Britain’s Democracy Is a Sham

Marian L. Tupy

European countries have joined the European integration process for different reasons. Germany wanted to expiate its World War II guilt, France wanted to enhance its global influence, Poland wanted protection from Russian expansionism and Romania wanted a less corrupt government. Great Britain wanted easier access to a free trade area called the European Economic Community. It was the membership of that community that the British people approved in a 1974 referendum. No more, no less.

On Thursday, the British people will decide if they wish to remain in an organization that only faintly resembles the former European Economic Community. Over time, a humble free trade area evolved into a supranational entity that at least superficially resembles a federal state. The European Union has its own flag, anthem, currency, president (five of them, actually) and a diplomatic service. It is only natural that the British electorate should be given an opportunity to reflect on the changes that have taken place over the last 42 years.

The people of Europe are sick and tired of being ignored, and none more so than the British.

Before joining the European Economic Community, Britain was a sovereign and democratic polity. Its governing institutions stretched back a thousand years and were the envy of the world. The island gave us representative democracy, rule of law, abolition of slavery, the English language and the Industrial Revolution. It saved Europe from Louis XIV and Napoleon during the French ascendency, and from Wilhelm II and Hitler during the German ascendency. As such, it must surely count, along with ancient Greece, as among the most consequential of nations.

But Britain lost some of its greatness. The country was exhausted from fighting two world wars. It lost confidence after its imperial possessions gained independence. Most seriously, Britain was suffering from the socialist rot. Its centrally planned wartime economy was never fully liberalized, with food rationing persisting into the 1950s. In the meantime, West Germany, which was obliterated by allied bombing during World War II, but revived by Ludwig Erhard’s free market reforms, powered ahead of Britain in terms of standard of living.

And so, Britain threw in its lot with the nascent EU. That proved to be a bit of a Faustian bargain. In exchange for access to the common market, Britain had to accept an external tariff and, over time, a deluge of regulations from power-hungry Brussels. The former makes imports more expensive in Britain, while the latter makes British exports less competitive globally. Most importantly, the British people, who struggled for their political rights for centuries (even beheading a king in the process), lost much of their political freedom.

As the European integration process deepened, ever more so-called competences were ceded by the EU member states to Brussels. Today, the EU has a say in almost everything, from agricultural production and labor regulations to the strength of European showers and electric consumption of European vacuum cleaners.

A defining feature of democracy is the ability of the electorate to choose and replace the government through free and fair elections. The choice, however, needs to be a meaningful one. What is the point of being able to choose between two or more candidates, if none of them can effect specific policy changes? That question is at the core of the upcoming referendum on British exit from the EU.

Truth be told, democracy in Europe is a bit of a sham. People still cast their votes for their favorite candidates, but the former know that the latter are powerless to change decisions made by the unelected, unknown and unaccountable bureaucracy in Brussels.

The EU, it is vital to understand, is undemocratic not by accident, but by design. Politicians in Brussels know that there is no public support for so-called deeper integration. Jean-Claude Juncker, the current president of the EU Commission, summed up the decision-making behind the introduction of the single currency thusly: “We decide on something, leave it lying around and wait and see what happens. If no one kicks up a fuss, because most people don’t understand what has been decided, we continue step by step until there is no turning back.”

The people of Europe are sick and tired of being ignored, and none more so than the British. On Thursday, the British people will be able to choose whether to regain full sovereignty, or remain in the EU. Should they choose the former, other countries will be sure to follow.

Marian L. Tupy is a senior policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.

Defund REAL ID

Jim Harper

When the House Appropriations Committee meets tomorrow to mark up fiscal year 2017 spending legislation for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), among many nominal security measures the committee will fund is the REAL ID Act, our U.S. national ID law. A national ID has no proximate role in securing the nation from terrorism, but Congress is better at controlling political risks than controlling spending. In the wake of the terror-connected killings in Orlando, Florida, appropriators will feel under pressure to continue the flow of money to the national ID program. They should resist that pressure and defund the REAL ID Act.

The national security issues matter and they are easily dispensed with. Implementation of the REAL ID Act would not prevent attacks on our country, from outsiders or home-grown stray dogs. No analyst or advocate for a national ID has ever articulated how a national ID provides cost-effective security.

But the security mania ahold of Congress was still strong in 2005 when it passed national ID legislation without a hearing or an up-or-down vote in the Senate. The REAL ID Act repealed ID- and document-security legislation passed in response to the 9/11 Commission report, which gave the topic a brief mention. REAL ID replaced those reforms with a top-down, Washington-centric mandate seeking to force states to submit to federal control over issuance of IDs and drivers’ licenses.

No analyst or advocate for a national ID has ever articulated how a national ID provides cost-effective security.

Along with uniform ID card standards, documentation and data retention requirements in REAL ID mean that digital “facial image capture” and copies of people’s birth certificates, Social Security cards, and the like are retained in DMV databases for years under the law. The REAL ID Act also requires states to share their drivers’ data and documents with every motor vehicle agency across the country through a nationwide network of databases. In its effort to cajole state participation and show progress with implementation, DHS obfuscates this clear statutory requirement. REAL ID creates a national ID system that happens to be run by the states, and it exposes Americans to hacking and identity fraud risks.

Following the law’s 2005 passage, many state legislators and officials recognized REAL ID for what it was: a massive federal power-grab at the expense of states and their citizens. State legislatures across the country passed legislation blocking their governments from complying with the federal mandate, and even more passed resolutions denouncing the federal legislation. As of today, twenty-seven states remain non-compliant with REAL ID.

But DHS has stepped up efforts to enforce REAL ID on non-compliant states. The efforts include threating to turn back travelers at the airport or blocking entry to federal buildings if a U.S. citizen’s license doesn’t display REAL ID’s signature gold star. By October 2020, the federal government expects every license held by an American to comply with REAL ID. DHS has bluffed about deadlines, and it always falls back, as it did again early this year. But fear of federal action moves states toward submitting to the national ID mandate year over year over year.

As a matter of routine, appropriators have funded the effort to turn state motor vehicle bureaus into arms of the DHS. The Cato Institute has found that, on average, Congress appropriated and DHS spent about $50 million per year on REAL ID from 2008 to 2011. Starting in 2011, REAL ID was folded into the “State Homeland Security Grant Program,” reducing public oversight of federal spending on the national ID.

The draft version of 2017 DHS spending legislation slated for debate next week continues this tradition. The State Homeland Security Grant Program is set to receive a direct $467 million, while an additional $237 million has been set aside for “training, exercises, technical assistance, and other programs.” Congress will not say it and DHS does not want it said, but at least some of this roughly $700 million will be used to fund REAL ID and the national ID system.

REAL ID trades Americans’ privacy and money for essentially no additional security. The Appropriations Committee and all members of Congress should follow the lead of the broad cross-section of Americans who oppose a national ID and all that it represents. Members of Congress who allow funds to flow to REAL ID are not securing the country. They are spending to insulate themselves from the risk that they will be called soft on security.

Jim Harper is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

The Politics of War: Is Donald Trump Helping the Cause for Peace?

Doug Bandow

When the Berlin Wall fell, Warsaw Pact dissolved, and Soviet Union split apart, U.S. foreign policy became obsolete almost overnight. For a brief moment advocates of a quasi-imperial foreign policy seemed worried.

For instance, NATO advocates were reduced to talking about having the anti-Soviet military compact promote student exchanges and battle drug smuggling. But advocates of preserving every commitment, alliance, and deployment quickly recovered their confidence, insisting that the status quo now was more important than ever.

Since then NATO has expanded, Washington has “rebalanced” toward Asia. The U.S. has fought a succession of wars. Despite public disquiet over multiple foreign disasters, the political elite remains remarkably united in backing America’s expanding international military role.

Leading Republicans simply refused to acknowledge George W. Bush’s mistakes, instead shamelessly blaming Barack Obama for the Iraq debacle and all that followed. Democrats who opposed Bush’s Iraq invasion said little as the current president escalated old wars and initiated new conflicts and drone campaigns. GOP presidential candidates competed over how much murder and mayhem they would wreak. Hillary Clinton pushed for U.S. military intervention in the Balkans as First Lady, voted for the Iraq war as Senator, and orchestrated the Libya campaign as Secretary of State.

Is Trump helpful or harmful in promoting an alternative to promiscuous military intervention and constant war-making?

Breaking with this pro-war consensus is Donald Trump. No one knows what he would do as president and his foreign policy pronouncements fall far short of a logical and consistent foreign policy program. Nevertheless, his perpetual bombast and bluster could not disguise the fact that he was the most pacific GOP contender, perhaps save Sen. Rand Paul.

Trump criticized the Iraq and Libya interventions, opposed confrontation with Russia, and, even more strikingly, denounced “war and aggression” in his recent foreign policy address. He also criticized multiple alliances which seem only to serve as conduits for U.S. aid to populous and prosperous states.

Unsurprisingly, Trump’s views have dismayed the guardians of conventional wisdom. Democrats could be counted on to be critical, despite his sharp attacks on Bush. The usual GOP suspects were even more hostile, in part because of his attacks on Bush. More than 100 Republican foreign policy practitioners wrote an open letter denouncing him. Some of them are hoping for an independent candidate or planning to vote for Clinton.

More significantly, however, for the first time in years, if not ever, many advocates of American dominance believe it necessary to defend their views, which they had previously considered to be self-evident. For instance, NATO supporters are trying to explain why the U.S. must defend European states which, collectively, are wealthier and more populous than America.

Friends of Saudi Arabia are attempting to justify backing a nation which maintains political and religious totalitarianism at home and promotes hostile Islamic fundamentalism abroad. Promoters of the Asian pivot are searching for arguments to explain why Washington pays to protect South Korea and Japan, which skimp on their own defense. Despite the irritated harrumphing which uniformly accompanies their arguments, all have felt the need to respond.

Nevertheless, the downsides of Trump as messenger are obvious. While his opinions on allied free-riding are well-established, on other issues he has shifted back and forth. Who knows if he means what he says about much of anything?

Moreover, even when he is right conceptually, he often misses the mark practically. For instance, the answer to allied free- (or cheap-) riding is not to charge other countries for America’s efforts. Washington should not hire out the U.S. military How much is the blood of American military personnel worth? The answer is to simply turn the defense of other nations over to them. Serious countries should defend themselves, and not expect military welfare from the globe’s superpower.

Trump also mixes sensible foreign policy opinions with misguided and overwrought attacks on trade, immigration, and Muslims. Even if he strengthened the U.S. by scaling back Washington’s imperial pretensions, he would weaken America in other ways. And his manner is more likely to repel than attract. Insulting people’s parentage while telling them that they are idiots rarely is a good strategy for converting opponents.

Thus, a debate has arisen among critics of current foreign policy: Is Trump helpful or harmful in promoting an alternative to promiscuous military intervention and constant war-making? Whatever happens in November, will he advance the cause of implementing a more rational and realistic foreign policy?

No doubt, proponents of realism, non-interventionism, and other forms of restraint would prefer to have a different representative. But they have to fight the policy wars with the politicians America has, not the ones it needs.

Rep. Ron Paul challenged the GOP’s pro-war orthodoxy for years, but never could break out of his niche and threaten to grab the nomination. Sen. Rand Paul was more nuanced in his views this election cycle, unfortunately attracting far less public attention and winning far less electoral success. Beyond them there has been no other responsible Republican presidential contender going back to 2004. Even the seeming rational John Kasich went rogue, advocating a 15-carrier navy and proposing to shoot down Russian planes in Syria. Everyone else might as well have performed the Maori Haka before talking about foreign policy, when they inevitably threatened to bomb, invade, and occupy much of the known world.

At least there now is an advocate of sorts for restraint, and one headed for a major party nomination. It is hard to see how supporters of a more reasonable international approach could end up worse off. Imagine Trump living down to expectations and losing badly. Then the usual war-happy crew would insist that his foreign policy approach has been discredited and seek to squelch any further debate. Yet it might not be so easy for them to eradicate from the public arena proposals for a more sensible foreign policy. And even if so, everything would simply go back to normal: proponents of restraint would be limited to writing occasionally for an occasional publication here or there, while their views were excluded from any government office that mattered. Just like today.

If Trump does respectably but loses narrowly, he will have demonstrated popular discontent with a policy in which average folks pay and die for utopian foreign policy fantasies advanced by Washington policy elites. That would encourage future political leaders to seek votes by challenging today’s interventionist consensus. And likely would spark an ongoing debate over the future of U.S. foreign policy. Those whose policies have consistently failed might still dominate the commanding heights of the think tank and publishing worlds, but they would face meaningful competition.

Finally, if Trump triumphs he will be in a position to transform U.S. foreign policy. What he would actually do is anyone’s guess. But he would not likely accept the status quo. In which case for the first time in decades there would be a serious debate over foreign policy and a meaningful opportunity to change current policies.

Given his avowed hostility to the existing elite which he blames for today’s manifold problems, Trump likely would open positions to people breaking with conventional wisdom. No doubt, the result would fall short of a non-interventionist nirvana. But at least some advocates of restraint might grace some corridors of power in Washington. Almost anything would be an improvement over the situation today.

There are lots of reasons to oppose Donald Trump’s candidacy. However, he offers restraint advocates their best opportunity in a generation to challenge today’s interventionist zeitgeist. The end of global communism did little to change U.S. foreign policy. It might take the election of Donald Trump, despite all of the problems that likely would entail, to make a real difference.

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.

No, Guns Are Not A ‘Public Health Crisis’

Trevor Burrus

In a purely political stunt, the American Medical Association has decided that it is time to declare gun violence a “public health crisis.” American gun violence is “a crisis unrivaled in any other developed country” that requires further research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to “help us understand the problems associated with gun violence.”

By definition, however, gun violence is not a “public health crisis,” and a group of physicians, especially those in a political trade group like the AMA, cannot invent a “public health crisis” by simply declaring one.

Properly understood, “public health” deals with the provision and distribution of public goods, that is, commonly owned or government-owned resources over which no one person or group of people have control. Mostly this includes air and water, which are the primary transmission mediums for most diseases. Since those resources are truly “public,” no one has sufficient interest in maintaining their cleanliness. Thus, one person pouring tainted water into a well can start an epidemic that can kill hundreds, if not thousands.

By wrongly declaring that gun violence is a “public health crisis,” the AMA and others have put their biases against guns on the table.

Guns and gun violence are not in the same category. Gun violence may be widespread, but that does not turn it into a “public health crisis.” Bullets do not float around in the air, randomly finding victims and then multiplying to infect more. Guns are possessed by individuals, not owned by the “public,” and more than 99 percent of those guns will never be used to commit a crime. Moreover, many people derive benefits from guns, both in terms of enjoying owning them and by protecting themselves from attackers.

Thus, unlike, say, cholera or the Zika virus, there is no “scientific” answer to the question, “how many guns should there be?” Such an answer, if it existed, would require a cost-benefit analysis, something that doctors are ill-equipped to do. Doctors are good at combating things from which no one benefits—from heart attacks to AIDS to high blood pressure—not things that some people prominently display above their fireplaces.

Nevertheless, gun control advocates have been trying to get people to think about guns as a “disease” for decades. The supposed dangers of guns in the home are discussed in the same way we talk about lead paint or asbestos, as if a passive hunk of metal can emit a miasma that causes psychotic impulses.

Yet, again, there is no “scientific” answer to whether you should have a gun in your home any more than there is a “scientific” answer to whether you should own a pool, a stove, or a gas fire pit, all of which can pose dangers to children and others. There are risks and there are rewards, and only you can decide whether the benefits outweigh the costs.

Parents are being encouraged to ask about guns in homes where their children may be playing. If you’re uncomfortable with guns, then this is a good idea. Gun rights supporters are also free to keep their children from playing at houses that lack guns because they fear the parents would not be able to protect their children from assailants.

These are question about personal values, not objective science. But modern public health zealots tend to disregard personal values they don’t like. Smokers, soda drinkers, fast-food eaters, and gun owners are just a few groups that are in the sights of public health warriors. Any subjective benefit someone derives from those things is disregarded and treated as unworthy of respect. It’s not a war for “public health,” it is a war against lifestyle choices that elites don’t share.

Despite these concerns, some may wonder why organizations like the CDC shouldn’t be allowed to simply research guns in order to get a better picture of how guns are used and misused. This is okay in theory, but promises to be illegitimately biased against guns in fact.

In 1979, the public health establishment laid out a clear anti-gun agenda that it has been pursuing to this day. In the Surgeon General’s report Healthy People declared that “Easy access to firearms appears to be the one factor with a striking relationship to murder.” In 1980, the Department of Health and Human Services called for substantial reductions in “the number of privately owned handguns” by 1990.

But, since the 1990s, the number of guns in America has risen every year, and, over the same period, gun violence has decreased dramatically, falling nearly by half from 1993 to 2013. (The rate of fatal gun accidents has also fallen significantly). This hugely important trend has not come about through stricter gun laws, and social scientists are still investigating why this dramatic change occurred. At the very least, it’s odd that the AMA chose this time to declare gun violence a “public health crisis,” when the prevailing trends work against this conclusion. Again, this is more evidence that the AMA’s declaration was a political decision, not a scientific one.

As a general rule, public health advocates have refused to seriously investigate whether the guns have both violence increasing and violence decreasing effects. In the hands of criminals, guns might increase some types of violence, but in the hands of would-be victims, guns can deter crime. There is no a priori reason to assume that gun ownership should only have violence augmenting effects, and any good social scientist should not begin her research presuming that conclusion. Serious social science research could help illuminate this question, but there is little reason to believe that serious research will come from public health zealots with predetermined conclusions.

There are those who argue that, clearly, more guns equal more crime. Yet for decades criminologists with a bias against guns ignored a very rudimentary question: do more guns cause more crime or does a higher crime rate cause more people to own guns for protection? Which way does the causal arrow run? So blinded by their bias against guns, this basic question from the first day of statistics 101 was ignored by most researchers. When people started asking the question, the results became much less clear.

By wrongly declaring that gun violence is a “public health crisis,” the AMA and others have put their biases against guns on the table. What will inevitably result are studies that focus only on the costs of guns and none of the benefits, either in the form of subjective pleasure or in personal defense.

Finally, by focusing on guns themselves rather than other factors, such as the conditions under which people decide to commit crimes, the results of the CDC’s research are essentially predetermined. A serious, scientifically based study of gun violence would leave a variety of options on the table, including the possibility that more guns in law-abiding hands might create less crime. Other factors not directly related to guns, especially the question of ending the drug war—arguably the single biggest driver of gun violence—should also be on the table. Yet the CDC, being an arm of the very government that is fighting that drug war, cannot reasonably be expected to call for its end, even if the data demands it.

Despite the smug sanctimony of gun-control advocates, not all questions have a simple “scientific” answer. Doctors, scientists, and other experts are prone to thinking that they could answer our vexing problems if they were only given the permission and resources to try, and the magic words “public health” are intoned as a way to claim this authority. We should not let them have it.

Trevor Burrus is a research fellow in the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies.

The Government Can’t Make You Use ‘Zhir’ or ‘Ze’ in Place of ‘She’ and ‘He’

Josh Blackman

The New York City Commission on Human Rights recently announced that employers, landlords and other professionals are required to use a transgender person’s preferred pronoun “regardless of the individual’s sex assigned at birth.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission similarly determined that failing to use a person’s preferred pronoun could violate federal anti-discrimination laws.

Though these mandates may seem like acts of civility, they in effect impose ideas about gender identity on speakers. Requiring people to voice beliefs that they do not hold, or even understand, is a flagrant and unacceptable violation of the freedom of speech.

Requiring people to voice beliefs that they do not hold, or even understand, is a flagrant and unacceptable violation of the freedom of speech.

In one of the rare areas of agreement in constitutional law, the Supreme Court has consistently held that requiring people to express certain ideas is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s seminal pronouncement on the doctrine of compelled speech involved a student who practiced the Jehovah’s Witness faith. He was disciplined for refusing to salute the American flag and recite the pledge of allegiance. In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the court ruled that this state action violated the First Amendment. “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation,” wrote Justice Robert Jackson, “it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Students who did not agree with saluting or pledging allegiance to the flag could not be compelled to do so. It was not enough to tell someone “recite the pledge, but don’t believe it.” Our law does not recognize a distinction between the speech and the thought behind it.

The Supreme Court has consistently and unanimously reaffirmed Barnette. In Wooley v. Maynard, the justices found that a resident of New Hampshire could not be forced to display a license plate on his car that said “Live Free or Die.” In Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, the court held that parade organizers could not be forced to allow an LGBT group to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. These precedents demonstrate that the government cannot compel the expression of ideas that a speaker may not hold.

With respect to transgender nomenclature, critics may counter that refusing to use a person’s preferred pronoun amounts to harassment and is no different from using a slur. There are at least three critical distinctions. First, derogatory slurs exist in the vernacular for a specific reason: to be derogatory. The same cannot be said for pronouns, which have existed in language since time immemorial as a benign shorthand to identify people. Imposing a mandate that millennia-old nomenclature is now harassment is a bridge too far. Furthermore, unlike laws regulating the definition of marriage, the state has never played any role in granting its imprimatur to language one way or the other. New York’s unprecedented pronoun mandate is the first instance of the government dictating speech.

Second, while a non-binary view of gender may be orthodoxy in certain segments of society, a near-majority of Americans reject it as a fact of life. A recent CBS News/New York Times poll asked about which public bathroom transgender people should be allowed to use. Forty-six percent responded that they “should have to use the public bathrooms of the gender they were born as.” Forty-one percent responded that they “should be allowed to use the public bathrooms of the gender they identify with.” Imposing an idea on 46 percent of Americans who do not hold that belief cannot be reconciled with the marketplace of ideas guarded by our First Amendment.

Third, there is a subtle but critical line between promoting tolerance and controlling thought. UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh explained that the New York law “requir[es] people to actually say words that convey a message of approval of the view that gender is a matter of self-perception rather than anatomy.” As the polling suggests, reasonable minds disagree about sex and gender identity. Requiring everyone to adopt a new vernacular ends any debate.

The notion that the state can now control language is reminiscent of “Newspeak,” the fictional language in the dystopian classic “1984.” Taking a page from Orwell, the Big Apple actually requires speakers to use the invented gender-free pronoun “ze,” a word that does not appear in five different dictionaries I checked. A future version of this regime could potentially outlaw gendered pronouns altogether, so as to accommodate gender-fluid individuals. Taken to its natural conclusion, this effort to promote tolerance is frighteningly intolerant.

Over the past two decades, popular support for same-sex marriage skyrocketed, in large measure due to the marriage equality movement’s two-pronged message: We only want to love each other the way you do, and we are not imposing any of our beliefs on you. This is a remarkably effective rallying cry and convinced millions of Americans (myself included) to alter their views on this issue. New York City now throws away that carrot and wields a stick: If you do not immediately express a view of the world you disagree with, the government will impose a $125,000 fine.

This Orwellian tactic is not the way to change hearts and minds. New York should go back to the drawing board and draft up a more inclusive way of being more inclusive.

Josh Blackman is a constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law, Houston and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.

Old, Inferior Wine in New Bottles: The House GOP Foreign Policy Report

Ted Galen Carpenter

The Orlando shooting has eclipsed an important foreign policy report that House Speaker Paul Ryan and his Republican colleagues just released. That report, “Achieving U.S. Security Through Leadership & Liberty,” is an acute disappointment. At a time when America’s foreign policy is floundering and cries out for new thinking, the House GOP offers the opposite. The report is a collection of shopworn (and often fatally discredited) strategies covered by a veneer of mind-numbing clichés.

One striking feature of the document is its lack of realism. There is little in the report that echoes even the myopic “realism” associated with Henry Kissinger and his followers. Instead, there are more passages that read as though they were written by starry-eyed idealists—or at least liberal interventionists like Madeleine Albright, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton.

Indeed, one passage even asserts that the United States is “the sole, indispensable power that can lead the world” in confronting threats. Even the term echoes Albright’s earlier description of the United States as the indispensable nation. That is perhaps one reason why consistent conservative realists have shown disdain for the study.

At a time when America’s foreign policy is floundering and cries out for new thinking, the House GOP offers the opposite.

The national narcissism embodied in the report has been a perfect blueprint for allies and security clients to free ride on America’s security exertions for decades. Indeed, even the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, has cited the problem. Yet the architects of the House report appear oblivious to the perverse incentives for continued dependency that their attitudes create.

There is also little sense that as a matter of justice to the American people, the European allies should take primary responsibility (and incur the necessary costs and risks) for the security of Europe and adjacent areas. Likewise, Japan, South Korea, and the East Asian allies should take primary responsibility for the security of their region. The House GOP report is shockingly casual about continuing to expend vast amounts of tax dollars and risk American lives for issues that are, or at least should be, far more important to other populations. It is an awfully high price to pay for the vanity of being “the indispensable power.”

The authors also seem to be reliving the Cold War, equating the far more limited and ambiguous ambitions of Russia and China with the Soviet Union’s malignant expansionism. That is a grotesque misreading of the situation. Vladimir Putin is a nasty, authoritarian ruler, but his actions have been primarily an attempt to preserve a limited security sphere along Russia’s western frontier and rebuff the eastward incursions by NATO and other Western institutions. China’s behavior is that of a major power that wishes to manipulate the existing international order to its benefit, not overthrow that order. One looks in vain for such subtle, but crucial, distinctions in the House GOP report.

The study emphasizes the message that the United States is the standard bearer of liberty in the world. The document insists that Washington must continue its “long tradition of promoting global freedom.”

Such comments constitute either a massive blind spot or phony idealism. Washington’s conduct over the decades has hardly constituted a consistent tradition of support for global freedom. As Malou Innocent and I show in Perilous Partners: The Benefits and Pitfalls of America’s Alliances with Authoritarian Regimes, U.S. officials repeatedly made common cause with “friendly dictators” against their own populations during and after the Cold War. Crawling into bed with the likes of the Shah of Iran, Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza, South Korea’s Park Chung-hee, the Congo’s Joseph Mobutu, and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak hardly signaled an American commitment to global freedom. Rather, it was a willingness to work with any regime, no matter how repressive, that was seen as serving U. S. foreign policy goals.

And that standard is still largely intact Washington definitely prefers the current Egyptian military dictator, Abdul Fattah El Sisi, to his Islamist democratic predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, and is lavishing economic and military aid on Sisi’s regime. U.S. officials back the dictatorial royal family in Bahrain against its own subjects, and we remain firmly committed to one of the more loathsome governments on Earth, Saudi Arabia.

Indeed, the material on Middle East policy and the so-called war on terror shows the GOP report at its most intellectually sterile. The authors would persist in the effort to micromanage the turbulent affairs of that region—the same strategy Washington has pursued since at least the Persian Gulf War. They would simply pour more resources and personnel into the strategy, with the belief that stronger U.S. leadership will be a panacea. That is little more than a triumph of hope over more than two decades of exceedingly painful experience.

Anyone who was hoping for innovative thinking from the House GOP report will have to look elsewhere. That document is a compendium of stale ideas that have already led America badly astray.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at The National Interest, is the author of 10 books and more than 600 articles on international affairs. His latest book is Dubious Partners: The Benefits and Pitfalls of America’s Alliances with Authoritarian Regimes (2015).

How Circus Brought a Hope for Peace to the Middle East

Nat Hentoff and Nick Hentoff

Two millennia after Jesus is said to have performed his miracles in the Galilee, a modern miracle has occurred in the region now known as Northern Israel. Cynthia Levinson’s book Watch Out For Flying Kids! (Peachtree Publishers, 2015) chronicles how two youth circuses, one in Israel and one in America, joined forces to accomplish what many believed was impossible — Arabs and Jews rising out of the ashes of conflict to work together for the common good.

The Galilee Circus was founded by Rabbi Marc Rosenstein, who sought a vehicle for resolving conflict between Palestinians and Jews in the aftermath of the second intifada.

“From the start, when nine Jewish and sixteen Arab kids signed up,” Levinson writes, “the mission of the Galilee Circus was to bring together young people who would otherwise never meet or get to know one another.”

Over 6,000 miles away in St. Louis, Jessica Hentoff — Nat’s daughter and Nick’s sister — had founded a circus performance troupe called the St. Louis Arches, composed of kids from diverse ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. The St. Louis Arches later became part of Circus Harmony, a nonprofit Jessica founded in 2001 to use circus arts to inspire social change. Out of 700 kids who took classes at Circus Harmony in 2012, only 10 were good enough to become Arches.

In 2007 the St. Louis Arches traveled to Israel, where they partnered with members of the Galilee Circus to form the Galilee Arches. The group performed in Arab and Jewish villages throughout the Galilee, an adventure captured in the 2010 documentary Circus Kids.

The St. Louis Arches visited Galilee again in 2012 and 2014, while the Arab and Jewish members of the Galilee Arches traveled to St. Louis to perform in 2008 and 2012. They will be returning to St. Louis this August.

“When you see them together, you are struck by their abilities — their abilities to juggle, balance and fly through the air,” Jessica wrote in a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, requesting that he approve visas for the kids’ first visit in 2007. “(B)ut more importantly, you are struck by their abilities to trust, to work together and to give to others.”

Levinson juxtaposes the experiences of the kids from Israel with those from America, observing that while the kids in the St. Louis Arches come from mostly black or mostly white neighborhoods, the Galilee kids come from mostly Arab or mostly Jewish villages. Her book profiles the individual kids in the Galilee Arches and follows them over a 10-year period through the rocket attacks of the second war in Lebanon, tribal violence in Arab villages, gang violence in St. Louis and the Ferguson protests of 2014.

“Circus is about expressing how we’re capable of extraordinary things,” Marc Miller, the managing director of the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, told Levinson. “That is circus at its core — to illustrate that things that do not look possible … are very possible.”

Which is how a bunch of kids who love circus came to love one another and, in the process, do a better job of bringing a hope for peace to the Middle East than a generation of politicians and negotiators.

“Circus will not bring peace to the Middle East,” the website of the Galilee Circus concedes. “But it can help to make dialogue possible by reducing fears, lowering barriers and building trust. It can provide a model of a shared loyalty that transcends ethnic identities. It can teach the art of taking risks for the common good. It can demonstrate, to a wide audience, that what appears to be impossible is indeed possible.”

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 attorney in New York who has worked as a judicial clerk for a U.S. district court judge.

Our First Reaction to Orlando Should Not Be Partisan

Michael D. Tanner

Last weekend’s heinous terrorist attack on a gay nightclub in Florida was a tragedy, first and foremost for the victims and their families — whose pain and grief we can only imagine — for the city of Orlando, and for the LGBT community. But there was also something profoundly sad and disturbing about our reaction to it.

Before the dead and wounded had even been identified, Americans were already dividing into Team Red and Team Blue, busy assigning blame and pushing partisan political narratives. The fissures in this country now run so deep that we couldn’t even take a moment to grieve as a united people.

So quick were we to try to score political points that we ignored whether they were even applicable to the tragedy at hand. The 49 murdered men and women were reduced to little more than props.

Demonizing Muslim Americans compounds the evil of the Orlando massacre.

President Obama twisted himself into the usual verbal knots to avoid attaching the word “Islamic” to “terrorism” or “extremism,” but he did manage to put in his standard plug for gun control. His call for gun control was echoed by Democratic politicians from the presumptive presidential nominee to the local dog catcher. Connecticut senator Chris Murphy even managed to blame the deaths on Congress, saying that “Congress has become complicit in these murders by its total, unconscionable deafening silence.”

Some activists even used the massacre as an opportunity to attack Republicans over gay rights, blurring the distinction between a debate over bathroom use and mass murder.

Of course, no one was able to actually offer a realistic gun-control proposal that would have kept weapons out of the hands of Omar Mateen. He bought his guns in a gun store, not at a gun show or online. He passed a background check. He was, in fact, a security guard, licensed to carry a gun on his job. The latest Democratic talking point is that those on the terrorist watch list shouldn’t be allowed to purchase guns. There are questions about the wildly inaccurate watch list, and the number of people put on it mistakenly, but a bigger point in this case is that Mateen was not on the watch list. He had been investigated by the FBI, but the investigation had been closed, and he had been removed from the database. And, as for banning “assault weapons,” the designation is more or less cosmetic rather than functional. Besides, recall that France has severe restrictions on assault weapons, but the Bataclan attackers were able to acquire them anyway.

Republicans, meanwhile, had their own language problems, generally ignoring entirely that the attack was on a gay club and that most of the victims were gay. It might have been a little awkward to recall that just a few months ago, several GOP presidential candidates shared a stage with Pastor Kevin Swanson, who has said that gays should be put to death.

Republicans did have a lot to say, however, about “Islamic terrorism” and the president’s continued avoidance of the term. The president’s refusal to admit that Islamic terrorism is, well, Islamic terrorism is, of course, ridiculous. But too many of his opponents seem to think that saying the words is some sort of magic incantation that will make ISIS vanish.

Donald Trump, unsurprisingly, managed to make his first reaction to the attack about himself, tweeting a thank-you for “the congrats on being right on Islamic terrorism.” He then went on to tout his plan to ban Muslim immigration. Mateen, of course, was born in New York. That made no difference to Trump, who, echoing his description of the Indiana-born judge in the Trump University case as “a Mexican,” says that Mateen was “born an Afghan.”

The unfortunate truth is that there is little we can do to prevent future lone-wolf terrorist attacks. There will be another one someday.

Trump does deserve credit for acknowledging that the victims were targeted because of their sexual orientation, pointing out that it was an “assault on the ability of free people to live their lives, love who they want and express their identity.”

But the heart of Trump’s anti-terrorism plan remains a ban on Muslim travel. The exact nature of the ban, as with most Trump proposals, remains vague and tends to shift from day to day. At some points Trump has described it as a “temporary pause” in Muslim immigration. It might apply to all Muslims, or it might, as Trump said this week, apply only to those from countries with a “proven history of terrorism.” On other occasions, he has described it in far more sweeping terms, as prohibiting Muslims from entering the United States for any reason, including business, education, or tourism. Early on, Trump even suggested that it might apply to Muslim U.S. citizens who had left the country and tried to reenter.

Moreover, he continues to suggest that all Muslims are somehow complicit in the actions of this madman. But stereotyping and demonizing all Muslims is no more accurate or morally acceptable than stereotyping and demonizing all gun owners. The vast majority of American Muslims are peaceful and patriotic. They are police officers and firefighters, doctors, lawyers, and teachers. They serve in our armed forces. Four Muslim service members, among the 14 who have made the ultimate sacrifice since September 11, 2001, are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Nearly all terrorism experts, generals, and other national-security professionals agree that assimilating Muslim Americans into the larger society is key to fighting terrorism. One reason that Europe is so much more at risk than we are is that European countries do such a poor job of assimilating Muslim immigrants. Those immigrants remain outsiders, a nation within a nation, alienated and easily radicalized. The United States, with some obvious failures, does a much better job of turning immigrants of all cultures, races, and religions into Americans. E Pluribus Unum. Out of Many, One.

If Trump’s attacks on American Muslims were accepted by a majority of Americans, it would import Europe’s failure to the United States, perpetuating the idea that Muslims cannot be real Americans. It would make the Muslim community here less, not more, likely to cooperate with law enforcement. It would breed suspicion and alienation. It would convince many Muslims, both here and around the world, that the U.S. really is at war with all Islam. It would lead to more self-radicalization. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said that any immigration ban based on religion would be “unwise and counterproductive,” and former CIA chief General Michael Hayden called Trump’s comments about Muslims “prejudice, simplistic, and frankly just wrong.”

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton had relatively little to say on the subject besides doubling down on gun control. She did suggest more surveillance, more restrictions on the Internet, and more powers for law enforcement and other government authorities. There was a Trumpian lack of specificity, but she left no doubt that she wasn’t about to let things like civil liberties and constitutional rights stand in the way of looking tough.

As Representative Justin Amash (R., Mich.) noted, he has heard “Democrats and Republicans endorse violating the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendments” in response to the attack. About the only thing we are missing is a call to quarter troops in our homes.

The unfortunate truth is that there is little we can do to prevent future lone-wolf terrorist attacks. There will be another one someday. Every day I drive into a city high on the terrorist target list. I work for an organization that just gave an award to Flemming Rose, the Danish journalist and editor who published the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. I am aware of the threat. But it is also true that my odds of dying in a terrorist attack are about one in 20 million. My odds of dying in a car crash on the way to the office are roughly one in 37,000. If safety were all I cared about, I’d push for a ban on automobiles.

There are things more important than simple safety. Of course we shouldn’t be heedless of risks. But I don’t want to live in a country that is so traumatized and fearful that it becomes less open, less tolerant, less free than the America I have grown up in, the America I love.

That is ultimately what the terrorists want. And I for one refuse to be terrorized. I refuse to let the terrorists win.

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

How the Puerto Rico Rescue Makes State Pensioners the Big Winner

Ike Brannon

In many states, the public pension plans have deeper problem than most taxpayers realize. The money that was supposed to have been set aside to pay for future pension obligations is simply not there. It’s more than just a simple miscalculation — this is very much a sin of commission in most states.

It’s a problem that’s developed over decades: It’s always been easier for politicians to boost pension benefits to grumbling state government workers — most of whom are members of their government employees’ union, an extremely potent political force in every state — in lieu of higher wages today, and leaving it to a future government to ensure that these promises would be adequately funded.

The booming stock market of the 1990s led numerous states to believe their funding problems were solved and then some, inducing several of them to skip their required pension payments for various years. The ostensible budget savings allowed states to spend money and buy votes elsewhere — in turn, often increasing future obligations — or else by cutting taxes. The inevitable stock market corrections proved these holidays to be foolhardy.

Left on the hook will be the taxpayer, whose governments will pay sharply higher interest rates going forward.

These days, the ineluctable forces of demographics and longevity gains are forcing states to confront their underfunded pension largesse of the past, and for most it’s not terribly pleasant. The prospect of states having to pay their large baby boomer cohort pensions that can exceed $100,000 a year per retiree for the remaining 30 or 40 years of their lives is a daunting tab.

For a state like Illinois, which has been making ill-advised short-term patches of its budget for more than a decade, it’s simply impossible for it to honor its pension promises in the long run without a dramatic change.

One possibility would be to reduce the pension benefit, but that’s a nonstarter: The state’s Constitution guarantees that a promise made to current retirees and government workers must be honored, and the courts have ruled that this precludes making current retirees pay more of their healthcare costs or current employees work longer before receiving their benefit.

Another possibility would be to simply increase the state’s income tax, which is currently a relatively low 3.75 percent. The current budget stasis in the state revolves around the amount of concessions that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner wants from the Democratic supermajorities in the State House of Representatives and Senate for signing such an increase.

But even a 2 percentage point increase in the income tax — something the last governor did temporarily to shore up the budget — isn’t going to be enough to fully pay the billions of past-due bills, the postponed infrastructure investment and also cover the looming pension shortfall.

To fully fund the state pension fund — which could go broke in a decade, according to some analyses — it’s going to take a New Jersey-style personal income tax system, where everyone is paying more money than they are now and the wealthy are paying a lot more, like in the ballpark of 10 percent.

And if that were to pass, the second that taxpayers realized their tax rates had doubled or tripled solely to pay for the generous pensions of state employees that dwarf their own, riots will ensue, and the world that Speaker Mike Madigan (D) of the Illinois House of Representatives has created would be ruled by a new set of politicians. Since politicians are loath to lose their jobs, a brutal tax increase probably isn’t in the cards, at least not in the near term.

The political path of least resistance is to make the hedge funds and other investors who lent to the state of Illinois pay for the state’s pension shortfall, and the apparent Puerto Rico solution being debated by Congress provides a viable path to make that happen.

Right now, states cannot declare bankruptcy, which is one reason why states have traditionally been able to borrow at such low rates of interest. However, financial markets have come to realize, belatedly, that Illinois (along with other states) is making promises to its lenders that it will have trouble keeping.

Puerto Rico was not supposed to be eligible for bankruptcy either, but the legislation before Congress will allow the territory to reduce its debt, both general-obligation and non-general-obligation debt. 

If the bill does become law, the island will promptly cease making payments to its bondholders for the indefinite future: The proposed 2017 Puerto Rican budget — which assumes as much — sets aside no money to pay general obligation bondholders. Since the legislation also stays creditor lawsuits, the island can proceed to use the funds freed up by stiffing the creditors to hire more workers, build infrastructure and put money into its nearly bankrupt pension fund.

Any money that does gets stashed in the pension fund will be well-nigh impossible to disgorge when the stay is lifted. The Puerto Rican government can pull out its pockets and plead poverty and any creditor that lost money during the stay will likely be out of luck.

This is the blueprint Illinois will almost surely follow. It will request that Congress extend it some sort of bankruptcy protection and it will present Congress with a facile choice: Does it want to protect the evil vulture funds from Wall Street that lent it money or the hardworking state employees who just want the pension promised to them? Congress may want to pretend otherwise, but the current legislation before it favors one set of pensioners ahead of other pensioners whose money happens to be invested in Puerto Rican debt.

The safe bet is that before too long, Illinois will be allowed to stiff its creditors at a propitious moment — not before trashing them avaricious or immoral, no doubt — and their pensioners will be held harmless, too.

And before too long, the next state will take its cue from Illinois, and the pattern will be set, if not by law then by custom: State employees on a defined benefit pension will always come before investors who foolishly lent money to their state. And no one will care one whit if that money represents the retirement funds of other U.S. citizens, either.

It wouldn’t be a blow for income inequality; state workers have a higher income and better pensions than most other Americans whose retirements savings will suffer because of this reordering. It’s certainly not a just outcome, given that the states borrowed that money at a low interest rate in no small part because law and custom dictated their payments would supersede other creditors. The new normal will merely represent an ex post reordering of priorities in a way that comports with the allies of the current administration.

And investors will stop treating the muni market as being a safe bet, and the borrowing rates for townships and cities and parks will reflect the new reality of caveat creditor. Left on the hook will be the taxpayer, whose governments will pay sharply higher interest rates going forward.

Ike Brannon is a visiting senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

Americans Prefer Foreign Policy of Restraint over Interventionism

A. Trevor Thrall

The American people increasingly prefer a restrained U.S. foreign policy to the excessive interventionism that is the status quo in Washington. And the 2016 election is, among other things, a blustering reflection of this emerging public sentiment.

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 43 percent of Americans say the United States should mind its own business internationally. Fifty-seven percent of the public feel the U.S. should deal with its own problems, and let other nations deal with their own as best they can. Sixty-nine percent agree that the U.S. should “concentrate more on our own national problems and building up our own strengths and prosperity here at home” and 70 percent say the next president should focus on domestic policy compared to only 17 percent who say the focus should be foreign policy.

These findings strike fear in the hearts of the foreign policy establishment, which worries that such findings foretell a retreat into isolationism. Since the end of the Cold War, the foreign policy establishment has developed a bipartisan consensus around a vision of muscular internationalism. The core of that vision, in the words of the former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, is that the United States is the “indispensable nation,” without whose leadership nuclear weapons will proliferate, conflicts will erupt, and the steady march of democracy and human rights will falter.

The public does not view reshaping the world as the goal of foreign policy.

But the public’s attitudes are not so much isolationist as they are restrained. See, Beltway elites think that, although the central goal of U.S. foreign policy is national security, America’s position as the world’s sole superpower affords it the ability to pursue ancillary objectives like shaping the “international order” and the domestic behavior of other nations. Hence an expansive foreign policy that heeds the call of intervention in essentially any corner of the globe.

The American public, on the other hand, interprets things differently. They certainly agree that national security is the primary goal of foreign policy. But America’s fortuitous strategic position and great power allows the public to ignore the rest of the world most of the time in favor of domestic concerns. The public does not view reshaping the world as the goal of foreign policy. In fact, the public, in contrast to the experts, tends to view foreign policy as a mechanism for pursuing domestic goals such as protecting American jobs and promoting U.S. business interests abroad.

This perspective can help us decode the confusing signals from the public about foreign policy. The realist side of the equation helps explain why surveys routinely find, as the Pew survey did, that Americans support a strong military, active counterterrorism efforts and policies to prevent nuclear proliferation. Fifty-five percent say they support policies to keep the United States the strongest military power in the world, and 62 percent support the U.S. military campaign against ISIS. Simply put, if there is a reasonable national security case to be made for a mission, the American public is likely to support it.

The domestic side of the equation, however, ensures that the bar for making such a case is relatively high. Before the rise of ISIS, for example, almost 70 percent of the public believed that the United States had no responsibility to stop the fighting in Syria. This influence is especially pronounced when Americans see interventionist foreign policy operations detracting from progress on domestic issues. Critics of the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example (including President Obama himself), have frequently argued that the United States should focus on nation-building at home rather than nation-building abroad.

To put it simply, the American public is not isolationist. In fact, the same Pew study finds that fully 91 percent want the United States to take some kind of leadership role in international affairs. At the same time, though, the public’s foreign policy preferences are far more restrained than those of the foreign policy establishment. After 15 years of aggressive and costly intervention in the Middle East that have brought little benefit to the U.S., most of the public now views the conventional approach to American foreign policy as a drag on the primary mission of the government, which is making life better here.

In fact, the survey’s findings may be the key to explaining the most befuddling presidential election campaign in modern memory. Hillary Clinton clearly represents the Beltway consensus, supporting vigorous American leadership of international institutions coupled with aggressive military intervention. Since domestic policy issues typically dominate elections, Clinton’s foreign policy views would not cost her many votes in a normal year.

But the deep unhappiness with the political establishment this year, coupled with Donald Trump’s apparent contempt for American activism abroad, may change that. Like all the candidates, Trump has called for a strong military and destroying the Islamic State. But throughout his campaign, he has made it very clear that foreign policy is primarily a tool for solving problems at home, whether fixing trade deals to strengthen a lagging economy, making allies pay for U.S. security commitments or building walls to protect American jobs from illegal immigrants.

Though many have criticized his proposals on substantive grounds, there is no question that Trump’s view of foreign policy falls closer to the average American’s view.

The Beltway consensus is a much more difficult sell in 2016. Even Clinton’s extensive foreign policy experience, which would usually rate as an advantage, has worked against her as both Bernie Sanders and Trump have reminded voters of her role in supporting several of the failed American interventions over the past 15 years.

Regardless of who wins the White House, the public is clear about the foreign policy it wants. The question is, will the next president listen?

A. Trevor Thrall is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.