimated in a nuclear holocaust than have given the Communists an inch of some rotting jungle.”
Yes, the neoconservatives were there, right from the very beginning: as the libertarians were leaving the conservative movement, Norman Podhoretz and his fellow “Neocons for Nixon” were joining it.
It was the split on the youthful right over the Vietnam war, the authors remind us, that set the stage for the struggle between libertarians and their “traditionalist” opponents:
“While traditionalists automatically supported any step the Government chose to take against Communism, libertarians were more concerned about whether the Government had the right to tax and conscript its citizens to undertake so improbable an adventure.”
"Libertarians believed that if the country were really in danger a free citizenry would be more than willing to defend it voluntarily.”
It was a real question, at the time, whether Nixon’s America would long tolerate the concept of a “free citizenry.” The “trads,” as they were known, were the “big government conservatives” of their day: faced with a choice between their ideals and their political alliances, they chose the path of Richard Nixon, who instituted wage and price controls, over their purely theoretical devotion to abstract “liberty.” As Lehr and Rossetto point out, in spite of Frank S. Meyer‘s attempt to hold the libertarian-conservative symbiosis together, “the fusionist approach to conservatism was to be relegated to the scrap heap by the tides of war, protest and cultural change.”
Forty years later, the tides of war, protest, and cultural change are no less tumultuous, and yet conservatism did not wind up on the scrap heap of history. Instead, a migratory raiding party known as the neoconservatives came in from the left and took up residence in the hollowed-out husk of the old conservative movement, transforming it into the perfect vehicle for an American tyranny – one that has, so far, nearly succeeded in abolishing the Constitution and destroying the remnants of our old Republic.
Forty years later, our old enemies have made considerable progress, effectively seizing control of US foreign policy in the post-9/11 era and taking us on a rampage that started in Afghanistan and seems not to have any logical end. The post-9/11 neoconservative coup was attested to by Colin Powell, who witnessed it first hand and related it to Bob Woodward in Plan of Attack,
“Powell felt Cheney and his allies – his chief aide, I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith and what Powell called Feith’s ‘Gestapo’ office – had established what amounted to a separate government.”
The American Thermidor took place quietly. There were no tanks in the streets outside the White House, no street fights between competing factions. Indeed, the coup went almost completely unnoticed — except by a few such as Seymour Hersh, whose investigations into the “Office of Special Plans” and other parallel ad hoc entities exposed the inner workings of the coup plotters.
Far from being thrown on the scrap heap, those “rabid anti-Communists who would sooner have seen the world decimated in a nuclear holocaust than have given the Communists an inch of some rotting jungle” have gone on to bigger and – from their viewpoint – better things. The Communists are long gone, but the Muslims have taken their place. Compared to our perpetual “war on terrorism,” the Vietnam conflict is mere skirmish.
The personalities change – Nixon, Bush, Obama, LBJ – but the essential issues remain fairly constant. The same people are promoting the same policies that have led us to disaster since the 1960s. The same formidable enemy, the War Party, looms over whatever prospects for prosperity and personal happiness we might be so foolhardy as to entertain.
Libertarianism has grown by leaps and bounds since the days Lanny Friedlander and I exchanged excited letters about the progress of a movement nobody had ever heard of. It has been a long hard battle, marked by frequent reverses. Back in the early days, when I told people I was a libertarian, I more than once elicited a confused response, such as “Oh, I didn’t know the librarians had their own political movement!”
Today, the libertarian brand is so clearly defined as to be unmistakable, and there is no doubt that it has more than lived up to the “Credo” outlined by Lehr and Rossetto in their long ago article. That piece, with its jabs at the neocons and its forthright opposition to interventionism, was undoubtedly influenced by the libertarian theoretician Murray Rothbard, whose picture was prominently displayed to illustrate the text. Of course, Ayn Rand, a fanatical cold warrior, was also pictured therein, and yet the piece itself, apart from naming the author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead as one inspiration among many, clearly bears Rothbard’s mark.
Of the three pillars of libertarian “orthodoxy” – a devotion to free markets, civil liberties, and a non-interventionist foreign policy – it was and still is possible to get conservatives, and even some neoconservatives, to agree on the first two. Yet foreign policy is still the stumbling block to any effective unity, although there are many encouraging indications that this obstacle is crumbling fast.
While the conservative critique of the Obama administration’s entry into the Libyan mess is still evolving, some of the “tea party” freshmen in Congress are among the President’s fiercest critics. Can a bankrupt America afford to “liberate” Libya? These and other questions, such as the proper limits of presidential power, are rapidly leading a number of conservatives into the anti-interventionist ranks.
Skeptics may scoff that these freshly baptized converts will soon revert to their old heathen ways once a Republican president is in office and in a position to make war, and yet this ignores the reality that people can learn from their experience. Not all possess the ability to engage is such self-reflection, and yet those that do are invariably the most intelligent, the most thoughtful — in short, the most desirable recruits.
All ideologies must stand the test of reality, and the neocons have so far only gotten failing grades. War-weary Americans thought they had turned them out of office, and foreclosed the possibility of any more foreign wars, only to find that their alleged savior has followed in the neocons’ footsteps more faithfully than even the worst pessimists among us had ever imagined.
So we are back art Square One, so to speak. In arriving at this point in history, when both mainstream liberals and the usual neoconservative suspects are united in supporting yet another US overseas intervention, once again we have the far left and far right “fringes” in opposition. We have a worldwide financial crisis on top of the crisis of empire in the Middle East, similar to — albeit worse than — the economic ructions of Nixon’s day. We have, in short, come full circle to this Yogi Berra moment: “It’s deja-vu all over again!”
But for one difference. This time, the libertarian movement is a lot bigger, both in numbers and in resources. Even more important, it is infinitely more principled and hardcore than it was in the early days: the Rothbardian perspective evidenced in the Lehr-Rossetto piece was by no means the only or even the dominant tendency back then. It took a long and often fierce battle – an educational battle – before the essential third pillar of the libertarian “trinity” was finally cemented firmly in place. Today, in spite of a few backsliders and marginal renegades, the libertarian brand has been identified as intransigently anti-war on account of the efforts of Ron Paul and the movement he created. Or, rather, recreated – only bigger, and better, this time.
Rep. Paul is my favorite politician for the simple reason that he never fails to bring in the foreign policy angle: he takes every opportunity to bring up the ruination that militarism is visiting on our nation, the waste and fraud it enables, the damage it does to our constitutional system of limited government, the dark shadow it casts over the prospects for liberty in our time. This is hardly surprising, as Rothbard was one of Paul’s mentors right up until the great libertarian theorist’s death in 1995.
With this movement in place, and growing by the hour, libertarians are facing the current crisis – the twin crisis of fiscal insolvency and imperial decline – armed as never before. Yet we should not approach the battle with any thought that it will be any easier than it was when we were just a bunch of crazy (in a good way!) teenagers out to “smash the State.” Indeed, it will be a lot harder, because we are charged not just with building our own movement but with building a much broader resistance to incipient authoritarianism and perpetual war.
The stakes are a bit higher than they were in the 1960s. Draconian post-9/11 legislation, including but not limited to the misnamed “PATRIOT” Act, essentially repealed a good deal of the Bill of Rights, and the rest is just a mopping up operation. We are at war on two continents, and the prospect of yet another war or two is just over the horizon. In the meantime, the ticking time-bomb of our financial system can be heard above the gunfire.
The scope and severity of the crisis means that we have to build a much broader movement against the dominant trends of authoritarianism and militarism, one that extends far beyond the relatively narrow base of the libertarian movement. We here at Antiwar.com recognized this long ago: this, indeed, is the entire rationale for the existence of this web site.
This is what we need to remember when we agitate against, say, the US intervention in Libya, or any particular policy of our rulers in Washington: it isn’t just about Libya, or the specific details of why our intervention there can only end in disaster. It’s about the larger issue of America’s proper role in the world – and what that role portends for the future of the American republic. Writing about the specifics of this or that crisis, on an almost daily basis, it’s easy for me to get lost in the details: that’s why it’s important to remind ourselves, every once in a while, why we are making this fight.
You Lie, Mr. President
About Libya, and much else
I couldn’t bear to watch the President’s why-we’re-in-Libya speech as it was broadcast: it’s Spring, after all, and my garden needs planting. Priorities, priorities, priorities: so important, in politics and in life.
We all have our priorities: I have mine, and the President of the United States has his. As an indication of the latter, I note that Obama waited a whole week after deploying US forces before deigning to explain his actions to the American people. He has yet to go to Congress for authorization, although he made sure he cleared it with our pushy allies and the UN Security Council. Having received this double-dispensation, Congress is for him but an afterthought. This is the true meaning of “multilateralism”: world opinion matters, American opinion – not so much.
When he finally did come before us to justify this latest episode of world-saving, he didn’t address Congress, but “the most servile audience he could find,” as James Bovard so trenchantly put it, “uniformed military officers at the National Defense University. The room will be full of people who are owned lock, stock, and barrel by the government. The officers have spent their lives working for Uncle Sam, and they know that a single ill-time hoot during Obama’s talk could end their careers.”
There would be no “You lie!” moment in this setting. Such safeguards were not for nothing, because practically every other word out of his mouth was either a lie or a truth so veiled in ambiguity that it merges into untruth on closer inspection.
He started out with a half-truth, paying tribute to the “courage, professionalism, and patriotism” of “our men and women in uniform,” lauding them for helping the Japanese in their hour of need. No American could disagree with that: in the rest of the world, however, there is a less worshipful attitude toward the behavior of US troops stationed abroad. We may be inured to evidence of US atrocities, but those photos of US centurions posing next to the corpses of the civilians they slaughtered in Afghanistan were published the day before the President praised the “professionalism” of the US military.
I’ll leave it to others to sort out whether this qualifies as an outright lie, or a mere fib-by-omission. Obama is an expert at crafting the plausible untruth: not since FDR lied us into war – and much else – in the 1930s have we seen such a master of duplicity in the Oval Office. Inserted into this ode to the military was, indeed, one outright lie: “Because of them and our dedicated diplomats, a coalition has been forged and countless lives have been saved.”
The lives we “saved” are countless only because they don’t exist: we intervened to prevent a holocaust that never happened – and there’s no way of knowing (although plenty of reason to doubt) whether it would have happened without Western intervention. This is the kind of lie that Americans like to hear: he’s telling us we’re heroes, not Ugly Americans.
Quite literally every other word in his Libya peroration is a lie. Take this paragraph:
“For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and advocate for human freedom. Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world’s many challenges. But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act. That is what happened in Libya over the course of these last six weeks.”
America has played a role that is neither unique in world history nor notable for its benefit to the cause of human freedom. The British, and the Romans before them – and before them, Alexander – thought they could bring order out of the world chaos, and we are merely the latest pretenders to the throne. As for being mindful of the risks and costs of intervention, an audience other than the notables of the National Defense University would be sorely tempted to let loose with a loud guffaw. The really stunning lie that stands out from the crowd, however, is the assertion that “we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world’s many challenges.” After our long and ongoing post-9/11 rampage across the face of the Middle East, it will be many years before any US President can say this without being laughed at. Force, including the threat of it, is the main instrument of US foreign policy, a necessity inherent in the nature of any and all empires, and especially one such as ours, with global pretensions.
“When our interests and our values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act.” What interests, whose values – and what’s the difference, anyway? The President devotes the rest of his speech to deftly dancing around these three vital questions.
Obama stumbles, though, when he gives us a little geography lesson, in that gently condescending professorial tone he affects when directly addressing us ordinary folk: “Libya sits directly between Tunisia and Egypt,” we are told, “two nations that inspired the world when their people rose up to take control of their own destiny.” Well, yes, Libya does indeed sit “directly” between Tunisia and Egypt, but even more directly it squats squarely between Algeria and Egypt – and the omission is telling.
Algeria, under the self-proclaimed “socialist” dictator turned Western ally Abdelaziz Bouteflika, is also experiencing anti-government protests, which are being met with brutal force. Later on in his speech, Obama notes the disruption an exodus from Libya would have on neighboring countries, which hints at the administration’s real fear: that an influx of revolution-minded Libyans into Algeria would further destabilize the Bouteflika regime.
“Last month,” continued Obama, Gadhafi’s grip of fear appeared to give way to the promise of freedom. In cities and towns across the country, Libyans took to the streets to claim their basic human rights. As one Libyan said, ‘For the first time we finally have hope that our nightmare of 40 years will soon be over.’”
Another half-truth. Libyans did indeed take to the streets, but was it really to “claim their basic human rights”? At this point, the demands of the rebels seem to be limited to “Gadhafi must go!” What comes after Gadhafi is as much a mystery after Western intervention as it was before. Gadhafi has slimed the rebels as agents of al-Qaeda, which, oddly, puts him in the same camp as some extreme neocons, who see the Muslim world as inherently and incorrigibly authoritarian, and some opponents of US intervention, such as Alexander Cockburn, who give credence to some allegedly “secret documents” dug up by US intelligence which point to Libya as a focal point in al-Qaeda’s recruiting efforts. All this because some self-appointed “commander” of the rebel forces once fought against the Americans in Iraq. Rather than handing power over to bin Laden, the rebels will more likely want to restore the monarchy and install the heir of King Idris I (there are two to choose from).
In any case, the alleged goodness of the opposition is a difficult case to make, and so the President plays his trump card, the indisputable evil of Gadhafi:
“Faced with this opposition, Gadhafi began attacking his people. … In the face of the world’s condemnation, Gadhafi chose to escalate his attacks, launching a military campaign against the Libyan people. Innocent people were targeted for killing. Hospitals and ambulances were attacked. Journalists were arrested, sexually assaulted, and killed. Supplies of food and fuel were choked off. The water for hundreds of thousands of people in Misratah was shut off. Cities and towns were shelled, mosques destroyed, and apartment buildings reduced to rubble. Military jets and helicopter gunships were unleashed upon people who had no means to defend themselves against assault from the air.”
If, during the Civil War, Confederate newspapers reported that Lincoln had begun “attacking his people,” well, then they weren’t exactly wrong about that. The bald statement of this fact, however, leaves out a certain context. Innocent people are targeted in every war, including those conducted by the United States: take the hit on the Serbian state television station during the Kosovo war, a conflict this intervention is often compared to. The Israelis targeted water supplies in Lebanon, along with churches and factories, and yet we heard not a peep out of any party politician above the rank of dog catcher – and certainly not aspiring politician Obama at the time – on that one.
As for the fate of journalists in war zones: the same Al Jazeera that has been singled out by Gadhafi was singled out by the US in Iraq. Journalists are being killed by government-connected death squads in US-occupied Iraq today. As for journalists being sexually assaulted: it happened in Tahrir Square, too, you’ll recall, but somehow this failed to spur US intervention.
I could wade through this miasma of murky logic and dubious doubletalk all day and all night, and still not hone in on the central affront to reason contained therein, and so let me get to that without further ado. After giving us a hair-raising build-up to the climax of his narrative, the President gets down to the nitty-gritty:
“At this point, the United States and the world faced a choice. Gadhafi declared that he would show ‘no mercy’ to his own people. He compared them to rats, and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets, and kill over a thousand people in a single day. Now, we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city. We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi – a city nearly the size of Charlotte – could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.
“It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen. And so nine days ago, after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress, I authorized military action to stop the killing….”
Gadhafi never said he would “show ‘no mercy’ to his own people,” but rather that he would show no mercy to the organizers of the rebellion – presumably, the interim “council” that now rules Benghazi, including his own former Interior Minister. These are the “rats” he referred to – defectors from his own government, who deserted what they perhaps rightly regard as a sinking ship.
Contrary to the President’s assertion that a massacre was imminent, there is no credible evidence Gadhafi was preparing any such action. Not a shred. Indeed, common sense, and military necessity, would argue against it: after all, having taken Benghazi, the Libyan despot would still have to rule it. It’s easy to demonize Gadhafi as a putative madman, yet he didn’t survive all these years for nothing. Indeed, he does have substantial support within the country, centered in the west, around Tripoli, as well as the southern oases of the Fezzan.
“America is different,” says the President. That’s why we intervened, because we can’t just stand by while atrocities are being committed – except when we’re the ones committing them, that is. Then we not only stand by, we call it “liberation.”
Every intervention in the post-cold war world has some significance as a precedent, establishing a new principle governing the ever more expansive definition of US “interests.” This one sets a new standard by positing a potential “humanitarian disaster” as a tripwire that sends American troops into battle. A version of it was utilized in the run-up to the Iraq war, with the President and his advisers invoking that ever-present “mushroom cloud” as the rationale for war. This time it was a purported madman about to commit mass murder on his own people. Next time – oh, just use your imagination. Any number of possible scenarios, based on factoids of dubious provenance, come to mind – along with a great number of possible targets.
Given the routine misery and oppression the governments of the world inflict on their subjects as a matter of course, the opportunity for fresh interventions by the Forces of Goodness & Light is effectively unlimited. In cheerleading Obama’s Libyan adventure, the President’s supporters are signing on to a future of perpetual warfare.
To be sure, the righteous tone of the President’s speech was ameliorated by protestations that the action was “limited,” and assurances that we’d soon be handing the effort off to NATO, and that there wouldn’t be any troops on the ground. This last, by the way, is yet another brazen lie: if we don’t have CIA over there already, aiding the rebels and coordinating air strikes with rebel actions on the ground, then somebody is not doing their job.
We are already half way down the slippery slope of Libya’s internal turmoil, and we’re in so deep at this point that I cannot see our way out for quite some time. The President is reported to have told congressional leaders that the intervention should last “days, not weeks,” and this is the biggest lie of all, a lie the President is apparently telling himself as well as us. We now own Libya’s insurrection: its fate belongs to us, and we’ll be wearing that albatross around our necks for quite some time to come.
|Tom Woods Smacks Down Mark Levin on War Powers|
|Written by Thomas R. Eddlem|
Professor Thomas E. Woods (pictured, left), Jr. has taken syndicated radio talk show host Mark Levin (picture inset) to task for claiming the President can constitutionally bring the nation to war without the permission of Congress.
Woods argued that Congress has the exclusive power under Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution to declare war and to make rules for the military. Levin contended that Woods' argument was "utter nonsense." "He refutes nothing I said," Woods concluded in a March 28 column on LewRockwell.com, "and then declares himself the winner."
The Internet exchange began after Levin, a lawyer and former Justice Department official, assailed Representative Ron Paul for his antiwar stance on the U.S. attack on Libya on his radio show March 25:
I want to repeat this for those out there who write stupid stuff and are a little dense because they’re advancing a dogma rather than an honest assessment of what our history is. You can see some of these morons on television too. The language was originally “Congress shall make war.” The framers rejected that. And instead replaced “make” with “declare.” The president of the United States, well, they made him the commander-in-chief. Now why do you think they did those two things? Out of basic logic. They knew it was a dangerous world — hell they’ve been in a revolution. And by the way, after the revolution and establishment of our government it wasn’t clear still that it would survive given all the threats that we faced.
Levin went on to claim that the President can bring the United States government to war without the permission of Congress, adding that Congress' power over the purse was a sufficient check to presidential war-making. Levin argued: “And as Hamilton pointed out, it’s the ultimate power — the power of the purse.” Woods replied:
Here Levin is trying to claim that the power of Congress over warmaking is confined to the power to de-fund presidential wars. But as long as Levin wants to quote Hamilton, let’s quote Hamilton, from Federalist #69:
“The President is to be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States. In this respect his authority would be nominally the same with that of the king of Great Britain, but in substance much inferior to it. It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces, as first General and admiral of the Confederacy; while that of the British king extends to the declaring of war and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies — all which, by the Constitution under consideration, would appertain to the legislature.”
Hamilton elsewhere says that the president’s war powers consist of “the direction of war when authorized or begun.”
Well, that’s pretty much the opposite of Levin’s view.
In response, Levin published several tweets and Facebook status remarks quoting Alexander Hamilton vaguely referring to the President as the body in charge of actually waging war once Congress declares the war, such as this quote from Federalist #74:
Alexander Hamilton: "Energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government.... It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks."
Levin also published a longer Facebook note claiming that Professor Woods was "cutting and pasting history for a dogma." He wrote:
I'm embarrassed for Woods. He knows I know he's a propagandist on this issue. His misuse of the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist Papers, and other quotes here and there is politically expedient. There's nothing scholarly about it....
History, facts, experience, and events prove the Left [right] and Paulists wrong, like Woods, but they are true believers so it doesn't matter. Woods would fundamentally alter our constitutional construct respecting war, the executive, and legislative functions, fabricating additional power in Congress — even authorizing one House of Congress under the War Powers Act to ensure defeat on the battlefield if the battle is not completed in 90 days through a silent veto — while denuding the commander-in-chief power. Is that what they said at the Constitutional Convention? Is that supported anywhere in our history? Is that how Congress is to legislate under the Constitutio? Utter nonsense.
Levin's response was remarkable in one respect: He failed to cite any language in the Constitution to support his case that the President can make war, and failed to cite any federalist supporter of the U.S. Constitution or any Founding Father who argued the President had the ability to initiate war without the permission of Congress. Woods replied on March 28:
I am accused of misusing the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist, etc., but Levin does not condescend to share any specific examples of this alleged misuse. We are to be satisfied with his ex cathedra pronouncements alone.... And no wonder: there is no evidence for his position at all.
Woods concluded with a challenge to Levin:
Here is my challenge to you. I want you to find me one Federalist, during the entire period in which the Constitution was pending, who argued that the president could launch non-defensive wars without consulting Congress. To make it easy on you, you may cite any Federalist speaking in any of the ratification conventions in any of the states, or in a public lecture, or in a newspaper article — whatever. One Federalist who took your position. I want his name and the exact quotation.
It's likely that Levin will reply, though he'll be unable to quote any Founding Father who supported presidential war powers. There is none. Based upon the tenor of Levin's radio talk show, the response to Woods' challenge will be abuse rather than genuine argument.
Woods has reportedly said he's willing to debate Levin. But one has to wonder why Levin would ever accept a debate he can't win.
For all practical purposes, the United States has one bank, the Federal Reserve with a bunch of branches that are treated with different degrees of respect. Some are treated rudely, while others in the eyes of the Fed, can do no wrong.
One support method the Fed uses to protect its favored "branches" is the discount rate. At its blog site today, the New York Fed attempts to justify this Fed tool that serves to prop up the entire convoluted Federal Reserve System.
We can see a key problem with the, Fed as overlord, current banking system by taking a look at the first paragraph of a psot by NY Fed bloggers applauding themselves. The bloggers write:
...the basic rationale for [the discount window] is that circumstances can arise, such as bank runs and panics, when even fundamentally sound banks cannot raise liquidity on short noticeBut how can a "fundamentally sound" bank ever face a liquidity problem? A liquidity problem comes about only because the Federal Reserve system encourages (partly through the discount window) the mismatch between time structure of money deposited at the bank and money loaned out. A liquidity problem simply means that a bank may have loaned out money for 30 years, when a depositor has the right to withdraw such funds after 30 days. Banks aren't too concerned about this mismatch, since they know they can always go to the Fed to get money (via the discount window) if withdrawals are occurring that are greater than cash the bank has on hand or can borrow from other sources.
In other words, it is the Fed's backstop that encourages the mismatch between length of deposits and length of loans. Without this backstop, banks would never create such a mismatch. It would be too risky for them (And this is aside from the moral implications of promising to pay in 30ndays some funds on money that has been loaned out for years.)
Without a Fed, banks taking in short-term money would loan it out for short-terms and would make long-term loans with money that depositors had agreed to keep on deposit for the long term. End of liquidity problems for banks and the start of truly fundamentally sound banks.
The NY Fed bloggers go on to discuss the various ways the discount rate should be implemented by what the Fed bloggers think are somehow "fundamentally sound" banks, when the deposit versus loan time structure of these banks is more distorted than a Dali painting.
The final sentence of the final paragraph on the NY Fed post is probably most telling:
Admittedly, the existence of the discount window may create some moral hazard, but of course, the Federal Reserve limits moral hazard by restricting discount window access to depository institutions that are closely regulated and supervised by federal banking authorities.Bottom line: The Fed holds all the cards over its "branches", get out of line and they will suddenly see you as an insolvent bank versus a bank with just a liquidity problem. The bloggers admit that some economists don't think the Fed can even technically tell the difference, if they wanted to:
Some observers contend that central bankers are no better equipped to distinguish illiquid but solvent banks than are private investors.It's a rigged game, boom, busts, bank failures versus just a liquidity crisis, Ben Bernanke just strokes his beard and decides what's what. (After consulting with his controls, of course.)
The economic historian Gregory Clark summarizes a remarkable fact.
. . . there is no sign of any improvement in material conditions for settled agrarian societies as we approach 1800. There was no gain between 1800 BC and AD 1800 -- a period of 3,600 years. Indeed the wages for east and south Asia and southern Europe for 1800 stand out by their low level compared to those for ancient Babylonia, ancient Greece, or Roman Egypt.
Then, around 1800, this all changed. Economic growth began: about 2% per annum, compounded. That brought our world into existence.
We are the great beneficiaries of a process that few people understand. No one has explained cogently how it came into existence. A rate of growth so slow that no one could perceive it at the time has created a world that would have been inconceivable in 1800.
This change has taken a mere three generations. This is simply inconceivable.
My daughter gave me a great Christmas present in 2010. She scheduled an appointment for me to interview a man in her church. His name is Lyon Tyler. My daughter grew up in a city named after his grandfather: Tyler, Texas. His grandfather was John Tyler, the tenth President of the United States. He signed the law that admitted Texas into the Union in 1845.
John Tyler was born in 1790, the first full year of Washington's Presidency.
Lyon Tyler's younger brother, also alive, uses the ultimate one-upsmanship one-liner I have ever heard. After chatting for a while with a stranger, he springs it on him.
"As my grandfather once said to Thomas Jefferson. . . ."
You can try to top that one. You won't succeed.
In 1889, the first volume of Henry Adams' history of the administrations of Jefferson and Madison appeared. Adams was the grandson of President John Quincy Adams. He began his book with this paragraph.
According to the census of 1800, the United States of America contained 5,308,483 persons. In the same year the British Islands contained upwards of fifteen millions; the French Republic, more than twenty-seven millions. Nearly one fifth of the American people were negro slaves; the true political population consisted of four and a half million free white or less than one million able-bodied males, on whose shoulders fell the burden of a continent. Even after two centuries of struggle the land was still untamed; forest covered every portion, except here and there a strip of cultivated soil; the minerals lay undisturbed in their rocky beds, and more than two thirds of the people clung to the seaboard within fifty miles of tide-water, where alone the wants of civilized life could be supplied. The centre of population rested within eighteen miles of Baltimore, north and east of Washington. Except in political arrangement, the interior was little more civilized than in 1750, and was not much easier to penetrate than when La Salle and Hennepin found their way to the Mississippi more than a century before.
The world of 1800 would have been recognizable to Socrates, except for the printed book. In contrast, the world of 1889 would not have been recognizable to the young John Tyler.
By 1889, these post-1800 inventions had arrived: gas lighting, electric lighting (arc light), the steam powered ship, the tin can, the macadamized road, photography, the railroad, portland cement, the reaper, anesthesia, the typewriter, the sewing machine, the Colt revolver, the telegraph, the wrench, the safety pin, mass-produced newspapers, pasteurization, vulcanized rubber, barbed wire, petroleum-based industry, dynamite, the telephone, Carnegie's steel mills, the skyscraper, the internal combustion engine, the automobile, and commercial electricity.
So, as I move toward the day when I am a footnote rather than a participant, I propose a thesis. One unanswered question above all others constitutes the most important historical question in recorded history. Here it is:
What happened around the year 1800 in Great Britain that led to approximately 2% per annum economic growth for the next two centuries?
Some economic historians think this began around 1780. Others, most notably Angus Maddison, believe it began in 1820. The year 1800 is a good middle-ground position.
THEN AND NOW
Our world is not even remotely like the world of 1800. In contrast, 1800 was recognizably similar A.D. 1. Clark points out that in the Roman Empire in A.D. 1, information traveled at about one mile per hour. In 1800, this had increased to about 1.4 miles per hour. Compare that with the speed of light: 186,000 miles per second. That was what the telegraph did.
The world of 1876 was not remotely like 1800. Yet compare 1876 with today. A child in 1876 who read a newspaper account of Custer's Last Stand lived long enough to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon in 1969.
In 1967, I took a graduate seminar in economic history from Hugh Aitken. I had studied this subject as an undergraduate with him in 1962. Aitken was a great teacher. He is not famous, but several years after I took that seminar, he became the editor of The Journal of Economic History, one of the two major academic English-language journals in the field. In one session, he said this. "There is no agreement on what happened around 1800 to launch the Industrial Revolution." There is still no agreement.
Here are the questions: (1) Why 1800? (2) Why in in the northern tier of northern Europe?
In a two-volume series, scheduled to go to six volumes, Prof. Deirdre McCloskey has surveyed the field. McCloskey argues that the fundamental change that made possible the industrial and agricultural revolutions was in the area of society. The age-old hostility to the entrepreneur changed in seventeenth-century Holland and spread to Great Britain. It was a change in ideas that mattered, not a change in property rights or technology.
The second volume, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World (2010), is a cogently argued case against all of the arguments from economic efficiency alone. These economic changes were not sufficient to create the transformation.
The problem is this: the first two volumes do not come close to proving McCloskey's thesis, a thesis that I have wanted to see proved for 40 years, namely, that seventeenth-century Protestantism changed the minds of people in the pews and on court benches regarding the ethical legitimacy of profits and the pursuit of economic self-interest. I wrote my Ph.D dissertation on this topic as it applied in Puritan New England. Maybe the next four volumes will do this through a careful survey of sermons, catechisms, and theological treatises of Dutch Calvinists and their imitators in Scotland and England. I hope so. But this will not be easy to prove.
[Note to Dr. McCloskey: take a look at the answers to the questions in the Westminster Larger Catechism (1646) on the fifth commandment: questions 126-33. See if they differ from the Lutheran interpretations a century earlier. They promote a hierarchical, status-based society that is hostile to "uppity" people of the lower sorts who start moving up.]
Dr. Clark has written a good book on the difference that 2% per annum has made, A Farewell to Alms (2006). He offers page after page of examples of how bad things were in 1800. He also offers suggestions regarding why the change took place. Dr. McCloskey challenges all of them.
And so it goes. The origin of most important transformation of human society in the last 4,000 years has no cogent, plausible, carefully documented explanation.
It had to do with liberty. But the legal foundations of liberty stretch back into European history. It had to do with technology. But men have always been inventive. Why 1800? Why Great Britain and North America?
We want this process to continue. It looks as though it will continue. We are future-oriented people. We like to think that tomorrow will be better than yesterday.
The creativity of billions of people are being coordinated by market processes that we do not understand. As Leonard E. Read wrote in 1958, no one knows how to make a pencil.
We do not know how the process began where it did and when it did, but with the failure of socialism in our era, we now know how to maintain it: through liberty of choice, by allowing people to retain the fruits of their labor, their risk-taking, and their confidence in the future.
The petty restraints imposed by politicians and bureaucrats will not thwart the growth process for long. The promise of liberty is too widespread today. While the government can and will continue to attempt to appropriate individuals' wealth in the name of the poor, to be administered by upper middle class bureaucrats, the effort will not succeed. The wealth formula is now known. It is simple. "Get the state out of the way of future-oriented people."
Ludwig von Mises argued in 1922 that the greatest strength of the socialists was their belief in the inevitability of victory. But they were wrong. They lost the war on two battlefields: theory and practice.
This is why, in the long run, the most effective tool in the market for liberty is confidence that individual creativity will produce a better world, as long as people keep their hands off each other's property. "Thou shalt not steal" is a good place to start. "Thou shalt not covet" is the foundation or "thou shalt not steal."The battle is not technological. It is ethical. The good guys will win. That is the lesson of the free market. The free market links personal responsibility with ownership. This is the key to prosperity.
The birth of an Obama doctrine
Born, as we are, out of a revolution by those who longed to be free, we welcome the fact that history is on the move in the Middle East and North Africa, and that young people are leading the way. Because wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States. Ultimately, it is that faith – those ideals – that are the true measure of American leadership.
THUS President Barack Obama tonight, speaking to the American people directly for the first time since launching Operation Odyssey Dawn and unleashing American missiles in Libya. He had received a great deal of criticism—for “dithering”, for failing to consult Congress, for going too far and doing too little. Now he has answered back—and provided, at the same time, the clearest explanation so far of an “Obama doctrine” of humanitarian military intervention.
Far from “dithering”, goes the White House line, pushed subtly in the speech and explicitly in briefings by senior officials, Mr Obama’s handling of the Libyan crisis has been “relatively extraordinary”. He has in a mere 31 days since the protests started imposed powerful sanctions, frozen Colonel Qaddafi’s assets, secured a robust Security Council resolution, organised an international coalition, executed a near-flawless military campaign, rolled Colonel Qaddafi’s forces back to the west, taken out the colonel’s air defences and knocked out a good deal of his ground forces. All this has been done without having to put American boots on the ground, without American military casualties and with precious few Libyan civilian casualties. Better still, with all this now done, America’s own contribution can decline, NATO can assume command (under an American general but with a Canadian deputy) and the European allies will take on more of the burden. Compare that, say senior administration officials, to the years it took to intervene in Bosnia in the 1990s.
To those hyper-realists who ask why it was necessary for America to entangle itself in Libya at all, the president’s answer appears to run as follows. First, he will never hesitate to use military power, unilaterally if necessary, in defence of the nation’s core interests. No such core interests were at risk in Libya, but some interests were. For example, the unrest in Libya might have disrupted the far more consequential democratic revolutions in Tunisia and especially Egypt, where America has a good deal more at stake. Moreover, it would not have been right to turn a blind eye to the possibility of Colonel Qaddafi carrying out his blood-curdling threats to show “no mercy” to the inhabitants of Benghazi. In such cases, however, it makes powerful sense, when possible, for America to share the burden with allies under the authority of the United Nations. This is how he put it in his speech:
It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right. In this particular country – Libya; at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground. To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and – more profoundly – our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.
To critics on the opposite side of the argument, who ask why Mr Obama does not just finish the job by killing the colonel himself, the White House’s answer is that this would not only exceed the mandate of UN Resolution 1973, which calls only for protecting the civilian population, but risk splintering an artfully assembled alliance. That would leave America “owning” the resulting mess. The administration acknowledges that the denouement in Libya is likely to be messy anyway, but would prefer an internationalised mess to one for which America alone is held responsible. Might this American restraint enable Colonel Qaddafi to hang on for months, even longer, in spite of all the other efforts to squeeze and isolate him? Perhaps: but even if he holds out in some bunker in Tripoli, surrounded by human shields, the White House does not see how he could continue to govern Libya in any practical sense.
Another criticism of Mr Obama is that his policy is inconsistent. Why batter Colonel Qaddafi and not intervene on the side of the opposition in Yemen, Bahrain, perhaps even Syria? Mr Obama is thought to be preparing another speech, some time in the next month or two, that will set out his broader thinking on what the Arab awakening means to Arabs and the wider world, and spell out how America might be able to help nudge it in a favourable direction. Yet the president plainly believes that there are so many variables in the present fast-moving circumstances that it is not possible to adopt a single doctrine that fits each case. Bahrain has cracked down forcibly on the opposition but not in the manner of a Qaddafi—and both America, with its naval base, and Saudi Arabia have a powerful strategic interest in the country. Ditto Yemen, a hodge-podge of tribes and factions with a dangerous al-Qaeda presence.
Until Mr Obama gives his larger speech on the significance of the Arab awakening, much of the White House’s focus will continue to be on developments on the ground in Libya. The next tactical steps are supposedly to be decided by the wider alliance talks taking place this week in London. But senior White House officials say that they will continue to push for military action against the colonel’s military forces whenever they can be construed to be posing a threat to the civilian population. The United States is already in direct contact with the opposition forces, who will also be represented in London. Though not yet ready to recognise them as the Libyans’ legitimate government (as the French already have), it is edging in this direction. Crucially, the administration does not think that Resolution 1973 prevents outsiders from arming the opposition. Mr Obama described the next steps like this:
As the bulk of our military effort ratchets down, what we can do – and will do – is support the aspirations of the Libyan people. We have intervened to stop a massacre, and we will work with our allies and partners as they’re in the lead to maintain the safety of civilians. We will deny the regime arms, cut off its supply of cash, assist the opposition, and work with other nations to hasten the day when Qaddafi leaves power. It may not happen overnight, as a badly weakened Qaddafi tries desperately to hang on to power. But it should be clear to those around Qaddafi, and to every Libyan, that history is not on his side. With the time and space that we have provided for the Libyan people, they will be able to determine their own destiny, and that is how it should be.
It is a good case—and it was a good speech. If Colonel Qaddafi is swept quickly from power, or reduced to impotence in some bunker, nobody will care very much about the manner in which Mr Obama put together his alliance and campaign. It might indeed be remembered as an extraordinary foreign-policy success. After the rescue of Kuwait in 1991, however, the first President George Bush also expected Saddam Hussein's regime to collapse in short order. Mr Obama's team says the circumstances this time are entirely different. They had better be right.
Religion is a growing force in the Arab awakening. Westerners should hold their nerve and trust democracy
THE sight of corrupt old Arab tyrants being toppled at the behest of a new generation of young idealists, inspired by democracy, united by Facebook and excited by the notion of opening up to a wider world, has thrilled observers everywhere. Those revolutions are still in full swing, albeit at different points in the cycle. In Tunisia and Egypt they are going the right way, with a hopeful new mood prevailing and free elections in the offing. In Libya, Syria and Yemen dictators are clinging on to power, with varying degrees of success. And in the Gulf monarchs are struggling to fend off demands for democracy with oil-funded largesse topped by modest and grudging political concessions.
So far these revolts have appeared to be largely secular in character. Westerners have been quietly relieved by that. Not that they are all against religion. Many—Americans in particular—are devout. But by and large, they prefer their own variety to anybody else’s, and since September 11th 2001, they have been especially nervous about Islam.
Now, however, there are signs that Islam is a growing force in the Arab revolutions (see article). That makes secular-minded and liberal people, both Arabs and Westerners, queasy. They fear that the Arab awakening might be hijacked by the sort of Islamists who reject a pluralist version of democracy, oppress women and fly the flag of jihad against Christians and Jews. They worry that the murderous militancy that has killed 30,000 over the past four years in Pakistan (see article) may emerge in the Arab world too.
In Libya the transitional national council, slowly gaining recognition as a government-in-waiting, is a medley of secular liberals and Islamists. There are Libyan jihadist veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan among the rebels, though not in big numbers. An American general detects “flickers of al-Qaeda” among the colonel’s foes being helped by the West, raising uncomfortable memories of America’s alliance against the Russians with Afghanistan’s mujahideen, before they turned into al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which has branches all over the region, is the best-run opposition movement in Libya and Egypt; and last week’s constitutional referendum in Egypt went the way the Brothers wanted it to. Its members have long suffered at the hands both of Western-backed regimes, such as Hosni Mubarak’s in Egypt, and of anti-Western secular ones, such as Bashar Assad’s, now under extreme pressure in Syria. In Tunisia, too, the Islamists, previously banned, look well-placed. On the whole, these Brothers have gone out of their way to reassure the West that they nowadays disavow violence in pursuit of their aims, believe in multiparty democracy, endorse women’s rights and would refrain from imposing sharia law wholesale, were they to form a government in any of the countries where they are re-emerging as legal parties.
All the same, the Brothers make many people nervous. At one extreme of the wide ideological spectrum that they cover they are not so far from the jihadists, many of whom started off in the Brothers’ ranks. The leading Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas, an offshoot of the Brotherhood, has been delighted by Mr Mubarak’s fall. It has in the past carried out suicide-bombings in the heart of Israel and refuses to recognise the Jewish state. Some liberals say that more extreme Islamist groups are riding on the more moderate Brothers’ coat-tails. In the flush of prisoner releases, hundreds if not thousands of Egyptian jihadists are once again at large.
Islam is bound to play a larger role in government in the Arab world than elsewhere. Most Muslims do not believe in the separation of religion and state, as America and France do, and have not lost their enthusiasm for religion, as many “Christian Democrats” in Europe have. Muslim democracies such as Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia all have big Islamic parties.
But Islamic does not mean Islamist. Al-Qaeda in the past few years has lost ground in Arab hearts and minds. The jihadists are a small minority, widely hated by their milder co-religionists, not least for giving Islam a bad name across the world. Ideological battles between moderates and extremists within Islam are just as fierce as the animosity pitting Muslim, Christian and Jewish fundamentalists against each other. Younger Arabs, largely responsible for the upheavals, are better connected and attuned to the rest of the modern world than their conservative predecessors were.
Moreover, some Muslim countries are on the road to democracy, or already there. Some are doing well. Among Arab countries, Lebanon, with its profusion of religions and sects, has long had a democracy of a kind, albeit hobbled by sectarian quotas and an armed militia, Hizbullah. Iraq has at least elected a genuine multiparty parliament.
Outside the Arab world, in Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia, Islam and democracy are cohabiting fairly comfortably. Many devout Muslims among the Arab protesters, including members of the Brotherhood, cite Turkey as a model. Its mildly Islamist government is showing worrying signs of authoritarianism these days, but it serves its people far better than the generals did. Iran, which once held so much sway, is not talked of as a model: theocracy does not appeal to the youngsters on the Arab street.
Still, Muslim countries may well make choices with which the West is not comfortable. But those inclined to worry should remember that no alternative would serve their interests, let alone the Arabs’, in the long run. The old autocrats deprived their people of freedom and opportunity; and the stability they promised, it is now clear, could not endure. Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s remains a horrible warning against depriving Islamists of power they have rightfully won.
Islam will never find an accommodation with the modern democratic world until Muslims can take responsibility for their own lives. Millions more have a chance of doing just that. It is a reason more for celebration than for worry.
Republicans and Democrats begin negotiating possible budget agreement
After weeks of arguing, Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill began negotiations Wednesday on a possible budget agreement that would slash federal spending by as much as $33 billion and avert a government shutdown.
“We’re all working off the same number now,” Vice President Biden told reporters after meeting with Senate Democratic leaders at the Capitol on Wednesday evening. “Obviously, there’s a difference in the composition of that number — what’s included, what’s not included. It’s going to be a thorough negotiation.”
If approved, the deal would be the largest single-year budget cut in U.S. history.
Lawmakers in both parties are eager to reach such a compromise, which would fund the government through the end of the fiscal year, in September, and end a series of stopgap spending resolutions that have kept Washington operating a few weeks at a time since last fall. The current short-term measure will expire April 8, and congressional leaders have said they don’t want to pass another one.
The two sides have already agreed on $10 billion in cuts; now, the House and Senate appropriations committees are searching for an additional $23 billion to extract from the budget, according to lawmakers and aides from both parties.
“We’re going to try to find some common ground,” House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters. “It’s going to take some time. . . . [But] the leadership has said for us to get started.”
Congressional leaders cautioned that no final deal has been reached. The talks could break down over disputes about how much to cut and from where.
“There have been discussion for weeks, and those discussions are continuing,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). “There’s no agreement, and nothing will be agreed to until everything is agreed to.”
Some conservative House Republicans — led by freshmen who came to Washington on a promise to shrink the government — have said they would vote against any proposal that falls short of the $61 billion in reductions the House approved on a party-line vote last month. Senate Democrats immediately rejected that measure.
Spending cuts are not the only issue up for negotiation. As part of their initial budget package, Republicans included unrelated amendments — called “riders” — that would impose restrictions on federal agencies. Democrats have objected to many of them, including one that would prohibit federal funding to Planned Parenthood and another that would weaken the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate carbon emissions.
Some Republicans have suggested that in exchange for giving up some of the spending cuts they want, they will pressure Democrats to accept at least some of these provisions.
On Wednesday, the vice president indicated that such an agreement was at least a possibility, although he did not give details or say which riders Democrats might be willing to accept.
The progress in the talks came on the eve of a planned rally Thursday by tea party activists on the Capitol lawn, where leaders of the conservative movement are expected to call for no compromise with President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate.
House Republicans fear that many rank-and-file GOP lawmakers could view a deal with Democrats as a retreat. Conservative Republicans warned that any agreement would require their support in large numbers, indicating that Boehner would not back a spending plan that evenly divided their 241 members.
The speaker and his leadership team have sought to win the support of their colleagues by promoting a budget compromise as only the first part of a “three bites at the apple” strategy to reduce the size of government. The idea, they say, is to prune as much money as they can from this year’s budget, then move on to bigger fiscal issues: the debate over whether to raise the federal debt limit, expected later this spring, and the negotiations over the 2012 budget. Each of those battles will provide GOP leaders the opportunity to demand even larger cuts.
In the event that Boehner loses the support of two dozen or more of his GOP colleagues, he could turn to moderate Democrats for support. Republican leaders met privately with a group of Democrats, but stressed Wednesday that those talks focused mostly on longer-term deficit reduction and entitlement reform — issues awaiting congressional action once they get past the current spending fight.
Democrats are also split over how far they are willing to go in compromising with Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) faces a protest from liberal Senate Democrats, including advocates for abortion rights and environmental causes who object to the idea that the Planned Parenthood and EPA riders might be part of a deal.
Reid brought Biden to the Capitol to reassure Democratic leaders that the White House would not undercut them in talks with Boehner.
“The main reason to be here today is to make sure that Democrats in the Senate and the president and I are on the same page,” Biden said. “We’re on the same page.”
In Libya, CIA is gathering intelligence on rebels
The Obama administration has sent teams of CIA operatives into Libya in a rush to gather intelligence on the identities and capabilities of rebel forces opposed to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, according to U.S. officials.
The information has become more crucial as the administration and its coalition partners move closer to providing direct military aid or guidance to the disorganized and beleaguered rebel army.
Although the administration has pledged that no U.S. ground troops will be deployed to Libya, officials said Wednesday that President Obama has issued a secret finding that would authorize the CIA to carry out a clandestine effort to provide arms and other support to Libyan opposition groups.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, insisted that no decision has been made.
In the face of a new onslaught by government troops, rebel forces fled eastward Wednesday from cities and towns they had captured just days ago. But Gaddafi suffered a political defeat with the defection to Britain of his foreign minister, Musa Kusa, the most senior official to break ranks since the coalition bombing campaign began nearly two weeks ago.
House and Senate lawmakers briefed in a closed-door session by top administration officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, said they received a picture of mixed progress on the ground in Libya.
The headlong rebel retreat through the oil hubs of Ras Lanuf and Brega, en route to the strategic city of Ajdabiya, demonstrated the limits of their fighting ability against the superior firepower and military organization of Gaddafi loyalists. It also underscored how dependent the anti-Gaddafi forces have become on airstrikes and missile attacks by the Western-led coalition.
“Our volunteer forces in the front have only got light weapons and are facing a very large military might,” said a rebel spokesman, Col. Ahmad Bani. The largely untrained and poorly organized force lacks anti-tank and other heavy weapons.
Bani called on NATO forces to intervene more forcefully, although a U.S. military official said coalition airstrikes, including attacks by U.S. AC-130 gunships, had continued apace in combat areas along the Libyan coast, with 32 U.S. and 23 coalition airstrikes in the 12-hour period through midday in Libya.
Administration officials said U.S. participation in the strikes would subside rapidly once NATO formally takes overall command this week of all aspects of the operation.
Officials said they saw Libyan government gains during the day as temporary and part of the “fluid” back and forth of the ground combat. But they did not dispute the likelihood that the rebels will need more equipment and training to prevail, increasing the pressure to find out more about the opposition.
Several lawmakers briefed by Clinton, Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said they were told that the United States is still trying to put together a full picture of the Libyan rebellion but believes that it does not contain large numbers of radical Islamic militants.
“Nobody had detected any significant presence, although they knew there were some people,” said Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.). But “nobody’s vouching for resumes” at the moment, Ackerman said.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), said he heard nothing in the briefing that turned him in favor of arming the rebels. Calling it a “horrible idea,” Rogers said: “We know what they’re against. We don’t really know what they’re for.”
A senior administration official said that “we know well” some of the more prominent members of the Transitional National Council, the group that has been the public face of the rebellion and that includes lawyers, intellectuals and former members of the Gaddafi government.
But “in terms of participants on the ground, that’s a deeper dive, obviously,” said the official, one of several interviewed who were not authorized to publicly discuss the administration’s efforts. “You have the leadership and the formal structure, and then the ground truth in various parts of the country where you have strong opposition” to Gaddafi, but little is known about who is leading those efforts.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Wednesday that his government has made no decision about arming the rebels and that “we want to know about any links with al-Qaeda.” But, he said, “given what we have seen” of the opposition political leaders, “I think it would be right to put the emphasis on the positive side.”
The CIA’s efforts represent a belated attempt to acquire basic information about rebel forces that had barely surfaced on the radar of U.S. spy agencies before the uprisings in North Africa.
Among the CIA’s tasks is to assess whether rebel leaders could be reliable partners if the administration opts to begin funneling in money or arms.
Obama took a key step in that direction by issuing a secret authorization known as a presidential “finding,” designed to pave the way for the flow of money or weapons. News of the finding, signed several weeks ago, was first reported Wednesday by Reuters.
Under law, the CIA requires special permission from the president to carry out activities designed to influence foreign events. A finding establishes a framework of legal authorities for specific covert activities, and in some cases for future actions that can be taken only after specific permission is given.
Such operations are fraught with risks. The CIA’s history is replete with efforts that backfired against U.S. interests in unexpected ways. In perhaps the most fateful example, the CIA’s backing of Islamic fighters in Afghanistan succeeded in driving out the Soviets in the 1980s, but it also presaged the emergence of militant groups, including al-Qaeda, that the United States is now struggling to contain.
Giving the CIA an expanded role in Libya would enable the administration to bridge the gap between the restrictions on coalition airstrikes and Obama’s stated goal of bringing Gaddafi’s four-decade rule to an end.
The CIA’s Special Activities Division includes paramilitary operatives who could help guide rebel operations as well as allied airstrikes.
Even amid an escalating campaign of coalition airstrikes, opposition forces have repeatedly mounted ill-advised assaults on Gaddafi positions and have been forced to retreat from territory they had gained.
If CIA paramilitary operatives were linked up with rebel leaders, “we’d be providing the intelligence on the location of the bad guys and saying, ‘Don’t you realize they’re just down the road here, and you’re going to get whacked if you go too far?’ ” said a U.S. official with access to intelligence on the fighting in Libya. “These guys don’t seem to be following any common-sense military advice.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney refused to comment on “intelligence matters” and reiterated Obama’s public statements that while no decision has been made about arming the rebels, “we’re not ruling it out or ruling it in.”
Officials emphasized that the U.S. military will have no role on the ground in assisting the rebels. “There is no planning for putting any U.S. boots on the ground” for any purpose, a U.S. military official said. “We have no mandate, no authority, no planning going on to that effect. . . . Nobody’s told us to be prepared to do that.”