Is Donald Trump Doomed to Repeat History in the Middle East?

Emma Ashford

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump made waves when he
publicly declared that the Iraq War had been a disaster for America, causing chaos in the
Middle East. With the rise of ISIS, a refugee crisis, and
substantial unrest across the region, it’s not hard to see
why the majority of Americans now agree with him.

Yet the Trump administration appears poised to make many of the
same mistakes in its increasingly belligerent approach to Iran, a
strategy virtually guaranteed to increase tensions and worsen
regional conflicts.

This month’s internal turmoil inside the Trump White House
over whether or not to recertify Iran’s
compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal is only the most recent
example of the administration’s steps towards a tougher
approach against Iran.

In reality, Iran is complying with the terms of the deal.
But administration officials have repeatedly sought to shift the
goalposts, arguing that Iran is instead violating the
“spirit” of the agreement.

Indeed, though the details are not yet clear, the
administration’s ongoing Iran policy review is widely
expected to result in a more assertive and belligerent approach to
Iran. In recent testimony, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Congress that the
administration intended to support “elements inside of Iran
that would lead to a peaceful transition of that
government.”

And while others have refuted the idea that regime change is
under consideration, the administration’s Iran hawks —
from Secretary of Defense James Mattis to CIA Director Mike Pompeo
— have repeatedly described Iran as “the single
most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle
East.”

***

Whether it takes the form of “ripping
up” the nuclear deal, adding new sanctions, or pushing back
militarily against Iran in conflicts in Syria, Iraq, or Yemen, it
seems likely that the new administration is headed for a collision
with Iran. Yet the assertions and arguments made in favor of taking
a harder line against Iran are profoundly misleading.

For starters, the idea that Iran is a threat to the United
States comparable to that of the late Soviet Union — an idea
expressed in several recent articles – is laughable. The Soviet
Union was a suprastate of almost 300 million people with a massive
army and civilization-ending nuclear arsenal. Iran, by comparison,
has around 82 million citizens and no nuclear weapons.

Iran may be able to threaten American citizens abroad, but it is
fundamentally unable to harm the U.S. through military means.

Another common misconception is the idea that Iran is the root
of all regional problems.

It is certainly true that Iran’s regional influence has
grown in recent years, particularly in Iraq. But that growing
influence is due less to Iranian revisionism and more to the U.S.
invasion of Iraq, which removed a regime that acted as a check on
Tehran.

And while Iran’s behavior in regional conflicts like Syria
is reprehensible, it has not alone caused the chaos currently
gripping the Middle East.

A variety of factors, including the failed Arab Spring
revolutions, the U.S. War in Iraq, and malicious meddling by other
regional states from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, have all contributed to
today’s turmoil.

Even the idea that the Iranian people seek external support for
regime change is flawed.

Certainly, many Iranians are hungry for more democratic rights.
But the leaders of Iran’s 2009 Green movement protests have
been clear that they want to improve the system from inside, not overthrow
it. There is no true domestic support for the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI),
the group most commonly presented as an alternative by
regime-change hawks.

***

In the absence of domestic support, attempts to
conduct “regime change from within,” as some
administration officials have suggested, is a recipe for failure at
best, and disaster at worst.

Ultimately, it remains baffling that the Trump administration
— faced with historically high levels of unrest in the Middle
East — would voluntarily seek to undermine one of the
region’s few relatively stable and semi-democratic
states.

Donald Trump was right about Iraq during the campaign: the 2003
U.S. invasion was a massive, unforced strategic error. Yet it is a
mistake his administration seems poised to make again, albeit on a
smaller scale.

If the president forgets history, he is likely only to worsen
the chaos in the Middle East.

Emma Ashford
is a research fellow at the Cato Institute.

A Cracking Foundation

Ilya Shapiro

Could President Donald Trump’s bizarre attack on Attorney
General Jeff Sessions be the moment that the resistance was waiting
for? Not the travel ban, not tweetstorms about media covfefe, not
anything else that’s gone down in this six-month presidency (and
forget anything from the campaign because that was already priced
into the election). Is calling the AG “weak” and “beleaguered,” and
otherwise expressing repeated frustration and disappointment with
him, what we’ll point to as the moment when the Trump’s motley
coalition began to fray?

Donald Trump could count on a solid floor of support for (or
despite) pretty much anything in terms of policy initiatives,
political strategery, and personal behavior — but not going
after the first major politician who endorsed him, lending
conservative credentials to his campaign? It’s not implausible
that, between an erratic CEO and a chief law enforcement officer
laser-trained on “bad hombres” — whether drug-dealers or
foreigners, or both — the Make America Great Again supporters
will side with the latter.

The president’s attack on
Attorney General Sessions could undermine his support, but it won’t
end his presidency.

That’s not even mentioning the erstwhile Tea Partyers,
conservatives and others who boarded the Trump Train simply because
its conductor isn’t Hillary Clinton. Plus establishment
Republicans; despite high-profile #NeverTrump defections, issues
like judicial nominations continue allowing Trump to keep the GOP
remarkably united. To many of these folks, Sessions is “one of us”
while Trump is just an empty vessel suitable both for pursuing
certain political goals and thumbing one’s nose at the cloying
progressive elite.

Now, I’m not exactly Jeff Sessions’s biggest fan. He’s an
honorable man — unfairly smeared by the left for being an
Alabamian with a genteel drawl and the middle name Beauregard
— but his views on issues ranging from the drug war to
immigration are harmful to the nation’s best interests as I see
them. Democrats really should’ve focused on civil asset forfeiture
during his confirmation process instead of assorted racism
canards.

So I’m not taking Sessions’ side in his spat with Trump because
he’s standing up for sound public policy; I’m just saying that
impugning the competence and integrity of a solidly conservative
attorney general could be a bridge too far.

But probably not. It’s more likely that the caravan will move on
and pundits will focus on the latest celebrity the president
denigrates or next “international incident” he creates by not
shaking someone’s hand — or shaking it too long. Lately, the
master of misdirection has gotten everyone riled up about the issue
of transgender rights in the military even as his administrative
agencies are toiling away at deregulation (good!). There’s also
health care and tax policy (which is what Trump should be using his
tweety pulpit for).

No, Trump is more likely than not to survive this, possibly
after the sort of closed-door meetings where these kinds of
high-level differences are normally hashed out. That’s perhaps the
most inexplicable aspect of this whole imbroglio: if you don’t like
what your cabinet-level subordinate is doing, going public with
your dissatisfaction is counterproductive unless you’re about to
fire him — in which case it’s merely pointless.

And it’s not like the post-Hillary alternative is any better; is
any Trump voter attracted by the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Bernie
Sanders, Chuck Schumer or Elizabeth Warren? Such a gerontocratic
leadership hasn’t been seen since the late Brezhnev years —
which seems to be where the Democratic National Committee politburo
is getting its economic ideas. They accuse Trump of running
policies straight from the 1930s without realizing that their
“Better Deal” borrows more from the Socialist Party platform of
that time than FDR’s New Deal ever did.

More serious is the charge that a president’s public undermining
of an attorney general delegitimizes government institutions and
weakens the rule of law. This is a framing several reporters
offered me this week, but it’s far too early for that. The Justice
Department is far more resilient than any of these personalities.
If Sessions and deputy AG Rod Rosenstein — who helped
orchestrate FBI Director James Comey’s departure — get too
covered in mud, Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand is more
than capable of righting the ship.

In short, Donald Trump’s presidency will end long before our
system of government can suffer any real damage. Along the same
lines, the shaking of his support over the Sessions affair —
the cracks in his base, if you will — is real, but it’ll take
a whole lot more to get his approval rating to the point where
Republican defections prevent governance altogether or open the
door to the political remedy of impeachment.

Ilya Shapiro
is a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute
and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review.

Don’t Sacrifice Privacy on the Altar of Convenience

Matthew Feeney

We all hate long lines, whether we’re at train stations,
airports, or grocery stores. Researchers and governments are hard
at work to ease frustrating line congestion via facial recognition
technology. Facial scanners may reduce time spent standing in
boring lines, but they also threaten our privacy, which we
shouldn’t sacrifice on the altar of convenience.

In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
is taking steps to implement facial scanning systems at airports.
Facial scan trials are already underway in six
airports, with more deployments planned by early next year at
“high-volume”international airports. The
scanners are part of a biometric entry-exit plan that aims in part
to confirm the identity of travelers leaving the U.S.

Two airlines—Delta and JetBlue—allow travelers to
use facial scanners at select airports. From the Associated
Press
:

DHS officials hope to defray costs through partnerships with
airlines that are incorporating biometrics to boost efficiencies.
Two airlines in the pilot program—Delta and
JetBlue—tout identity-verification technology’s
convenience for other ends: Delta for speeding baggage handling,
JetBlue for eliminating boarding passes. Both carriers say they
will not retain customers’ face scan files.

In their privacy impact
assessment
for the facial scanning scheme DHS bluntly states,
“the only way for an individual to ensure he or she is not
subject to collection of biometric information when traveling
internationally is to refrain from traveling.” The same
assessment also points out that Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
can share facial recognition information with state, local, and
federal agencies.

Shorter lines, no ticket
turnstiles, and stores without checkouts sound great, but they come
at a significant cost when they rely on facial
recognition.

Although CBP does mention that all newly captured photos will be
deleted after 14 days it’s worth keeping in mind that CBP
could extend this time period in the wake of a terrorist attack or
other emergency

In the United Kingdom,
government-backed facial
recognition technology
could be used to ease congestion at
London Underground stations. The goal is for participating
passengers to simply walk by cameras rather than wait at cumbersome
ticket turnstiles. The technology, built by Bristol Robotics
Laboratory, is reportedly accurate enough to distinguish between
identical twins. According to Bristol Robotics Laboratory’s
Professor Lyndon Smith, the technology could be commercially
available in 2019.

The United Kingdom is one of the most surveilled countries in
the developed world, and the data collected as part of this
proposed scheme will be in the hands of Transport for London, a
local government body. We shouldn’t be surprised if London
Underground’s facial recognition data finds its way into the
hands of law enforcement.

Such data sharing between Transport for London and London police
would hardly be unprecedented. A 2014 report from London’s
Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) stated that Transport for London
sends MPS license plate data for national security purposes:

The Mayor’s Crime Manifesto, published in April 2012, made a
commitment to make Transport for London Automatic Number Plate
Recognition data available to the Metropolitan Police Service for
the purposes of preventing and detecting crime.

[Transport for London] collects [Automatic Number Plate
Recognition] data from the central London Congestion Charging Zone
and the London-wide Low Emission Zone camera networks and processes
it for the purpose of enforcement and traffic monitoring. This data
is already transferred to the MPS for the purposes of National
Security.

In May 2015, the London mayor announced that MPS had
access to license plate data for criminal—not only national
security—investigations:

The Mayor, Boris Johnson, has more than doubled the number of
high-tech cameras used by the Police (MPS) to help identify
criminals and bring them to justice. Around 2,300 Automatic Number
Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras are now in use for policing
purposes in London after the MPS were granted access to 1,300
Transport for London cameras which were developed to enforce the
Congestion Charge Zone and the Low Emission Zone. Each camera takes
a digital reading of passing traffic, allowing speedy
identification and collecting real-time data on the precise
whereabouts of stolen cars or vehicles involved in crime. This
vital information enables the police to detect more criminals, and
deter and disrupt criminality on London’s streets. The move to
incorporate Transport for London’s ANPR cameras into the Met’s
network was one of the Mayor’s 2012 Manifesto pledges and part of
his drive to bear down on crime in the capital.

A similar access policy will no doubt be in place once the
London Underground’s facial recognition system is up and
running.

Chinese companies are developing facial recognition technology
that can not only identify people but may one day be able to
predict crimes. A
Singaporean company, Xjera Labs, has built surveillance technology that can
identify vehicles as well
as people
. It also allows users to search CCTV footage for
particular activity, such as a street fight.
Xjera Labs’ technology is used by police in Singapore as well
as Chinese schools
. This may strike some as creepy and
intrusive, but many people see benefits. Chinese researchers have
built ATMs that use facial
recognition to determine identity. Thanks to facial recognition,
one cafe owned by the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba does not need self-checkout
kiosks
, let alone human check-out assistance.

These innovations from the United Kingdom and China or others
like them will find their way to the United States, where around
half of adults are already part of a facial
recognition network.

Shorter lines, no ticket turnstiles, and stores without
checkouts sound great, but they come at a significant cost when
they rely on facial recognition.

The increased use of facial recognition will enable law
enforcement to more easily track your lawful movements. When merged
with CCTV, body camera, and drone technology facial recognition
will allow law enforcement to identify law abiding citizens. The
widespread use of facial recognition will open the door for
increased tracking and surveillance as well as the stifling of
First Amendment-protected activities.

We shouldn’t think of facial recognition as a necessarily
nefarious technology. It would be great to live in a world where
there are fewer airport and shopping lines and our privacy is
protected. And we could, provided that lawmakers take steps to
limit the facial recognition data government collect and citizens
don’t hurry to sacrifice their privacy for convenience.

Matthew
Feeney
is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute.

Democrats’ Disastrous New Health Rx

Michael D. Tanner

As Republicans continue to stumble and bumble in what is likely

a doomed attempt to repeal and replace ObamaCare
, there has
been an increasingly desperate search for a bipartisan alternative.
But that Kumbaya moment isn’t going to happen any time soon.

After all, health-care reform is a matter of deep ideological
conviction for both parties.
Most Republicans understand that the desire for universal health
insurance
cannot repeal the basic laws of economics. They might
be too timid to unwind ObamaCare, but most understand that
government and health care are a poor mix. And Democrats? If
anything, Democrats want to double down on their call for
government control of the health-care system.

Democrats, in fact, have moved far to the left on health care.
In the 2016 presidential primaries,
Bernie Sanders proposed “Medicare for All.”
Most Democrats,
including Hillary Clinton, distanced themselves from the idea.
Today, the idea of “single-payer” health care is rapidly becoming
part of Democratic orthodoxy.

Just last weekend, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
told The Wall Street Journal
that she now supports a
single-payer system. And her colleague, Senate Minority Leader
Chuck Schumer, declared “single-payer is on the table” for
Democrats. Sanders may have lost the battle for his party’s
nomination, but he is clearly winning the war over its future
direction.

Democrats want to double
down on their call for government control of the health-care
system.

How the public will react to the Democrats’ desire for
government-run health care remains to be seen.
According to a recent Pew poll
, only a third of Americans
support a single-payer system (although that number rises to 52
percent among Democrats and 64 percent among liberals). Americans
clearly want everyone to have access to health care — we are
a compassionate people — but they’re not rushing to put the
government in charge.

After all, Americans can just look to Bernie’s model, Medicare,
with its $50 trillion in unfunded future liabilities, and recognize
that a single-payer system would be prohibitively expensive. Recall
that Bernie’s campaign proposal would’ve cost more than $30
trillion over its first 10 years.

Earlier this summer, California legislators abandoned an effort
to establish a statewide single-payer system, after the
legislature’s own estimates said it would cost some $400 billion
per year — more than the state’s entire budget.
In New York, a proposal for a state single-payer system
was
estimated to cost $226 billion per year.

Of course, in the face of this unaffordable tide of red ink,
Democrats will point out that other countries with single-payer
systems spend less on health care than the United States. But that
comes with a price of its own: limits on the availability of care.
Some developed countries ration care directly. Some spend less on
facilities, technology or physician incomes, leading to long waits
for care.

Such tradeoffs aren’t inherently bad, and not all health care is
of equal value. Plus, the United States imposes its own form of
rationing by price. No health-care system anywhere in the world
provides everyone with unlimited care. However, Americans have
always believed that such determinations are most appropriately
made by patients rather than the government.


The recent tragedy of young Charlie Gard in the United Kingdom

may have had as much to do with the British legal treatment of
parental rights as it did with rationing by the National Health
Service, but is emblematic of the type of government interference
with health decisions that Americans are unlikely to tolerate.

Moreover, the US investment in health care helps drive medical
innovation and technology around the world. There’s a reason why
more than half of all new drugs are patented in the United States,
and why 80 percent of non-pharmaceutical medical breakthroughs,
from transplants to MRIs, were introduced first here. Just imagine
what would’ve happened if the government had imposed
single-payer-style price controls on health care a hundred years
ago. How many life-saving drugs or vital medical technologies would
not exist today?

The ongoing health-care circus in Washington may seem to be full
of sound and fury, signifying nothing. But it’s really about who
should control some of the most personal and important decisions in
a person’s life — millions of individual consumers or the
government bureaucracy. The Democrats have chosen their side in
this debate. Now, let’s see what the Republicans think.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

Don’t Expect the Market to Pay Just Deserts

Ryan Bourne

In a post on Tim Montgomerie’s new website, Unherd,
Charlotte Pickles highlights polling
from the US and UK showing
which groups of rich people the public believe are “deserving” of
wealth.

The results are perhaps unsurprising: high-skilled engineers and
scientists, inventors of new products and services, owners of
technology firms and founders of manufacturing companies were all
regarded as deserving; sports stars, pharmaceutical companies,
Hollywood actors and senior bankers were seen as undeserving. The
results for chief executives and real estate investors were
ambiguous.

What should we make of this? On one level, the results are an
interesting reflection of what “society” views as just deserts. But
this becomes much more problematic when the implied reaction is
that “something must be done about it” from a policy
perspective.

That’s because we should not expect market transactions to
follow claims of moral desert. Yet it does not follow that setting
maximum wages, fixing pay ratios with others or redistributing
large amounts of income in that pursuit would be good for society
or produce just outcomes either.

As Friedrich Hayek wrote in Law, Legislation and
Liberty
, “the manner in which the benefits and burdens are
apportioned by the market mechanism would in many instance have to
be regarded as very unjust if it were the result of deliberate
allocation to particular people. But this is not the case.” In a
free market, the distribution of income depends not on what an
individual “deserves” but the value of particular activities as
determined by supply and demand.

That is the main problem with the way many people on the
political Left judge market outcomes and inequality – they assume
that a market judgment is akin to a moral one. “Surely it is
morally wrong that a footballer earns so much more than a teacher
or a nurse?” is a frequent lament. And to be fair, some on the
political Right make this same mistake too, seemingly claiming that
all returns to labour or investments are deserved or just and that
those on low incomes deserve their relative misfortune.

Both views are misguided. In fact, prices and wages are
important not because they reflect desert, but because they provide
information to producers about which products, services, individual
skills and attributes are desired. Prices reflect the aggregation
of individual transactions, and the supply and demand decisions of
millions of individuals across different sectors, which
subsequently lead to the commitment of new investments and shifting
resources to areas where they are most valued.

The arguments against fixing people’s wages or seeking to
redistribute vast amounts of income are therefore nothing to do
with assuming the status quo reflects “just deserts” or the
inherent morality of market outcomes. No, the argument against
having government or some central planner, or even majority opinion
in this case, determining who gets what, is based on the
unachievability of, and inefficiency caused by, central planning to
achieve “just” income levels.

First, by fixing or ignoring prices, resources will be
misallocated away from where they are most productively used,
making us all poorer overall. Second, the state faces a huge
knowledge problem – it is virtually impossible for it to judge how
much success or failure is attributed to skill, wise or bad
investments etc as opposed to luck and, hence, how to redistribute
accordingly. Even if we set out to link pay or at least post-tax
incomes with “desert”, we could not. And, third, the state would
have to make vast intrusions against economic liberty and our
freedom to pursue our own wants and desires in any attempt to
structure economic outcomes according to desert.

All this is not to say that a form of social insurance would be
unacceptable given the ebbs and flows of capitalist activity. Hayek
himself argued for a basic safety net. But attempting to make
income and wealth outcomes reflect a majoritarian view of “desert”
would be both unattainable in practice whilst inflicting vast
economic damage.

Ryan Bourne occupies the R. Evan Scharf Chair for the Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute

Scorecard: Trump’s First Six Months

Michael D. Tanner

The first six months of the Trump presidency have been dominated
by tweets, insults, and investigations. But obscured by all the
noise have been important questions of policy. Let us, therefore,
put aside issues of style and look more closely at the substance.
What has President Trump accomplished?

There have clearly been successes. At the very top of the list
is Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who gives every sign of
being the brilliant originalist who was advertised. Trump has been
slower in nominating judges to lower courts, but those he has put
up, in general, appear to be excellent choices.

On the legislative front, Trump’s biggest victory may have been
a bill making it easier to fire incompetent employees at the
Department of Veterans Affairs, and protecting whistleblowers in
the agency. He has also signed some 15 bills repealing all or parts
of Obama-era regulations. Few have been earthshaking, but most have
been steps in the right direction. And while his withdrawal from
the Paris climate accords was as much symbolism as substance (as
were the accords themselves), it was an important signal that
America is going to prioritize economic growth.

Some wins (Gorsuch,
regulations, Paris accord), but character flaws continue to tarnish
his achievements.

Nor should we ignore addition by subtraction, so to speak. There
are all the regulations that the Trump administration has not
enacted, especially compared with what a Clinton administration
probably would have done. By some measures, the Trump
administration has been the least regulatory presidency since
Reagan’s. That’s not nothing.

But the president has mostly struck out on bigger items. Even if
Republicans eventually cobble together some sort of health-care
bill, full repeal of Obamacare is, by all accounts, not going to
happen. Tax reform remains nothing more than a one-page outline and
is unlikely to pass this year. The budget remains stalled,
entitlement reform is off the table, and deficits are rising.
Congress, of course, shares the blame for these failures. But
Trump’s distraction, disengagement, and vacillation helped turn bad
situations into true disasters.

Then again, we should probably be grateful that many of Trump’s
other initiatives, such as Ivanka’s paid family-leave and
child-care programs, the trillion-dollar infrastructure boondoggle,
and, of course, the wall are not going anywhere.

And if you want to see a complete policy train wreck, look no
further than the president’s travel ban, originally intended to
bar entry for 90 days for applicants from seven Muslim-majority
countries. Setting aside that the president managed to insult an
entire religion and caused enormous personal hardship to innocent
people, or that the ban does nothing to make America safer, one
can’t overlook that the whole exercise ended up bogged down in the
courts for longer than the order was originally supposed to be in
effect.

Meanwhile, on foreign policy, Trump’s flubs and snubs have
obscured the fact that he has mostly carried on a pretty
traditional approach to most issues. His rhetoric might be more
bellicose, but his actual policies are not much different than what
President Clinton probably would have done.

Under other circumstances, one might consider these six months
as perfectly mediocre, not as bad as critics feared, but no great
shakes either. But circumstances are hardly normal. It’s all but
impossible to separate Trump on policy from Trump’s character. From
the point of view of his many critics, his petty feuds, continuing
misogyny, and relentless assault on the truth have tarnished those
things he has accomplished.

Polls show that Trump’s support among voters is at record lows
at this point in a presidency, but he retains nearly all the
support of his base. For some of them, it’s enough that he appears
to speak for them against the bipartisan Washington establishment.
For others, they are enthralled by the way he drives liberals,
critics, and the media crazy. For others, not being Hillary or
Obama will carry him a long way. Besides, the Democrats are hardly
offering much of an alternative.

But if we are looking for real solutions to the serious problems
facing this country, the Trump administration is a long way from
winning.

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

Americans Should Impeach Presidents More Often

Gene Healy

Impeachment talk in the nation’s capital rose from a murmur to a
dull roar in mid-May, thanks to a week jam-packed with Nixonesque
“White House horrors.” On Tuesday, May 9, President
Donald Trump summarily fired FBI director James Comey; on Thursday,
Trump admitted the FBI investigation into “this Russia
thing”—attempts to answer questions about his campaign’s
links with Moscow—was a key reason for the firing; Friday
found Trump warning Comey he’d “better hope that there are no
‘tapes’ of our conversations”; and the following
Tuesday The New York
Times
 reported the existence of a Comey memo on Trump’s
efforts to get the FBI director to “let this go.” Along
the way, Trump may have “jeopardized a critical source of
intelligence on the Islamic State” while bragging to Russian
diplomats about his “great intel,” according
to The Washington Post.

Still, the Beltway discussion of impeachment remained couched in
euphemism, as if there was something vaguely profane and
disreputable about the very idea. “The elephant in the
room,” an NPR story observed, “is the big ‘I’
word—impeachment”; “the ‘I’ word that I think we
should use right now is ‘investigation,’” House Judiciary
Committee member Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) told CNN’s Wolf
Blitzer.

We don’t call it “the v-word” when the
president signals he might veto a bill. Yet somehow, when it comes
to the constitutional procedure for ejecting an unfit president,
journalists and Congress members—grown-ups,
ostensibly—are reduced to the political equivalent of
h-e-double-hockey-sticks.”

What’s really obscene is America’s record on presidential
impeachments. We’ve made only three serious attempts in our entire
constitutional history: Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in
1998—both of whom were impeached but escaped
removal—and Richard Nixon, who quit in 1974 before the House
could vote on the issue. Given how many bastards and clowns we’ve
been saddled with over the years, shouldn’t we manage the feat more
than once a century?

A ‘National Inquest Into the Conduct of Public
Men’

We’ve made only three
serious attempts in our entire constitutional history. Given how
many bastards and clowns we’ve been saddled with over the years,
shouldn’t we manage the feat more than once a century?

Impeachments “will seldom fail to agitate the passions of
the whole community, and to divide it into parties,” Alexander
Hamilton predicted in the Federalist. That’s how
it played out during our last national debate on the subject,
during the Monica Lewinsky imbroglio of the late ’90s.

The specter of Bill Clinton’s removal from office for perjury
and obstruction of justice drove legal academia to new heights of
creativity. Scads of concerned law professors strained to come up
with a definition of “high Crimes and Misdemeanors”
narrow enough to let Bill slide. In a letter delivered to Congress
as the impeachment debate began, over 430 of them warned that
unless the House of Representatives wanted to “dangerously
weaken the office of the presidency for the foreseeable
future” (heaven forfend), the standard had to be “grossly
heinous criminality or grossly derelict misuse of official
power.”

Some of the academy’s leading lights, not previously known for
devotion to original intent, proved themselves stricter than the
strict constructionists and a good deal more original than the
originalists. The impeachment remedy
was so narrow, Cass Sunstein insisted, that if
the president were to up and “murder someone simply because he
does not like him,” it would make for a “hard case.”
Quite so, echoed con-law superprof Laurence Tribe: An impeachable
offense had to be “a grievous abuse of official power,”
something that “severely threaten[s] the system of
government.”

Just killing someone for sport might not count—after all,
Tribe pointed out, when Vice President Aaron Burr left a gutshot
Alexander Hamilton dying in Weehawken after their July 1804 duel,
he got to serve the remaining months of his term without getting
impeached. Still, Tribe generously allowed, in the modern era
“there may well be room to argue” that a murdering
president could be removed without grave damage to the
Constitution.

In the unlikely event that Donald Trump orders one of his
private bodyguards to whack Alec Baldwin, it’s a relief to know
that Laurence Tribe will entertain the argument for impeachment.
But does constitutional fidelity really require us to put up with
anything short of “grievous,” “heinous,”
existential threats to the body politic?

The Framers borrowed the mechanism from British practice, and
there it wasn’t nearly so narrow. The first time the phrase
appeared, apparently, was in the 1386 impeachment of the Earl of
Suffolk, charged with misuse of public funds and negligence in
“improvement of the realm.” The Nixon-era House Judiciary
Committee staff report Constitutional Grounds for
Presidential Impeachment
 described the English precedents
as including “misapplication of funds, abuse of official
power, neglect of duty, encroachment on Parliament’s prerogatives,
[and] corruption and betrayal of trust.”

As Hamilton explained in the Federalist, “the
true spirit of the institution” was “a method of national
inquest into the conduct of public men,” the sort of inquiry
that could “never be tied down by such strict rules…as in
common cases serve to limit the discretion of courts.”

Among those testifying beside Sunstein and Tribe in 1998 was
Northwestern’s John O. McGinnis, a genuine originalist, who argued
that the Constitution’s impeachment provisions should be viewed in
terms of the problem they were designed to address: “how to
end the tenure of an officer whose conduct has seriously undermined
his fitness for continued service and thus poses an unacceptable
risk of injury to the republic.”

Contra Tribe, who’d compared impeachment to “capital
punishment,” McGinnis pointed out that the constitutional
penalties for unfitness—removal and possible disqualification
from future office holding—went “just far enough,”
and no further than necessary, “to remove the threat
posed.” In light of the structure and purpose of impeachment,
he argued, “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” should be
understood, in modern lay language, roughly as “objective
misconduct that seriously undermines the official’s fitness for
office…measured by the risks, both practical and symbolic, that the
officer poses to the republic.”

Today, even the president’s political enemies tend to set the
bar far higher. Donald Trump has acted in a way that is
“strategically incoherent,” “incompetent,” and
“reckless,” Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi said in
February, but “that is not grounds for impeachment.”

But incoherence, incompetence, and recklessness are evidence of
unfitness, and when we’re talking about the nation’s most powerful
office they can be as damaging as actual malice. It would be a
pretty lousy constitutional architecture that only provided the
means for ejecting the president if he’s a crook or a vegetable,
but left us to muddle through anything in between.

Luckily, Pelosi is wrong: There is no constitutional barrier to
impeaching a president who demonstrates gross incompetence or
behavior that makes reasonable people worry about his proximity to
nuclear weapons.

Impeachable Ineptitude

When Barack Obama was president, Trump once asked, “Are you
allowed to impeach a president for gross incompetence?”
Earlier this year, Daily Show viewers found that
tweet funny enough to merit the “Greatest Trump Tweet of All
Time” award. Still, it’s a valid question.

The conventional wisdom says no, largely on the basis of a
snippet of legislative history from the Constitutional Convention.
As James Madison’s notes recount, when Virginia’s George Mason
moved to add “maladministration” to the Constitution’s
impeachable offenses, Madison objected: “So vague a term will
be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate.”
Mason yielded, substituting “other high crimes &
misdemeanors.”

But the Convention debates were held in secret, and Madison’s
notes weren’t published until half a century later. Furthermore,
the language Mason substituted was understood from British practice
to incorporate “maladministration.” Nor did Madison
himself believe mismanagement and incompetence to be clearly
off-limits, having described impeachment as the necessary remedy
for “the incapacity, negligence, or perfidy of the chief
Magistrate.”

Thus far, the Trump administration has been a rolling Fyre
Festival of negligence and maladministration, from holding a
nuclear strategy session with Japan’s prime minister in the crowded
dining room of a golf resort to having the former head
of Breitbart News draft immigration orders
without the assistance of competent lawyers. Near as I can tell,
James Comey’s verbal incontinence had a bigger impact on the 2016
election than Russian espionage, but liberals hold out hope for a
“smoking gun” of collusion that’s unlikely ever to
emerge. Meanwhile, the Trump administration was apparently clueless
that firing the FBI director in the midst of the Russia
investigation would be a big deal, and Trump himself was unaware
that admitting he did it in hopes of quashing the inquiry was a
stupid move.

As the Comey story emerged, pundits and lawbloggers debated
whether, on the known facts, the president’s behavior would support
a federal felony charge for obstruction of justice. But that’s the
wrong standard. As the Nixon Impeachment Inquiry staff report
pointed out: “the purpose of impeachment is not personal
punishment. Its purpose is primarily to maintain constitutional
government.” Even if, to borrow a phrase from Comey, “no
reasonable prosecutor” would bring a charge of obstruction on
these facts, the House is free to look at the president’s entire
course of conduct and decide whether it reveals unfitness
justifying impeachment.

A Rhetorical Question?

The Nixon report identified three categories of misconduct held
to be impeachable offenses in American constitutional history:
“exceeding the constitutional bounds” of the office’s
powers, using the office for “personal gain,” and, most
important here, “behaving in a manner grossly incompatible
with the proper function and purpose of the office.”

When Trump does something to spark cries of “this is not
normal,” the behavior in question often involves his Twitter
feed. The first calls to impeach Trump over a tweet came up in
March, when the president charged, apparently without evidence,
that Obama had his “wires tapped” in Trump Tower.

The tweet was an “abuse of power,” “harmful to
democracy,” and potentially impeachable, Harvard Law’s Noah
Feldman proclaimed: “He’s threatening somebody with the
possibility of prosecution.” Laurence Tribe, of all people,
agreed. Murder may have been a hard case, but slander? Easy call.
Trump’s charge qualified “as an impeachable offense whether
via tweet or not.”

I confess it wasn’t the utterly speculative threat to Barack
Obama that disturbed me about Trump’s Twitter feed that day in
March; it was that a mere two hours after lobbing that grenade,
Trump turned to razzing Arnold Schwarzenegger for his
“pathetic” ratings as host of Celebrity
Apprentice
. The Watergate tapes exposed much more than a
simple abuse of power. They revealed a fragile, petty, paranoid
personality of the sort you’d be loath to entrust with the vast
authority of the presidency. And Nixon didn’t imagine that the
whole world would be listening. Trump’s Twitter feed is like having
the Nixon tapes running in real time over social media, with the
president desperate for an even bigger audience.

As it happens, there’s precedent for impeaching a president for
bizarre behavior and “conduct unbecoming” in his public
communications. The impeachment of Andrew Johnson gets a bad rap,
in part because most of the charges against him really were bogus.
The bulk of the articles of impeachment rested on Johnson’s
violation of the Tenure of Office Act, a measure of dubious
constitutionality that barred the president from removing Cabinet
officers without Senate approval.

But the 10th article of impeachment against Johnson, based on
different grounds, has gotten less coverage. It charged the
president with “a high misdemeanor in office” based on a
series of “intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous
harangues” against Congress. In a series of speeches in the
summer of 1866, Johnson had accused Congress of, among other
things, “undertak[ing] to poison the minds of the American
people” and having “substantially planned” a race
riot in New Orleans that July. Such remarks, according to Article
X, were “peculiarly indecent and unbecoming in the Chief
Magistrate” and brought his office “into contempt,
ridicule and disgrace.”

‘Peculiar Indecencies’

From a 21st century vantage point, the idea of impeaching the
president for insulting Congress seems odd, to say the least. But
as Jeffrey Tulis explained in his seminal work The
Rhetorical Presidency
, “Johnson’s popular rhetoric
violated virtually all of the nineteenth-century norms”
surrounding presidential oratory. Johnson stood “as the stark
exception to general practice in that century, so demagogic in his
appeals to the people” that he resembled “a parody of
popular leadership.” The charge, approved by the House but not
voted on in the Senate, was controversial at the time, but besides
skepticism about whether it reached the level of a high
misdemeanor, “the only other argument offered by congressmen
in Johnson’s defense was that he was not drunk when giving the
speeches.”

It’s impressive that Trump—a teetotaler—manages to
pull off his “peculiar indecencies” while stone cold
sober. Since his election, Trump has used Twitter to rail against
restaurant reviews, Saturday Night Live skits,
“so-called judges,” and America’s nuclear-armed rivals.
The month before his inauguration, apropos of nothing, Trump
announced via the social network that the U.S. “must greatly
strengthen and expand its nuclear capability,” following up
the next day on Morning Joe with “we will
outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

As Charles Fried, Reagan’s solicitor general, observed,
“there are no lines for him…no notion of, this is
inappropriate, this is indecent, this is unpresidential.” If
the standard is “unacceptable risk of injury to the
republic,” such behavior just may be impeachable. An
impeachment on those grounds wouldn’t just remove a bad president
from office; it would set a precedent that might keep future
leaders in line.

Gene Healy is a
vice president at the Cato
Institute
, author of The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous
Devotion to Executive Power
(Cato 2008), and a columnist at the
Washington Examiner.

Four Reasons Obamacare Lived to Plague Republicans Another Day

Michael D. Tanner

Republican hopes to repeal Obamacare are all but officially
dead, at least for now. This isn’t just a failure, this is an epic
failure. This is the legislative failure by which all future
legislative failures will be judged.

But how did it come to this? When Republicans took power in
January, they controlled both branches of Congress and the
presidency, Obamacare was hugely unpopular with voters, and the
health care law was spiraling into failure. Yet somehow, Obamacare
not only survives, it is now more popular than ever.

So what went wrong?

1. It’s Hard Taking Things Away from People:
One thing Democrats have always understood is that there is no down
escalator for the welfare state. As we witness every election
cycle, when Democrats accuse Republicans of throwing grandma off a
cliff for discussing Social Security or Medicare reform, it doesn’t
matter how unsustainable or unrealistic promised benefits are, you
are still taking away something that people feel they were
promised. Santa Claus is always more popular than the Grinch, even
if the Grinch understands math.

Republicans tried hard to pretend that there were no losers
under their proposals, but the public understood that, if you
slowed the growth of Medicaid or reduced subsidies, some people
would either pay more or get less. And because they don’t trust
politicians, they didn’t want to take any chances that the person
paying more or getting less would be them. That means it was always
going to be hard for Republicans to repeal or replace Obamacare
even if they got everything else right. As we saw, they didn’t.

For one, Santa Claus is
much more popular than the Grinch.

2. Institutional barriers: Because Democrats
were unified in opposition to any Republican plan, Republicans were
forced to rely on a complex procedure known as “reconciliation” to
avoid a filibuster in the Senate. Among other things,
reconciliation requires that all provisions in a bill have a direct
budgetary impact. Thus, proposals like allowing the sale of
insurance across state lines couldn’t be included in the bill. But
those provisions were not only among the most popular Republican
ideas, they were also important for making insurance more
affordable.

3. No Plan: For 7 years, every Republican
running for president or Congress (or any other office for that
matter) campaigned on opposition to Obamacare. Congress even voted
some 50 times to repeal all or part of the health care law. But
once the stakes became real rather than symbolic this year, it
quickly became apparent that Republicans had no actual plan for
what would replace Obamacare. This wasn’t just a question of
negotiating the final details either. They didn’t even understand
the basics. It was obvious that very few Republicans had given much
thought to how the health care system works or what a free market
health care plan might look like.

Without a base of understanding to start from, the negotiations
over the Republican alternative quickly became obsessive efforts to
find a plan that could pass, rather than one that would work. Thus
Republicans tried to keep seemingly popular provisions of
Obamacare, like preventing medical underwriting of people with
preexisting conditions, while repealing unpopular provisions like
the individual mandate. They ended up with a proposal that
increasingly veered toward incoherence. It somehow managed the
difficult feat of taking all the problems with Obamacare and
making them worse
.

No Message: As Republicans became increasingly
obsessed with process and the tantalizing question of whether they
could pass anything, they almost completely stopped
talking about why they should pass their bill. Almost no
one talked about why this was a good bill, or why it was better
than Obamacare. The average American had no idea what the
Republican bill would do to their premiums, their coverage, their
ability to see the doctor of their choice. There is a compelling
case to be made for how free market health care reform can bring
down costs, while improving quality and choice. No one ever made
that case.

No one was more derelict in this regard than President Trump.
Say what you will about how President Obama sold Obamacare, but he
did sell it. By some estimates Obama discussed health care on more
than 150 occasions in his speeches, press conferences, and town
halls. Even by generous standards, President Trump spoke about
health care less than a dozen times in the first six months of his
presidency, often just a passing reference sandwiched amidst other
issues.

The Republican failure to repeal Obamacare suggests that the
rest of their agenda, from tax reform to the budget is in trouble
too. None of the dynamics are going to change. Democrats, firmly in
“resist” mode, will remain adamantly against anything Republicans
propose. President Trump will remain distracted and disengaged (not
to mention increasingly unpopular). Republicans will remain divided
and afraid. Not exactly a recipe for success.

The question, then, is whether the president and congressional
Republicans have learned anything from this defeat. So far, there’s
no evidence that they have.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

Straight from DPRK: Traveling to NK: Brave or Crazy?

Doug Bandow

Pyongyang, North Korea — In the popular mind, there may be
no more forbidding destination on earth. I’ve never had as
many people ask if I was serious when I mentioned I was heading to
the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea last month.

In fact, I had no worries. I was going as a guest of the
Institute for American Studies of the Foreign Ministry. I also
understood what not to do.

Failing at the latter has proved to be the undoing of a number
of Americans, most spectacularly collegian Otto Warmbier, who died
after being released by North Korea in a coma. Three other
Americans remain in custody, along with several South Koreans and
other foreign nationals. But their plight, though tragic, is not a
good reason to ban travel to the DPRK.

Some in Congress want to
ban travel to the North. But a free society should protect the
liberty to travel and explore.

Some attributed Warmbier’s release to the Trump
administration’s efforts, though it had no more leverage than
its predecessor. While in the North I asked if the government sent
Warmbier home as a conciliatory gesture to Washington. The
unequivocal response was that it was strictly a humanitarian
matter.

Otto Warmbier’s family blamed the Obama administration for
failing to win his release, but the decision always was
Pyongyang’s. Why the DPRK released him was impossible to know
for sure: perhaps Kim Jong-un decided that holding a comatose
prisoner was a political liability.

The cases of Warmbier and other Americans, some going back
years, are uniformly awful: people punished for actions that should
not be considered criminal. But the DPRK is not alone in penalizing
foreigners for dubious offenses. The main difference may be that
Pyongyang, more than most other “hostile” states, sees
potential political value in jailed Americans.

Still, a thousand Americans visit annually and don’t get
arrested. Young Pioneer Tours, which organized the trip on which
Warmbier traveled, pointed out that it had brought in more than
8000 other travelers without incident.

On my plane entering North Korea I sat next to a British citizen
who was making his third tourist visit. The worst trouble he had
was being told to delete photos deemed inappropriate.

A number of humanitarian groups, some explicitly religious, work
in the officially atheist nation. I met several NGO staffers and
volunteers in the midst of a lengthy sojourn providing medical
care. None had ever ended up in jail.

In fact, arrests aren’t random but, in North Korea’s
view, for cause. DPRK officials say they punish intentional, not
accidental, rules violations.

I chatted with the head of a Western NGO active in the North who
said her group had looked into the cases of those jailed: all had
committed some illegal act. Obviously that doesn’t mean their
conduct warranted punishment. But they put themselves under the
DPRK’s authority, to ill effect.

Warmbier’s case looks extreme even by North Korean
standards. Some knowledgeable Westerners suggested that there was
more to his case, perhaps involving an insult to the North Korean
system and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. The poster incident merely
became the cover story.

Some in Congress want to ban travel to the North. But a free
society should protect the liberty to travel and explore. This
right shouldn’t be limited without compelling
justification.

Visiting the DPRK has educational value. Those who spend time in
North Korea are more likely to understand it. Since the U.S.
government lacks a diplomatic presence; American visitors are the
best alternative.

Going to the North also causes those living in free societies to
better appreciate their systems. I left thankful that I lived in a
society which, however imperfectly, protected individual
liberty.

Watching, meeting, and especially working with people who
don’t fit the official stereotype provide North Koreans with
an education as well. Knowledge is transmitted, curiosity is
aroused. Engagement is no panacea, but is more likely than
isolation to encourage Pyongyang’s positive evolution.

Banning Americans from visiting the North would be especially
perverse when the rest of the world remained free to go. Congress
should think how best to transform the North’s people as well
as government over the long-term.

We may never know what happened to Otto Warmbier. His tragic
case reminds us that visiting North Korea requires special caution.
But that’s no reason to block outsiders from going.

They have much both to learn and teach. Until the DPRK changes,
individual travelers may end up being most important and perhaps
only ambassadors to North Korea from democratic countries around
the world.

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

Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates Pay High Price for Botched Attack on Qatar

Doug Bandow

The pampered petro-states of Saudi Arabia and United Arab
Emirates expected a quick victory after imposing a quasi-blockade
on neighboring Qatar. Past crises in relations had been peacefully
resolved, but this time Qatar’s antagonists demanded its
virtual surrender, particularly abandonment of an independent
foreign policy. They believed they had Washington behind them.

Alas, the intervening weeks have not been kind to Riyadh and
UAE. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim
Mattis signaled their support for Doha. Tillerson demonstrated
obvious impatience with demands he viewed as extreme and not even
worth negotiating, and called Qatar’s positions “very
reasonable.”

More than a few critics observed that Riyadh and Dubai are even
guiltier than Qatar in funding terrorism. One of them was Senate
Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, who complained
that “The amount of support for terrorism by Saudi Arabia
dwarfs what Qatar is doing.” Doha took the opportunity to
ink an agreement with the U.S. on targeting terrorist financing,
which none of Qatar’s accusers had done.

Moreover, George Washington University Professor Marc Lynch
observed that “The extremist and sectarian rhetoric which
external forces brought to the Syrian insurgency was a problem
extending far beyond Qatar.” The demand to shut Al Jazeera by
nations which have no free press and even criminalized the simple
expression of sympathy for Qatar was denounced globally.

Riyadh and Dubai have
sown the wind. Now they will reap the whirlwind.

Then came reports that U.S. intelligence concluded the UAE had
hacked the official Qatar website a couple months ago, creating the
incendiary posts allegedly quoting Qatar’s emir which helped
trigger the crisis. In contrast, Bahrain and Egypt, which joined
the anti-Doha bandwagon, looked like mere hirelings, doing as they
have been told by states which provided financial and military aid.
Having initiated hostilities without a back-up plan, the anti-Qatar
coalition cannot easily escalate against U.S. wishes or retreat
without a huge loss of face. But staying the course looks little
better. Saudi Arabia and UAE caused Qataris to rally behind their
royal family, wrecked the Gulf Cooperation Council, eased
Iran’s isolation, pulled Turkey directly into Gulf affairs,
and challenged Washington. Quite an achievement.

The experience has yielded several important lessons.

President Donald Trump huffs and puffs, but
doesn’t have much to do with U.S. foreign policy.

Despite having criticized Saudi Arabia in the past, he flip-flopped
to become Riyadh’s de facto lobbyists in Washington. However,
his very public preferences have had little impact on U.S. policy,
which ended up tilting strongly against UAE and Saudi Arabia. He
recently acknowledged that he and Secretary Tillerson “had a
little bit of a difference, only in terms of tone.”

Saudi Arabia proved to be more paper tiger than regional
leader.
It spent lavishly on weapons, subsidized other
Muslim states, sought to overthrow of Syria’s Assad regime,
and launched a brutal war against Yemen, but had no response
prepared when Qatar dismissed Riyadh’s demands. Then
Secretary Tillerson effectively blocked any escalation. With the
expiration of the Saudi-UAE ultimatum two weeks ago some observers
feared that Saudi Arabia and UAE would impose additional sanctions,
expel Qatar from the GCC, or even invade their independent
neighbor. But all of those steps now would be more difficult if not
impossible in practice.

Indeed, the secretary’s shuttle diplomacy last week to
support the Kuwaiti mediation attempt even forced Qatar’s
accusers to effectively negotiate what they had termed
nonnegotiable. UAE Minister of State Noura al-Kaabi said “We
need a diplomatic solution. We are not looking for an
escalation.” No wonder Saudis, who once believed they had
coopted America’s president, now complain that
America’s secretary of state is backing Doha.

Saudi Arabia’s expensive overseas diplomacy has
been of dubious value, gaining the Kingdom few friends.

Riyadh and Dubai organized an inconsequential coalition featuring
dependents Bahrain and Egypt, international nullity Maldives, and
one of the contending governments in fractured Libya. Since then
the group has failed to win meaningful support from any other
state. The problem? The real issue isn’t terrorism, but far
more selfish concerns, such as support for domestic political
opponents.

The reputation of the accusers has tanked.
Discussion of the controversy almost inevitably resulted in more
attention to the misbehavior of Riyadh and Dubai, particularly
their brutal repression of any political and religious dissent at
home, Saudi Arabia’s lavish funding for the extremist and
intolerant Wahhabist strain of Islam, and UAE’s initiation of
cyber-hostilities against Doha. Tom Wilson of the London-based
Henry Jackson Society published a report calling Riyadh the
“foremost” funder of terrorism in the United Kingdom
and citing concerns that “the amount of funding for religious
extremism coming out of countries such as Saudi Arabia has actually
increased in recent years.” While Qatar was vulnerable to
criticism over its backing for some radical groups, Riyadh and
Dubai had been subject to even harsher U.S. attacks for the same
reason.

Iran continued to gain more from the actions of its
antagonists than its own efforts.
Doha and Tehran are
linked by a shared natural gas field. Their relationship is one of
Saudi Arabia’s chief complaints. Iran is a malign actor, but
Riyadh, a totalitarian Sunni dictatorship, is worse. Saudi Arabia
intervened militarily in Bahrain to sustain the Sunni monarchy
against the Shia majority and backed radical insurgents to oust
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The reckless new Crown Prince,
Mohammed bin Salman, orchestrated the murderous, counterproductive
war in Yemen and diplomatic/economic attack on Qatar in order to
achieve Gulf hegemony. Now, without firing a shot, Iran helped
thwart Riyadh’s latest scheme, won the gratitude of Qataris,
and put a reasonable face on the Islamist regime.

Secretaries Tillerson and Mattis deserve special credit. By
ignoring President Trump’s misdirected enthusiasm for the
Saudi monarchy, they helped shift public attention back to Riyadh
and Dubai. Neither has demonstrated sufficient interest in cutting
terrorist funding.

For instance, in a lengthy cable dated December 30, 2009,
released by Wikileaks, the State Department criticized Qatar and
UAE, but was toughest on Saudi Arabia: “it has been an
ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist
financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic
priority.” Moreover, “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute
the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups
worldwide.” The kingdom “remains a critical financial
support base for al-Qaeda” and other terrorist organizations.
Despite Riyadh’s policies, “groups continue to send
money overseas and, at times, fund extremism overseas.”

If Saudi Arabia and UAE cared about terrorism, they would look
inward first. And Riyadh would stop funding Wahhabism, an
intolerant Islamic teaching which demonizes those who believe
differently. Wilson charged that “a growing body of evidence
has emerged that points to the considerable impact that foreign
funding has had on advancing Islamist extremism in Britain and
other Western countries.” The consequences of this funding
may be more long-lasting than payments to the terrorist group du
jour. Norwegian anti-terrorism analyst Thomas Hegghammer observed
“If there was going to be an Islamic reformation in the 20th
century, the Saudis probably prevented it by pumping out
literalism.”

What really bothers Saudi Arabia and the UAE is Doha’s
support for opposition groups. For instance, both Riyadh and Egypt
fear the Muslim Brotherhood, which challenges their ruling regimes
with a flawed but serious political philosophy—and,
incidentally, does not promote terrorism. The Saudi royals are
insecure because a kleptocratic, totalitarian monarchy holds little
appeal to anyone other than the few thousand princes who live
lavishly at everyone else’s expense. Saudi Arabia and the
Emirates similarly despise the TV channel Al Jazeera, which has
criticized both regimes.

Riyadh also wants to conscript Qatar in its campaign to isolate
Iran. Ironically, the Kingdom so far has applied no pressure on UAE
which, like Qatar, has maintained ties with the Islamist regime.
Anyway, it would be far better to promote long-term change by
continuing to draw Iran’s population westward in opposition
to Islamist elites. By playing host to groups as diverse as the
Taliban and Hamas, Doha actually has drawn controversial
organizations away from more radical governments, such as
Iran’s, and enabled the West to have unofficial contact with
groups with which it is officially at odds, such as the
Taliban.

Riyadh and Dubai have sown the wind. Now they will reap the
whirlwind. Their attack on Qatar further destabilized the Middle
East, unsettling several of Washington’s closest allies. The
Saudis and Emiratis ended up in a global cul-de-sac, isolating
themselves more than Qatar. The latter has little incentive to
yield, while the former face humiliation if they abandon their
claims. Other governments increasingly expect a lengthy stand-off.
Secretary Tillerson predicted that the “ultimate resolution
may take quite a while.”

That will benefit no one, other than Iran, perhaps. Not Qatar.
Not America. And certainly not Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The U.S. can’t impose a settlement on its dubious allies.
But Washington can recognize that “there are no clean hands
here,” as a State Department spokesman recently observed. The
Trump administration should place full responsibility for the
current stand-off where it belongs, on Riyadh and Dubai.

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.