The ACLU’s Cynical Attack on Criminal Justice Reform

Nat Hentoff and Nick Hentoff

Under the leadership of Anthony Romero, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a diminished shadow of its former self. The ACLU is now led by cafeteria civil libertarians who choose the liberties they deem worthy of protection based on a narrow ideological agenda.

The latest incarnation of this betrayal of the Bill of Rights is the ACLU’s refusal to support criminal justice reform legislation that strengthens the mens rea requirement for most federal criminal statutes. Translated from the Latin as “guilty mind,” mens rea is a legal phrase that describes the mental state of mind formed prior to the commission of a crime. Traditionally, the law requires the government to prove that a defendant was aware of and intended to break the law before he can be punished for doing so.

Writing in The New York Times, Yale Law professor Gideon Yaffe warned that liberal opposition to the mens rea provision threatens the passage of the criminal justice reform legislation currently pending in Congress:

“The provision is part of a sweeping criminal justice bill that includes important reforms sought by liberals, including reduced sentences for minor crimes. Democrats, however, oppose the mens rea provision on the ground that it would weaken efforts to prosecute corporate executives whose companies have caused harm. Their opposition is a major stumbling block to passage of the larger bill. But suspicions about Republican motivations should not turn liberals against these changes, because strengthening mens rea requirements will also help poor and minority people.”

The ACLU’s Romero responded to Yaffe with a letter to the editor in which he argued that the passage of mens rea reform “will do little to help the vast majority of the 2.2 million people behind bars in America and those soon to be incarcerated.”

George Mason University Law professor David E. Bernstein criticized Romero’s majoritarian approach to civil liberties advocacy, writing that “the executive director of the ACLU doesn’t care about the rights of a certain class of accused criminals.” Professor Bernstein’s claim of ACLU selectivity has merit when you consider that the organization has, in some cases, called for strengthening the mens rea requirement in proposed federal legislation.

In 2007 the ACLU vigorously opposed changes to the Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators (“KIDS”) Act on the grounds that “the amendment’s proposed mens rea is overly broad and vague and could result in innocent people being prosecuted for this offense.”

Progressive groups have badly mischaracterized the mens rea reform movement as a Republican-inspired effort to shield corporate special interests from much deserved prosecutions. A recent op-ed by Thomas B. Edsall in The New York Times parroted the progressive line on mens rea reforms, which he compared to partisan “pro-corporate stealth provisions attached to unrelated sentencing reform legislation.”

Yet one of the leading voices in the mens rea reform movement is Harvey Silverglate, a noted criminal defense and civil liberties lawyer who has a five-decade record of courageously defending progressive causes. Silverglate served for 30 years as a board member of the ACLU of Massachusetts and remains a member of the organization.

The need for mens rea reform was first brought to light in Silverglate’s 2007 book Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. According to Silverglate, the average U.S. citizen innocently commits an average of three felonies a day without realizing they have broken the law. His book describes how overzealous prosecutors use vague laws with lax mens rea requirements to prosecute innocent people from all walks of life under a wide variety of federal criminal statutes.

“There has arisen a cynical effort by some to defeat the adoption of mens rea legislation by claiming … that it will aid corporate and ‘white collar’ defendants, ignoring that in fact it would apply across-the-board to all defendants,” Silverglate wrote in an email responding to our request for his comments.

“This attempted injection of a form of class warfare into the struggle to achieve long-overdue fundamental criminal justice reform is a betrayal of the civil liberties of all Americans,” Silverglate warned. “We need both sentencing reform for those convicted, and mens rea reform in order to prevent the innocent from being convicted in the first place.”

Silverglate concluded his comments with a stern rebuke: “Romero and the ACLU should know better. Liberty is indivisible. Equal justice is not achieved by cynically pitting one group of citizens against another. That is how we ended up with by far the largest prison population in the world.”

In 2009 Silverglate called for coordinated action to solve the problems described in his book. “(R)ecognition that this movement has no ideological allegiances other than the preservation of liberty is a pivotal first step,” he wrote in a guest essay for the Volokh Conspiracy blog.

Conservative groups answered Silverglate’s bipartisan call to action while the ACLU and other progressive groups turned tail and ran in the opposite direction. Their opposition to the mens rea legislation now threatens to kill the last best hope for meaningful criminal justice reform for years to come.

Authors’ disclosure: Nat Hentoff is a former board member of both the national ACLU and the New York Civil Liberties Union. Nick Hentoff, a former board member of the Arizona chapter of the ACLU, represented the Arizona ACLU in the First Amendment court case Children of the Rosary v. City of Phoenix (9th Cir. 1998).

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow. Nick Hentoff is a criminal defense and civil liberties attorney in New York City.

Donald Trump Offers Foreign Policy Vision: Contradictory, but Still Best of a Bad Lot

Doug Bandow

Yesterday Donald Trump offered his foreign policy vision. It was the sort of mishmash one might expect, given what he’s said on the stump. He seemed to be starting the traditional march toward the center for November, but he is no Neoconservative and broke with pro-war Republican orthodoxy in important ways.

Trump’s views suggest the good, the bad and the ugly. Thankfully not as ugly as the positions taken by most of the Republican Party presidential contenders and congressional leaders as well as Democrat Hillary Clinton. Nor as bad as policies implemented by President Barack Obama over the last seven years. But not as good as the provocative thinking of Rand and especially Ron Paul.

The speech, delivered in Washington, D.C., was standard campaign fare, intended to demonstrate that the candidate was serious, or at least knew the names of a couple foreign nations. For Republicans these addresses almost always mean flaunting hawkish views: decrying the exceedingly dangerous state of the world, denouncing the irresponsible Obama administration for withdrawing from that world, demanding a massive increase in military outlays, and promising to bomb at least one and perhaps several dangerous nations or organizations bent on global murder and mayhem.

Unsurprisingly, Trump offered some of the usual bland generalities. For instance, he explained, he would “always put the interest of the American people and American security above all else.” Moreover, he sought “to develop a new foreign policy direction for our country, one that replaces randomness with purpose, ideology with strategy, and chaos with peace.” Who in U.S. politics advocates placing American interests last and following a policy of chaos?

Still, there was considerable good in the talk.

If he wins the GOP nomination, for the first time in years the presidential race might yield a genuine debate over foreign policy.

After the Cold War, he noted, America’s foreign policy veered off course: “Logic replaced with foolishness and arrogance, which led to one foreign policy disaster after another.” Hard to argue with that, though many Republicans do. Moreover, said Trump, it was a mistake to believe that the U.S. could impose Western-style democracy on countries “that had no experience or interests” in the process. Things certainly haven’t worked out well in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, or Somalia.

Indeed, he noted that “the legacy of the Obama-Clinton interventions will be weakness, confusion and disarray, a mess. We’ve made the Middle East more unstable and chaotic than ever before. We left Christians subject to intense persecution and even genocide.” It actually is the Bush-Obama-Clinton interventions and the region always has been a mess, but point taken. “Our actions in Iraq, Libya and Syria have helped unleash ISIS,” especially the invasion of Iraq by you-know-who. Indeed, Trump added, “After losing thousands of lives and spending trillions of dollars, we are in far worse shape in the Middle East than ever, ever before.” True.

Trump was particularly critical of unnecessary war-making: “unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct.” War and aggression. Those are words not often spoken by Republican presidential candidates. Moreover, “a superpower understands that caution and restraint are really truly signs of strength.”

Almost alone among the GOP contenders he criticized the Iraq debacle, whose “biggest beneficiary has been Iran.” And which yielded ISIS. Trump even paraphrased John Quincy Adams: “The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies.” That would be a dramatic change from the Clinton-Bush-Obama years.

Unsurprisingly, given how much Washington does around the world, he argued that “our resources are totally over extended.” Trump confused “wasteful spending” and “massive debt” with trade deficits, considering the last to be costs. But the latter result when we give little pieces of paper to foreigners for real goods which they ship to us. That’s actually not a bad deal.

Further, said Trump, “our allies are not paying their fair share.” Thus, he contended, “the whole world will be safer if our allies do their part to support our common defense and security.” This is obviously true. However, the problem is not that they aren’t paying their fair share, but that they aren’t defending themselves. Whatever they want to spend is “fair” so long as they are responsible for their own security.

He promised to get out “of the nation-building business.” That would be a welcome change. But in the same sentence he pledged instead to focus on “creating stability in the world.” Of course, that is one justification for nation-building. Create a stable Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia. One reason America shouldn’t nation-build is because stability so rarely is attainable, at least at reasonable cost in lives and money.

After declaring that “we must develop a foreign policy based on American interests,” he made the sensible point that Washington should cooperate with Russia. That doesn’t mean whitewashing Vladimir Putin but recognizing that fighting a mini-Cold War over a problem partly of Washington’s making — spending years dismissing Moscow’s security concerns — is not in America’s interest. And recognizing that the U.S. and Russia have shared interests around the world.

But there was the bad in the talk as well.

Trump correctly observed that America had “spent trillions of dollars over time on planes, missiles, ships, equipment, building up our military to provide a strong defense for Europe and Asia.” Alas, he drew the wrong conclusion: “The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense, and if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves.”

Having prosperous, populous allies defend themselves should be the objective, not the punishment. Washington should not hire out its military. And there’s no way other nations can reimburse the U.S. for the blood Americans shed. Foreign peoples should defend their own homelands.

In a speech intended to highlight his unconventional thinking, he spouted the standard but nonsensical Republican claim that “our friends are beginning to think they can’t depend on us.” Does he mean all those nations in Asia, Europe and the Middle East that Washington continues to defend at such high cost?

As an example he cited the “disastrous deal with Iran” without offering an alternative. Yet the agreement has pushed back Tehran’s ability to create nuclear weapons and intensified the internal struggle over Iran’s future. He also complained that the Obama administration had “snubbed and criticized” Israel. However, U.S. officials pointed out the genuinely “disastrous” impact of decades of occupation and intensified settlement construction in the West Bank, which have harmed America as well as Israel. He confused “supporting” that nation’s security with promising its most extreme leaders all that they want, a mistake made by most of the vote-minded Republican contenders.

In promising a “coherent foreign policy” (who ever says they favor incoherence?), he stated: “To our friends and allies … America is going to be reliable again. It’s going to be a great and reliable ally again.” Which they will interpret as Washington continuing to subsidize their every move and fulfill their every wish.

“Our rivals no longer respect us,” complained Trump. Cuban and Saudi officials didn’t greet the president at the airport. Well, Riyadh is supposed to be an ally: They are upset because President Obama no longer is letting them set U.S. policy, an approach Trump should applaud. The Castros are worried that American influence will grow — because the administration made a long overdue opening which virtually no Republican politician would do. “President Obama watches helplessly as North Korea” continues its nuclear developments, complained Trump. As did Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. President Trump likely would find himself in the same situation.

Finally, there was more than a little ugly.

No surprise, given the bombast of his campaign proclamations, Trump overestimated Washington’s ability to force other nations to do its will: “We have the power over China, economic power, and people don’t understand it.” Actually, they do, but they also recognize that the relationship runs both ways. Nor does Beijing only depend on America: China dominates commerce in Asia, is playing a bigger role in Africa, and is receiving constant entreaties from Europe.

The present administration did not “allow” Beijing to steal government and industrial secrets: Washington threatened retaliation. Maybe President Trump could do better, but the candidate has yet to demonstrate that he understands the difference between diplomatic and commercial negotiation.

Further, he claimed that with America’s “economic power, we can rein in and we can get them to do what they have to do with North Korea.” The Chinese government acts the way it does toward the North because the former views the consequences of a North Korean collapse, including Korean unification resulting in U.S. troops on its border, as worse than a nuclear North Korea. It would make more sense to use diplomacy, which Trump elsewhere lauds, to address China’s concerns than to threaten to wreck the relationship between the world’s two most important states. After all, Trump as populist tribune should recognize the likely reaction of a proud, nationalistic people whose country only recently escaped centuries of humiliation to an attempt by arrogant foreigners to dictate policy. “Not good,” he might quip.

After criticizing unnecessary wars and subsidies for allies, Trump made the standard claim regarding the Islamic State: “ISIS will be gone if I’m elected president. And they’ll be gone quickly. They will be gone very, very quickly.” Ironically, this is another instance of Washington doing someone else’s job: America’s allies and friends are the countries threatened by ISIS, so they should do the heavy lifting, rather than off-loading it, as always, on Washington.

Moreover, Trump insisted that “we have to rebuild our military.” This is standard GOP rhetoric which cuts against much else that he talked about. Trump complained that President Obama cut outlays — only after greatly increasing them, which Trump did not mention. In fact, even after adjusting for inflation Obama’s cumulative military expenditures will exceed those of his predecessor. America accounts for roughly 40% of the globe’s military outlays, stands far above both China and Russia, neither of which threatens the U.S. militarily, and is allied with every major industrialized power, save the latter two. One reason to allow Washington’s Asian, European, and Middle Eastern friends to finally defend themselves is so the U.S. no longer has to create — and pay for — the expensive, oversize force structure necessary to protect them.

Although America has grown prosperous as a trading nation, free trade continues to be Trump’s bete noire. “We have to find a way quickly, and I mean quickly, to balance” the trade deficit with China. Why? The trade deficit is an accounting fiction. Would he insist on balance where today the U.S. runs a surplus? Should Americans stop selling overseas in such cases?

Trump also blamed NAFTA for emptying “our states of our manufacturing and our jobs.” Actually, increasing productivity has resulted in lower manufacturing employment all over the world, and those job losses started well before NAFTA. Surely he does not believe America would be better off if Mexico was poorer. The right strategy, which he touches on elsewhere, is to reform U.S. government economic policies to improve Americans’ competitiveness.

Trump closed his talk with a promise to view “the world through the clear lens of American interests. I will be America’s greatest defender and most loyal champion.” No doubt his competitors would claim the same, but actually doing so would be a useful change. With the bulk of the “defense” budget devoted to protecting other nations, most American lives lost in attempting to build other countries, and most terrorist attacks growing out of promiscuous meddling in other states’ conflicts, a focus on U.S. interests is long overdue.

Of course, those backing a policy of constant war were not impressed with Trump’s effort. For instance, Hillary Clinton — who backed war in the Balkans, voted for the Iraq invasion, and was architect of the misbegotten Libya disaster — denounced “the long list of dangerous national security proposals” that Trump had put forth. How they could be worse than her own she left unexplained.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who never misses a chance to push for military intervention somewhere, complained: “Ronald Reagan must be rolling over in his grave.” Yet Trump’s perspective on foreign policy is far closer than Graham’s to that of Reagan. The latter used the military only three times and toward modest ends. Reagan recognized that he’d made a mistake entering the Lebanese civil war and pulled out after the suicide bombings rather than launch a multi-year nation-building mission. Moreover, despite his hawkish reputation, Reagan genuinely abhorred the prospect of war, which motivated his cooperation with the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev and support for missile defense. I knew Ronald Reagan and he was no Neoconservative.

No one knows how President Trump would actually govern. But his foreign policy sounds a lot like his domestic policy: inconsistent, contradictory, ill-formed, incomplete. But still far better than those of his main rivals. If he wins the GOP nomination, for the first time in years the presidential race might yield a genuine debate over foreign policy.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan and a Senior Fellow in International Religious Persecution with the Institute on Religion and Public Policy.

Monetary Policies Misunderstood

Steve H. Hanke

Ever since the U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) began to consider raising the federal funds rate, which it eventually did in December 2015, a cottage industry has grown up around taper talk. Will the Fed raise rates, or won’t it? Each time a consensus congeals around the answer to that question, all the world’s markets either soar or dive.

This obsession with taper talk — the interest rate story — is simple, but strange. Indeed, it is misguided — wrongheaded. So, why the obsession? It is, in part, the result of a Keynesian hangover. The Keynesians focus on interest rates. The mainstream macro model that is widely in use today is referred to as a “New Keynesian” model. The thrust of monetary policy in this model is entirely captured by changes in current and expected interest rates (the price of money). Money is nowhere to be found, however.

The misguided focus on interest rates not only poses a problem for those who are observing the current economic environment and formulating expectations, but also for those who are interpreting important economic and market events of the past. For example, Nobelist and Keynesian Robert Shiller, in his famous book, Irrational Exuberance, comes to the conclusion that the stock market crash in 1929 was caused by the Fed’s excessively restrictive monetary policy. That’s because Shiller focuses on interest rates and thinks that the Fed’s increase in the discount rate in August 1929 signaled monetary tightening. But, as Elmus Wicker carefully documents in Wall Street, the Federal Reserve and Stock Market Speculation: A Retrospective, which was recently published by the Center for Financial Stability in New York, the Fed was accommodative, not restrictive, prior to the 1929 stock market crash.

This interest rate obsession is amazing, particularly since Keynes dedicates quite a few pages in A Tract on Monetary Reform (1923) to money and its role in national income determination. Then, in his two-volume 1930 work, A Treatise on Money, Keynes devotes a great deal of space to banks and their important role in creating money. In particular, Keynes separates money into two classes: state money and bank money. State money is the high-powered money that is produced by central banks. Bank money is produced by commercial banks through deposit creation.

Keynes spends many pages in The Treatise dealing with bank money. This isn’t surprising because, as Keynes makes clear, bank money was much larger than state money in 1930. Well, not much has changed since then. Today, bank money accounts for almost 82 percent of the broad money supply (M4) in the United Kingdom.

We should keep our eyes on money broadly measured (state, plus bank money), and money properly measured (when available, Divisia, not simple sum measures). A monetary approach to national income determination is what counts over the medium term. The link between growth in the money supply and nominal GDP is unambiguous and overwhelming. Never mind. There remain plenty of deniers of basic principles and centuries of clear evidence.

Since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, there has been a dramatic change in monetary policies in most parts of the world. Bank regulations have been tightened and supervision has become much more severe. Large-scale bank recapitalizations and deleveraging have become the order of the day. These policies, which impact the production of bank money, have been ultra-tight and procyclical.

In an attempt to expand the total supply of broad money, many central banks have had to engage in quantitative easing (QE). This state money policy is ultra-loose and countercyclical. But, given that state money accounts for a relatively small portion of broad money, broad money in many countries has been growing relatively slowly. So, overall monetary conditions have been relatively tight and modestly procyclical. In consequence, real GDP growth and inflation, which constitute nominal GDP growth, have come in below their trend rates.

The accompanying table shows the changes in state money, bank money, and broad money for the ten largest economic regions in the world. The U.S., Japan, the Eurozone, the U.K., and Korea lead the field in terms of QE. All have ramped up their production of state money. This can be observed by noting that the proportion of state money to broad money jumps up from September 2008 to January 2016 in these countries. For China, Canada, Brazil, India, and Russia, the picture is different. The share of state money to broad money declined, indicating that they did not engage in QE. When we look at bank money, the situation in the U.S., Japan, and the U.K. has been stunning. For these countries, the amount of bank money in the economy was lower in January 2016 than in September 2008. Talk about tight bank money policies. It’s not surprising that the U.S., Japan, and the U.K. embraced QE early in the game. If they had not done so, the growth in broad money would have been much more anemic than it was, and deep recessions would have ensued.

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The Eurozone arrived at the QE party a bit late. But, it arrived nevertheless. Now, European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi and QE face a wave of criticism. Many in Germany, for example, oppose QE. Many even argue that the ECB (and other central banks) are out of ammunition. This is nonsense.

Let’s take a look at one QE operation that would directly boost the money supply without increasing the government’s net debt. The process begins with the government borrowing from commercial banks. Short-dated government paper is transferred to banks. In exchange, the deposit balance of the government is credited.

This new government deposit is not counted as a part of the money supply. The government then uses its bank deposits (which are not considered money) to purchase long-dated government bonds from the non-bank private sector. These transactions add to the non-bank private sector’s bank deposits and directly to the money supply, because bank deposits in the name of private persons and entities are money. So, the quantity of money is directly increased by this debt market operation, and an equivalent amount of long-dated government debt is reduced — literally eliminated.

Of course, the amount of short-dated government debt increases when the government initially borrows from the commercial banks. Accordingly, these debt market operations leave the government’s total net debt unchanged, but it does change the composition of the government’s debt, leaving it with a shorter average duration.

So, forget claims that central banks are out of ammunition. Again, the reason that most come to that incorrect conclusion is that they focus on interest rates.

Moving from the broad picture to the U.S., we see in the accompanying table that there have been three QEs. Their impact on state, bank, and broad money is shown in the table. Each QE was associated with a significant increase in state money, which offset, to some degree, the negative “contributions” of bank money to the total supply of broad money.

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The accompanying chart traces out the monetary liabilities of the Fed and profiles the course of state money since the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. By the summer of 2014, QE 3 had run its course, and the level of state money has remained stable.

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The last chart depicts the huge expansion of state money. That’s shown by the widening of the green area since the Lehman Brothers collapse. Although expansive, the QE has hardly been enough to offset the tightness in bank money. In consequence, broad money has only been growing at a 1.72 percent annual growth rate since October 2008. So, it’s not surprising that nominal GDP has grown relatively slowly and that we have not witnessed the inflation surge predicted by many who were only watching the Fed’s balance sheet balloon.

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To say that money and monetary policies are misunderstood is an understatement. What’s worrying is that the political class does not have the faintest understanding of the importance of bank money. Their populist bank-bashing rhetoric and regulations are putting a drag on the growth of bank money and economic activity.

Steve H. Hanke is a professor of Applied Economics at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.

Dump Our Double-Dealing, Thuggish ‘Allies’

Ted Galen Carpenter

It is questionable enough for the United States to maintain its network of alliances in a world without a superpower threat to its security. Indeed, one could argue that even during the Cold War, the United States was the most secure great power in history. How many other great powers ever enjoyed the luxury of two oceanic moats on its flanks and nothing more than weak and friendly neighbors on its other borders? Most confronted geostrategic situations that did not even faintly resemble such a benign environment. Moreover, although the Soviet Union was a credible military challenger, in the end, it proved to be a much weaker and more fragile great power than the image that members of America’s national-security bureaucracy had created.

It was a logical and moral stretch to justify some of the alliances that Washington forged with repulsive, autocratic regimes to wage the struggle against the Soviet Union. Decent Americans had to restrain their gag reflexes to see their government  support the likes of the Shah of Iran, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, South Korea’s Chun Doo-hwan, or the Saudi royal family, given the massive human-rights abuses those regimes committed. With the dissolution of the USSR at the end of 1991, and the disappearance of even an arguable existential threat to America’s security, maintaining close relationships with corrupt, murderous autocrats became harder and harder to justify.

Today, two such relationships should have especially become acute embarrassments for Washington. One is the decades-old strategic and economic partnership with Saudi Arabia (and indirectly with Riyadh’s smaller Gulf client states). The other is the multilayered partnership with fellow NATO member Turkey. From both the standpoint of American interests and American values, those associations cry out for termination.

I’ve written previously about Saudi Arabia’s appalling human-rights record (including the imprisonment, torture and execution of peaceful critics) and the support that members of the Saudi elite have given to Sunni extremist movements throughout the greater Middle East. Either factor alone should be enough to disqualify Riyadh as a friend and ally of the United States. Taken together, that behavior should easily put the Saudis on the U.S. policy blacklist. Although it would be an overstatement to say that Saudi Arabia created the Sunni branch of the current terrorist threat, Riyadh’s behavior certainly has exacerbated the problem. As my colleague Emma Ashford  points out, the Saudis are pursuing the interests of their country as they see them, whatever the impact on America’s security. At one time, it was possible to make the argument that U.S. and Saudi interests greatly overlapped. But it is getting ever harder to make that argument. Indeed, American and Saudi interests (and well as values) seemingly now conflict far more often than they coincide.

Saudi Arabia may be America’s most odious ally in the neighborhood, but Turkey seems determined to be an increasingly close second.

The Saudi alliance is utterly contrary to basic American values. There is also growing doubt whether it serves legitimate American security interests in any meaningful fashion. That is especially true as Washington’s Middle East policy has moved from its Cold War focus of keeping its superpower rival from dominating the world’s oil supply to the amorphous goal of promoting regional stability. What the latter phrase has come to mean is America’s entanglement in the vicious Sunni-Shiite blood feud between Saudi Arabia and its clients and Iran and its clients for regional preeminence. To be blunt, we do not have a dog in that fight, but the long-standing alliance with Riyadh drags us into that ugly conflict to our detriment. Terminating the alliance is part of an essential exit strategy.

Saudi Arabia may be America’s most odious ally in the neighborhood, but Turkey seems determined to be an increasingly close second. I’ve written previously about the mounting abuses being committed by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Those abuses are characterized by a shocking authoritarianism at home, which has included the harassment and imprisonment of political opponents and the evisceration of a once free press. Nor has Ankara’s external behavior been what one should expect from a prudent, reliable ally. From the flirtation of Turkish security personnel with ISIS and other Islamic extremist groups to the reckless decision to shoot down a Russian military aircraft that had strayed into Turkish airspace for all of seventeen seconds, Turkey has shown itself to be an irresponsible and untrustworthy ally.

In a previous National Interest article, I asked whether the time had come to expel Turkey from NATO. Developments since the publication of that article indicate that the time definitely has arrived. Not only has Erdogan’s domestic authoritarianism grown even worse, he is now  demanding that fellow European members of NATO crack down on their citizens if they dare mock the Turkish tyrant.

Enough is enough. NATO is supposed to be more than an amoral security alliance, especially in the post-Cold War world. It is supposed to be (and portrays itself as) an alliance of enlightened democracies. Linking America’s identity to that of an increasingly corrupt, opportunistic, and thuggish Turkey, absent an utterly dire threat to our security, betrays this country’s most basic values. It is time to give the other NATO members a stark choice: either Ankara goes, or we go.

The American people face the necessity for similar soul searching regarding both the Saudi and Turkish alliances. It is one thing to put up with an odious ally when America’s vital interests are in mortal danger and the ally in question is crucial to the defense of those interests. America even allied itself with the genocidal monster Josef Stalin to deal with the threat that Adolf Hitler posed to the republic’s freedom and independence. But when only secondary or peripheral interests are at stake, it is shameful to forge or sustain such relationships. Washington’s alliances with Ankara and Riyadh were questionable even during earlier eras. They have long outlived whatever usefulness they may once have had.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at The National Interest, is the author of ten books and more than 600 articles on international affairs.

Ending Welfare as We Know It

Michael D. Tanner

On June 5, Swiss voters will go to the polls to decide whether to eliminate many of the nation’s social-welfare programs and replace them with a guaranteed national income for all citizens. Not long after the Swiss vote, Finland will embark on a similar though partial experiment, replacing welfare benefits with a guaranteed income for both national and regional sample populations. In the Netherlands, at least four cities, Utrecht, Tilberg, Groningen, and Wageningen, are in the process of designing their own experiments. And in Canada, the latest provincial budget in Ontario promised to work with researchers this year to come up with a design for a pilot program. Great Britain is also actively debating the concept.

Most conservatives and libertarians in the United States would dismiss the idea of a guaranteed national income (GNI) out of hand. Typical European socialism, would be the reaction. The fevered brainchild of Bernie Sanders.

Actually, though, free-market thinkers from F. A. Hayek and Robert Nozick to Milton Friedman and Charles Murray have long been open to some form of GNI.

Americans need to watch closely some promising experiments in Europe and Canada.

Instead of tinkering around the edges of the welfare state, trimming a billion dollars here, adding a work requirement there, why not simply abolish the entire thing? Get rid of welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, unemployment insurance, and all the rest. Murray would even throw in Medicare and Social Security. Replace it all with a simple cash grant to every American whose income falls below the stipulated level, and then leave the recipients alone to manage their own lives free from government interference.

Such a program would be simpler and far more transparent than the hodgepodge of existing anti-poverty programs. The federal government alone, for instance, currently funds more than 100 separate anti-poverty programs, overseen by nine different cabinet departments and six independent agencies. With different, often contradictory, eligibility levels, work requirements, and other restrictions, our current welfare system is a nightmare of unaccountability that fails to effectively help people transition out of these programs and escape poverty.

A GNI would also treat poor people as adults, expecting them to budget and manage their money like everyone else. Currently, most welfare programs parcel out payments, not to the poor themselves, but to those who provide services to the poor, such as landlords or health-care providers. But shouldn’t the poor decide for themselves how much of their income should be allocated to rent or food or education or transportation? Perhaps they may even choose to save more or invest in learning new skills that will help them earn more in the future. You can’t expect the poor to behave responsibly if they are never given any responsibility.

Moreover, giving the poor responsibility for managing their own lives will mean more choices and opportunities. That, in turn, will break up geographic concentrations of poverty that can isolate the poor from the rest of society and reinforce the worst aspects of the poverty culture. And, by taking the money away from the special interests that support the welfare industry, it would break up the coalitions that inevitably push for greater spending.

A GNI would also provide far better incentives when it comes to work, marriage, and savings. Because current welfare benefits are phased out as income increases, they in effect create high marginal tax rates that can discourage work or marriage. Studies have shown that a person on welfare who takes a job can lose as much as 95 cents out of every dollar he earns, through taxes and forgone benefits. Poor people, by and large, are not lazy, but they also aren’t stupid. If they can’t earn more through work than from welfare, many will choose to remain on welfare. In contrast, a guaranteed national income would not penalize someone who left welfare for work.

And a guaranteed national income would also do away with much of the government’s excuse for regulating the economy. Minimum-wage laws would instantly become obsolete, to cite just one example. Moreover, a GNI could minimize the economic disruptions that occur from automation and free trade. There would be less opportunity for demagoguery on the American political scene and less resistance to liberalizing the economy.

A no-brainer, right? Well, maybe not.

As with most government programs, what sounds good in theory tends to break down when one looks at practical questions of implementation. There are serious trade-offs among cost, simplicity, and incentive structure. Attempts to solve problems in one area would raise questions in others.

If everyone in the United States were to receive a benefit sufficient to bring him above the poverty threshold, it would cost roughly $4 trillion, more than our entire current federal budget. Clearly that’s not affordable, so some limit would have to be put on who could receive the benefit. And it would likely be distributed through some form of negative income tax, as Friedman advocated.

But that would re-create many of the same incentive problems we see in the current welfare systems. Phasing out the benefit would, as in the current system, impose high effective marginal tax rates, which discourage work. A negative income tax would also import all the complexity, fraud, and abuse of the current U.S. tax code. Say goodbye to simple and transparent.

Once we’ve established the principle of guaranteeing people money, we will still be constantly haggling over the amount.

Moreover, as with other government programs, there would be constant pressure to expand benefits. How long would it be before we heard that no one can live on whatever benefit the GNI provides? Once we’ve established the principle of guaranteeing people money, we will still be constantly haggling over the amount. Already many on the left call for a GNI, not to replace the welfare state, but as an additional benefit on top of existing programs. Grafting a guaranteed income on top of the current failed system would simply double down on welfare dependency.

Those things which make the GNI look so good on the drawing board fade away when you consider how to put it into practice.

Still, advocates of free markets and welfare reform should not dismiss the idea out of hand. Rather, we should watch the experiments in Europe and Canada with a wary but open mind. In the meantime, there are small steps that can move welfare policy in the right direction. Programs should be consolidated, in-kind benefits should be de-emphasized, and outcome measures should focus more squarely on whether this system actually helps people attain some level of prosperity through hard work.

The current welfare state is a clear failure. A guaranteed national income may or may not provide a better alternative. Either way, it’s a debate whose time should be coming.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of Going for Broke: Deficits, Debt, and the Entitlement Crisis.

North Korea Threatens Fifth Nuclear Test: U.S. Should Offer to Swap Military Exercises for Nuke Halt

Doug Bandow

Whatever the issue and occasion, North Korean ambitions loom large. Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong recently opined that the confrontation between America and his nation “will lead to very catastrophic results, not only for the two countries but for the whole entire world as well.” Actually, most of the world doesn’t much notice the North and wouldn’t be particularly affected by conflict there.

Nevertheless, confrontation would be bad for the two countries and those nations neighboring the peninsula. Everyone would benefit if international relationships involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea became more normal.

With the backdrop of a claimed submarine-launched missile test and threatened fifth nuclear test, Ri was interviewed by the Associated Press. He defended the right of his nation to possess nukes and blamed American hostility for forcing the DPRK to create a nuclear deterrent in self-defense. The latest missile test, he said, gives the North “one more means for powerful nuclear attack.”

Foreign Minister Ri’s remarks suggest the possibility of at least reducing the threat posed by North Korea. The administration should take up the challenge.

While expressing his purported concern for the “whole entire world,” Ri suggested a potential deal between North Korea and America: “Stop the nuclear war exercises in the Korean Peninsula, then we should also cease our nuclear tests.” It’s an idea worth pursuing.

Pyongyang is unlikely to ever agree to fully disarm. It has spent too much developing nuclear weapons. They are the only reason other nations pay attention to the otherwise small, impoverished nation. Nukes also offer security against the world’s greatest military power, which has demonstrated a propensity for ousting the regimes of largely defenseless antagonists.

Nevertheless, there are more limited steps which Pyongyang might be willing to take, having already established its nuclear bona fides. Halting additional nuclear tests is one. Perhaps other restrictions on nuclear production and development.

Ending military exercises with South Korea would be a small price for Washington to pay. In fact, America’s conventional military presence on the peninsula is superfluous, a relic of the past. The Republic of Korea long ago surpassed the North on every measure of power save military. And the latter failure is merely a matter of choice.

The ROK began to take off economically during the 1960s, under the current president’s father, Park Chung-hee. Today the South possesses around 40 times the GDP of the DPRK. South Korea also has twice the population, a vast technological edge, and far greater international reach and support.

Although Seoul’s forces are outnumbered by those of the North, the ROK possesses newer equipment, larger reserves, superior naval and air forces, and a much bigger industrial base. If the South wanted to match North Korea man for man and tank for tank, it could do so. But it doesn’t need to, with the U.S. treating South Korea as a defense dependent. From Seoul’s standpoint, why not let Washington do the job?

It is not, however, in America’s interest to do so.

Of course, the ROK is not alone. The U.S. is surrounded by “allies” constantly demanding additional support and reassurance. The Europeans possess a larger collective GDP and population than America but still expect to be subsidized and coddled. Only now, 70 years after the end of World War II, has Japan authorized its forces to aid those of America if the latter are attacked. The Saudis are irritated that the Obama administration has engaged Iran, the most important Mideast state. And so it goes.

Washington’s security guarantee is a bad deal for the U.S. Which creates the opportunity for a win-win agreement with North Korea. America should bring home its conventional forces. Then South Korean forces would be on call in the event of war. Thus, military exercises on the peninsula would serve no useful purpose.

So offer to trade away the maneuvers. Start by proposing to end exercises in exchange for the North dropping nuclear tests. Then suggest troop withdrawals. In return the DPRK might end missile tests, back its conventional units away from the border, and freeze nuclear activities. It is impossible to know what is possible without pursuing talks.

If Pyongyang was willing to deal, America could add a little extra incentive: diplomatic relations. There is no good reason not to have regular contact between the two nations. For the North it would be gaining a measure of respect from the global superpower. For the U.S. it would be opening a small window into a mysterious system, allowing policymakers to at least see through a glass darkly. A bonus would be providing the DPRK with a way to contact Washington without having to arrest another errant American for one alleged crime or another.

Of course, Ri might have been speaking out of turn, though that seems unlikely in such a centralized system. The gambit might turn out to be a propaganda ploy, with the Kim regime unwilling to follow through. Pyongyang might quickly violate any agreement that it reached.

All possible. But unknowable without taking up Ri’s challenge.

And no one has a better solution. Preventive war is, or at least should be, unthinkable. The latest sanctions have bitten more deeply than before, but remain inadequate to force change in Pyongyang. And nothing suggests that Beijing is prepared to jettison its unpleasant ally. At the moment, all Washington can do is watch as the DPRK continues to test nuclear weapons and missiles.

Three presidents have struggled mightily over what to do about a potentially nuclear North. So far, Pyongyang has been an insoluble problem. But Foreign Minister Ri’s remarks suggest the possibility of at least reducing the threat posed by North Korea. The administration should take up the challenge.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan.

Saudi Arabia Is a Good Ally? Get Real

Emma Ashford

President Obama’s awkward recent visit to Saudi Arabia reopened debate over whether the Kingdom is a good U.S. ally or not. Certainly, there is no shortage of commentators arguing in favor of a stronger U.S.-Saudi partnership, calling for Obama to reassure the Saudis and arguing that the alliance is vital to U.S. national security.

Unfortunately, such arguments ignore the many problems in the relationship, which has become extremely fraught. Congressional criticism of Saudi Arabia, once almost unthinkable, occurs with increasing frequency. Recent moves by Congress to pass legislation that would permit relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue the Saudi government have been met with fierce criticism from the Gulf, and an explicit threat by the Saudis to sell more than $750 million in U.S. assets if the bill passes. Nor is the White House immune to this trend. The Obama administration opposes the 9/11 bill, the president’s reservations about the U.S.-Saudi alliance are well-known, describing it in a recent foreign policy interview as “complicated.”

These tensions reflect a basic reality: Saudi Arabia may once have been a good ally, but today the relationship is toxic. Saudi actions are more often negative for U.S. policy objectives than positive. Rather than repairing the relationship, U.S. policymakers should reduce support for Saudi Arabia’s regional agenda.

It may be a cliché, but like many people in deteriorating relationships, supporters of the Saudi alliance too often focus on the good times while ignoring the bad ones.

In fact, even the use of the term “ally” to describe Saudi Arabia is inaccurate. Despite a long history of U.S. military support — including U.S. defense of the Kingdom during the first Gulf War — and cooperation on a variety of issues, there is no formal treaty alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Yet, the use of the word “ally” is commonplace among those who argue that the Kingdom is a helpful, often indispensable partner for America’s Middle East policies. Indeed, historically, this was often true. The Saudis were staunchly anti-communist and partnered with the United States on various occasions to push back Soviet influence in the region, most prominently during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which was interpreted (incorrectly) in Washington at the time as the beginning of a Soviet drive toward warm water ports in the Persian Gulf.

Saudi Arabia’s influential position in OPEC as the world’s swing producer of oil has also been beneficial to the United States in the past, though recent advances in shale drilling technology and continued low oil prices are reducing this influence. And in more recent years, Saudi Arabia has indeed been a helpful resource in the fight against terrorism.

But that isn’t the whole story. Despite the Saudi government’s participation in anti-terrorism, Saudi citizens remain a major source of terror financing. As U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes recently noted, the Saudi government has too often paid “insufficient attention” to preventing the flow of funds to extremist groups. At the same time, the Saudi government itself spends billions of dollars exporting the fundamentalist form of Sunni Islam known as Wahabbism. Saudi-funded madrassas in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere have helped to produce the foot soldiers of violent jihadi movements from Al Qaeda to ISIL. Saudi Arabia may not be a direct sponsor of terror, but its citizens and policies indirectly provide the fuel for terrorist groups.

These problems have persisted in recent years: Over the last five years the Saudi government, focused on the overthrow of the Assad regime, did little to stop citizens from funding extremist groups inside Syria. Nor are they — despite claims to be the lynchpin of an anti-ISIL movement — contributing much to that fight. Though Gulf Cooperation Council countries initially participated in airstrikes against ISIL, military contributions largely ceased following the Saudi and U.A.E. intervention in Yemen’s civil war.

Proponents of a stronger partnership often obscure these issues by arguing that Iran remains the major threat to American interests in the region, necessitating continued U.S. support for Saudi Arabia. And it’s certainly true that Iran is a state sponsor of terror, and often a destabilizing force in the region. Yet this focus on Iran results in a form of “whataboutism,” a way to excuse the fact that Saudi Arabia is also, at times, destabilizing. In effect, we are told that Saudi Arabia may be bad, but Iran is worse!

This argument cannot actually excuse Saudi actions. In just the last few years, extensive Saudi involvement in Syria has worsened that conflict, as they provided arms and financing to a variety of rebel groups. A Saudi-led campaign has transformed the war in Yemen from a civil conflict into a major humanitarian crisis, one which has strengthened Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Meanwhile, the recent Saudi decision to withdraw aid from the government of Lebanon may be excellent public relations material in the state’s ongoing campaign against Iranian influence, but the practical effectwill be to strengthen Hezbollah and weaken the ability of the Lebanese government to respond to the refugee crisis. On almost every front, Saudi Arabia is helping not to mend the post-Arab Spring Middle East, but to destabilize it.

Another argument for stronger partnership — that America’s support for Saudi Arabia is necessary because, otherwise, Iran is poised to dominate the region — is similarly misleading. The main basis for this narrative is Baghdad’s improved relationship with Tehran, itself less a result of Iranian aggression than of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s military spending is almost double that of Iran — $632 billion to $397 billion in 2015– and the Kingdom can claim friendship or common cause with the vast majority of the states in the region. Iran’s only major regional allies are war-torn Iraq, portions of tiny Lebanon and the besieged Assad regime in Syria.

Rather than strengthening the relationship with Saudi Arabia, therefore, U.S. policymakers should work with the Saudis where it is appropriate and avoid entanglement on other issues. This doesn’t necessarily imply closer cooperation with Iran. While the nuclear deal improved U.S.-Iranian relations, and there is potential for cooperation on issues like Syria, Iran has a long way to go before Washington considers it a viable partner.

Yet supporting Saudi Arabia’s quest for regional dominance, as many supporters of a stronger relationship have advocated, is likely to undermine many of America’s goals in the region. In encouraging the Saudi government to overextend itself — at the same time as it faces continued low oil prices, economic turmoil and sectarian tensions both domestically and abroad — Washington may be hastening domestic instability in the Kingdom, an outcome that is good for no one.

By providing arms sales, diplomatic and technical services for Saudi Arabia’s conflicts, the United States enables the very behavior which is so detrimental to regional stability. This is the rationale behind the bill advanced by Senators Rand Paul and Chris Murphy, which aims to limit munitions transfers to Saudi Arabia in protest of the humanitarian costs of the war in Yemen. In this and similar cases, officials should seriously consider whether our provision of arms or aid to Saudi Arabia is good for American interests or just Saudi ones.

Despite the negative press, Obama’s ambivalence towards Riyadh is the right approach. If Saudi Arabia has at times been a good ally, it has also often been a bad one. It may be a cliché, but like many people in deteriorating relationships, supporters of the Saudi alliance too often focus on the good times while ignoring the bad ones. Today, Saudi Arabia is not a good ally. U.S. policymakers would be wise to acknowledge this, and to focus on creating a less entangled, more transactional relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Emma Ashford is a Research Fellow in Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. She specializes in the foreign policy of petrostates, in particular Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. Might Be Better Off Cutting Ties with Saudi Arabia

Emma Ashford

When President Barack Obama visited the Gulf this week to meet with leaders from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, the big question on many people’s minds was whether he could successfully repair fraying relationships with allies he has publicly referred to as ” free-riders.”

That was the wrong question. Instead, the President’s visit offered a chance to consider whether we should be repairing these ties, and whether our continuing support for Saudi Arabia’s increasingly assertive, destabilizing foreign policy is actually good for U.S. interests.

It cannot be denied that the U.S.-Saudi relationship has soured in recent years, with officials in both countries now openly admitting to cracks in the alliance. The declining relationship is most frequently attributed to a choice by the Obama administration to distance itself from Riyadh. Certainly, the obvious distaste with which the President has discussed Saudi Arabia’s archaic and repressive domestic politics — most recently his assertion that “a country cannot function in the modern world when it is repressing half of its population” — adds credence to this argument.

Yet the deterioration in the U.S.-Saudi relationship has been building for far longer, as many of the common interests which bound the two countries together have shifted or disappeared. Growing U.S. shale production and continued low oil prices have reduced American reliance on Saudi influence over the global oil market, while the collapse of the Soviet Union removed the need for a strong Middle Eastern partner to fight communism.

Our close association could undermine America’s role in the Middle East.

Even on the still-pertinent issue of counterterrorism, though there has been some effective coordination between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia since 2001, such cooperation has often been undermined by the Saudis’ continued spread of extreme forms of Islam, as well as the Kingdom’s unwillingness or inability to more effectively interdict its citizens’ financial support for terrorism.

Indeed, much of America’s perceived abandonment of the Saudi alliance can actually be better understood simply as the rational pursuit of our own strategic interests. It’s simply that — unlike during the Cold War — our interests today often differ from Saudi interests. The Iranian nuclear deal may have been less than ideal for Saudi Arabia, for example, yet it was a major diplomatic achievement for the U.S., helping to prevent the spread of nuclear proliferation in the region.

Likewise, Saudi Arabia had a vested interest in seeing the Iran-friendly Bashar al-Assad regime overthrown in Syria. The American refusal to intervene militarily in Syria doesn’t actually represent a rejection of Saudi Arabia, but rather a strategic calculation on the part of the Obama administration that such action would undermine American interests in the region.

Even with this growing strategic divide between the two countries, the U.S. often still reflexively supports many Saudi regional goals and actions. In the last year alone, the Obama administration has delivered a whopping $33 billion in weaponry to the Gulf. And the U.S. is providing logistical, intelligence and targeting support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, even though that campaign is undermining a decade of U.S. counterterrorism work against al-Qaeda.

Unfortunately, Yemen is not unique; there are many other cases where America’s close association with Saudi Arabia may actually undermine our security. Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival, Iran, is often accurately accused of playing a destabilizing role in the Middle East. Yet Saudi leaders’ inclination to view every foreign policy problem through the lens of this rivalry has in recent years led them to undertake similarly destabilizing actions.

These include not only the massive quantities of weapons they funneled to various rebel groups during the early years of the Syrian civil war, but also Saudi involvement in post-Arab Spring crises in Yemen, Bahrain and Egypt. More recently, the Saudi government — expressing concerns about Hezbollah — withdrew a $4 billion aid package from the government of Lebanon, already stressed by political dysfunction and the regional refugee crisis. In doing so, it ignored entreaties from U.S. officials to consider the high likelihood of regional instability should the Lebanese government fail.

Our typically close support of Saudi Arabia can even enable this bad behavior. For example, it is doubtful whether Saudi Arabia could have undertaken its disastrous Yemen intervention without U.S. technical support. By providing such support to the Kingdom, U.S. policymakers in many ways encourage the very Saudi foreign policy assertiveness — known as the Salman Doctrine — that is so damaging to regional stability, and therefore to U.S. interests.

Ultimately, our strategic differences with Riyadh will only continue to grow, a fact that the President’s valedictory tour cannot change. In the long-run, our close association with Saudi Arabia is actually likely to undermine America’s role in the Middle East, particularly if the Saudis continue their current destabilizing approach to regional politics. Rather than debating how to repair the relationship, therefore, America’s leaders would be better to ask whether it should be repaired at all.

Emma Ashford is a research fellow at the Cato Institute.

Will President Trump Fill His Cabinet with Paul Manaforts?

Nat Hentoff and Nick Hentoff

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump, said in a recent interview that he thinks the business mogul “will make sure he’s surrounded by nothing but the highest-caliber talent if he occupies the West Wing … I’m convinced he will have the best Cabinet that’s ever been assembled by a president.”

This is a mantra frequently recited by Trump supporters who seem oblivious to his serial business failures and habitually fraudulent business practices. They confuse Trump’s branding success, which can be attributed to his impressive marketing skills, with business management skills.

So let’s test Collins’ theory that President Trump can be expected to fill his administration with only the “highest-caliber talent” by examining the track record of the man Trump recently hired to oversee the management of his presidential campaign: Paul Manafort.

Manafort has made a fortune representing some of the worst people in the world during his four-decade career as a Washington, D.C., fixer and lobbyist. His clients have included a sordid assortment of kleptocratic dictators, corrupt narco states, Mafia-connected oligarchs and African warlords who use child soldiers, systemic rape and mass starvation as weapons of war.

A recent article in The Daily Beast by Betsy Woodruff and Tim Mak, “Top Trump Aide Led the ‘Torturers’ Lobby,’” noted that “a 1992 report from the Center For Public Integrity listed (Manafort’s firm) as one of the lobbying firms to profit the most by doing business with foreign governments that violated their people’s human rights.”

Threats to U.S. national security and the integrity of the political process aren’t obstacles to Manafort’s personal enrichment. Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff reported this week that Manafort was investigated by the FBI for his representation of an American front organization of the ISI, Pakistan’s notorious intelligence service. According to Isikoff, FBI and court documents show that Manifort’s lucrative lobbying contract was approved at the highest levels of the ISI, whose goal was “to secretly influence U.S. policy toward the disputed territory of Kashmir.”

Isikoff quotes a former Pakstani official who met with Manafort and says the lobbyist knew that his fees were being paid by the Pakistani government (which would have required Manafort to register with the DOJ as an agent of a foreign government). The official also told Isikoff he discussed with Manafort funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to members of Congress.

Isikoff noted the irony of Manafort being selected to lead the campaign of “a presidential candidate who repeatedly decries the influence of Washington lobbyists and denounces the manipulation of U.S. policy by foreign governments.”

Manafort was also at the center of the Reagan administration’s Housing and Urban Development scandal in the 1980s.

A 1989 article in The Washington Post reported that during testimony before a congressional committee, Manafort grudgingly admitted that he engaged in influence peddling to obtain millions of dollars in low-income housing rehabilitation grants to fund real estate projects in New Jersey, Connecticut, Georgia and Puerto Rico.

Manafort used his connections as a Republican Party insider to obtain the grants by simply calling a high ranking HUD official. Then-Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) would later observe that “(f)or some (well-connected) individuals, obtaining these scarce rent subsidy funds was as easy as phoning in an order to Domino’s for a pizza.”

A 1989 United Press International article reported that Manafort formed a partnership to purchase a dilapidated 326-unit apartment complex in Upper Deerfield Township, New Jersey, two weeks before the New Jersey Public Housing Authority was notified that HUD had approved funding. Manafort admitted he received advance notice that HUD would fund his project, which the township’s mayor described as “a horrible waste of taxpayers’ money.”

The partnership eventually made $31 million on this project and an additional $3.3 million by selling the federal tax credits to investors. Manafort also took $326,000 in personal fees for obtaining the grants, which amounted to the equivalent of more than $1,000 an hour for the time he expended.

While Manafort and his partners got rich, the low-income tenants the program was supposed to benefit had their rents doubled and saw no improvement in their living conditions. A 1989 article in The Los Angeles Times reported that more than two years after being acquired by Manafort and his partners, the apartment complex “still resembles a slum.”

The abuse of the program by Manafort and others was so rampant that HUD Secretary Jack Kemp was forced to suspend the program. Although Manafort and his insider cronies rigged the HUD grant system in their favor, he defended his actions by claiming he followed the rules. Such a defense should sound familiar to Trump supporters. The irony should give them pause.

The question everyone should be asking is, will this be the way President Trump’s appointees administer government programs? Put another way, will Trump’s appointees be channeling the spirit of Abraham Lincoln or Gordon Gekko?

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow. Nick Hentoff is a criminal defense and civil liberties attorney in New York City.

Russia and NATO Meet: Time for Allies to Call off Mini-Cold War with Moscow

Doug Bandow

The NATO-Russia Council met in Brussels for the first time in nearly two years. “We are not afraid of dialogue,” announced alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Alas, the talks didn’t get very far. Afterward he explained: “it was reconfirmed that we disagree on the facts, on the narrative and the responsibilities in and around Ukraine.” Indeed, he added, “there were profound disagreements.”

Of course, this should surprise no one. After all, Russia is in a mini-Cold War with the U.S. and Europe over Ukraine. A meeting, even one that ran longer than expected, wasn’t going to change anyone’s opinion. Still, Stoltenberg emphasized the importance of “open channels, for political dialogue, for predictability, for transparency” at a time of increased tensions. Also on the agenda was discussing how to reduce risks from military activities, like when a Russian plane buzzed a U.S. destroyer last week.

However, the issue of Moscow’s relations with the West really doesn’t belong with NATO. Only political decisions in the respective capitals can significantly improve ties. And that won’t happen without a reassessment of everyone’s respective national interests. Should the West maintain permanent confrontation with Russia over Ukraine?

None of the allies has made a security commitment to Kiev. Indeed, Ukraine is not a member of NATO for a reason: few if any of the 28 members are willing to go to war with Russia over its neighbor. It turns out the Dutch aren’t even willing to approve a treaty initiating closer economic and political relations, and they probably aren’t alone in Europe.

Dialogue should continue, with the EU and U.S. prepared to negotiate a deal normalizing relations.

Nor does the infamous Budapest Memorandum, which formalized Kiev’s disposal of Soviet nuclear-tipped missiles left in Ukraine when the Evil Empire dissolved, create any meaningful allied obligations. The signatory powers, most notably Washington, agreed to go to the United Nations if another country threatened to use nuclear weapons against Kiev. And Ukraine still signed.

Should the U.S. and Europe treat Kiev as if it was a member of NATO, creating a de facto Article 5 commitment to go to war? There’s a reason the alliance has a membership process: to decide which states warrant inclusion. One criterion is not to induct countries with a casus belli or two trailing behind. After all, no one wants membership to result in instant conflict.

More fundamentally, inclusion only makes sense if it makes the existing allies more secure. No one seemed to consider this issue during the madcap alliance expansion after the Cold War because no one really still thought of NATO as a military pact. Instead, the organization was treated as an international gentleman’s club, to which everybody who was somebody wanted to belong. However, the Ukraine conflict reminded everyone that war could happen, leading most members to clear their throats uncomfortably when the Baltic States were mentioned. Although the latter are full alliance members, no one else ever imagined actually fighting for them. Only now have some advocates of NATO expansion remembered that the reason to go to war on another nation’s behalf is because the latter’s independence is vital to one’s own, not to satisfy one’s charitable impulses.

Which is why NATO members would be mad to include Ukraine. Moscow has behaved badly and Ukrainians are suffering as a result, but such humanitarian considerations, though real, are a poor basis for issuing military commitments. Kiev simply doesn’t matter geopolitically to Europe or America. Ukraine spent most of its recent existence under Imperial Russia and then the Soviet Union. Since gaining independence in 1991 Kiev has suffered corrupt, incompetent, and authoritarian governance. The allies barely noticed. While Ukraine ultimately could become a significant trading partner with Europe, that day is far in the future and isn’t worth war. Kiev’s travails may be regionally disruptive, but they don’t make America or the rest of Europe less secure.

Indeed, despite all of the tub-thumping about the supposed new Russian threat, Vladimir Putin is a poor excuse for Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler. His aggregate “conquests” so far are pitiful: Crimea and some influence over Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and the Donbas. There’s no evidence that he covets any other territory, certainly none without an ethnic-Russian majority. Moscow would have a hard enough time conquering and occupying Ukraine, let alone Europe. Putin might be evil, but he isn’t stupid.

And despite Moscow’s modest military revival, Europe alone vastly outranges Russia in economic strength and military spending. America’s global reach is unparalleled. Despite the refusal by most European states to invest in their militaries, Moscow still is in no position to stage a continental Blitzkrieg. Former Russian Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin recently observed that without its reserve funds Moscow would have had to cut military outlays in half after the drop in oil prices. Putin can demand national respect and intervene in small foreign conflicts, but his country is no longer a true Weltmacht.

Which Europe obviously recognizes by its steadfast refusal to do more militarily. Stoltenberg was almost exultant because last year the European NATO states only slightly reduced their collective spending. Because for years they had rapidly cut outlays. The nations supposedly most at risk, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, devote between one and two percent of their GDPs on the military. They claim to worry about being eaten by the Russian bear but the most they ask of their citizens is two cents on the dollar? If they can’t be bothered to do more, they certainly shouldn’t be calling on America for a permanent garrison.

There’s still reason for the West to oppose Russia’s actions in Ukraine, though the allies’ hands are hardly clean. The U.S. and Europe took their Cold War victory and ignored Moscow’s interests: expanding NATO to Russia’s doorstep; dismembering Serbia, a long-time Russian friend; offering alliance membership to Georgia and Russia; seeking to pull Kiev into Europe’s economic orbit; supporting a street revolution against Ukraine’s corrupt but elected leader, who leaned toward Moscow.

None of these warranted military hostilities toward Kiev, and the Russian people have paid a high price for dubious gains (some Ukrainians aren’t sure they want the Donbas back). However, the U.S. would not have supinely accepted the Russian-backed overthrow of a friendly government in Mexico. Provoking a wounded bear is stupid in international relations as well as in the natural world.

The Brussels meeting was never going to change anyone’s mind. But then, nothing else is likely to do so either. Sanctions remain in place to no obvious effect. They punish but have not transformed Moscow’s behavior. And they discourage Russian cooperation on issues including North Korea, terrorism, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan. Even worse, the West’s economic war has pushed Moscow toward Beijing despite important differences between the two countries. Another great game is afoot, but Washington is focused on children splashing in the kiddie pool.

The U.S. and Europe must decide whether they are willing to wage a permanent mini-Cold War over Ukraine. Russia took back Crimea lawlessly, but no more so than the allies broke up Serbia and created an independent Kosovo. A majority of Crimeans probably supported the move, though only a free and fair referendum, unlike that conducted by Moscow, would tell for sure. In any case, Crimea is no more likely to go back to Ukraine than Kosovo is likely to go back to Serbia. The issue is effectively closed.

No doubt Moscow has supported separatists in the Donbas, but also no doubt there are separatists. It’s a mix of civil war and aggression, which isn’t unusual. This certainly is not the first and won’t be the last insurgency to have outside support: just ask Washington about the Mujahideen, Contras, and other U.S.-backed groups. While everyone seems to agree on the political settlement represented by the Minsk agreement—it was the one reported area of accord at the Council meeting—both Kiev and Moscow appear lax in implementation. Even the end of shooting won’t mean harmony is restored. Look at the Balkans, where the allies put their limited skills at international social engineering to work with less than stellar results. Even in the best case, Ukraine is likely to remain a mess.

Which suggests the allies should seek to forge a deal with Moscow that gets both sides out of the present geopolitical cul-de-sac. Agree to disagree over Crimea, neutralize Ukraine by withdrawing Russian support from insurgents and NATO’s promise of eventual membership for Kiev, liberalize trade opportunities for Ukraine in both directions, and swap Moscow’s acquiescence in the results of Ukraine’s political system for grants of significant autonomy to areas filled with ethnic Russians. As an independent state Kiev could refuse to go along, but then it would be on its own.

Call it “appeasement” if you like, but Ukraine has no automatic claim to Western support, especially when continuing confrontation is unlikely to yield any practical result. Indeed, respecting the interests of adversaries once was a time-honored diplomatic technique. The relevant question for every policy proposal always is “Is there a better alternative?” A bit more appeasement could have prevented World War I, out of which World War II emerged. Appeasement failed in the latter because Adolf Hitler would never be satisfied. Putin’s geopolitical aims are far more modest. Addressing them makes more sense than maintaining a mini-Cold War. Only a deal seems likely to deliver peace for Ukraine, security for Russia, stability for Europe, and satisfaction for America. (The U.S. really has nothing meaningful at stake geopolitically, only moral sentiment.)

It’s good that NATO and Russia met. But the former is not the real decision-maker. Dialogue should continue, with the EU and U.S. prepared to negotiate a deal normalizing relations. Moscow could say no, of course. However, the allies won’t know without trying. And everyone would benefit from ending the current impasse. Especially the Ukrainian people.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan.