It Is up to Somalia to Combat Al-Shabab

Charles V. Peña

According to U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), there have been 18
airstrikes to date this year in Somalia — more than four
times the average for the previous seven years. At the same time,
the number of U.S. forces inSomalia has more than doubled. The
target of the U.S. military inSomalia is al-Shabab, an Islamist
militant group allied with al Qaeda and now considered the
deadliest terrorist organization in Africa.

The Islamic State (ISIS) has also established a small presence
inSomalia and a break-away group of al-Shabab has pledged
allegiance to ISIS, but the two groups are more in competition with
each other for influence in Somalia — which demonstrates that
radical Islam is not monolithic.

Certainly, al-Shabab is a threat to the Somali government and
the civilians killed by its attacks. The worst attack was in
October when a truck bomb packed with several hundred kilograms of
military grade, homemade explosives was used to kill more than 300
people and injure hundreds more in the city center of Mogadishu
— making it one of the deadliest terrorist attacks anywhere
in the world.

The data does not bear
out the logic that killing would-be terrorists overseas in places
like Somalia will make us inherently safer.

According to the U.S. mission in Somalia, “Such cowardly
attacks reinvigorate the commitment of the United States to assist
our Somali and African Union partners to combat the scourge of
terrorism.” But an amorphous “scourge of
terrorism” — especially in Somalia — is not a
direct threat to America that warrants the sacrifice of U.S. lives
— such as U.S. Navy SEAL Senior Chief Kyle Milliken, who was
killed on a mission inSomalia in early May.

Yet, every radical Islamist everywhere in the world is not a
direct threat to the United States. ISIS is primarily a threat in
Iraq and Syria. Boko Haram is a threat in Nigeria. al-Shabab is a
threat inSomalia. As such, it is up to those countries and their
neighbors — who are most imperiled and have the most to lose
— to take primary responsibility for combating the terrorist
threats in their own backyards.

More important, we must recognize that the threat that al-Shabab
really represents is the civil war raging within Islam. Ultimately,
al-Shabab — like al Qaeda, ISIS, and Boko Haram — is at
war with its fellow Muslims who do not agree with and do not want
to live by their radical version of Islam. Involving the U.S.
military only puts us in the middle of their civil war — U.S.
troops should stop terrorists from killing Americans, not from
killing each other.

And as brutally violent as al-Shabab is, it is not targeting
America as al Qaeda did on Sept. 11, 2001.

Indeed, since 9/11 there hasn’t been a successful attack by a
foreign terrorist organization. The real threat has been lone wolf
and largely homegrown terrorism.

According to the Global Terrorism Index, since 2006, 98 percent
of all deaths from terrorism in the U.S. have been from attacks
carried out by lone actors, resulting in 156 deaths. And according
to the New America Foundation, of those accused of jihadist related
terrorism crimes in the U.S., more than 80 percent of them were
either U.S. citizens or U.S. legal residents, and about half were
American born citizens.

The data does not bear out the logic that killing would-be
terrorists overseas in places likeSomalia will make us inherently
safer. So continuing to pursue such a strategy is folly.

In 1993, the U.S. military was inSomalia on a humanitarian
intervention mission that was neither vital nor important to U.S.
national security. The mission resulted in the tragic deaths of 18
U.S. Army Rangers. Today, the U.S. military is inSomalia to help
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo wage a war against
al-Shabab — a war neither vital nor important to U.S.
national security. If the first time was simply a tragedy, the
second time is foolhardy.

Charles V.
Peña
, a senior fellow with Defense Priorities, is the
former director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute and
author of “Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on
Terrorism” (Potomac Books).

Iran’s ‘Behavior’ Isn’t Threatening Americans. Don’t Use That Pretense to Scrap the Nuclear Deal.

John Glaser

In a speech Tuesday at the Wilson Center in
Washington, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Trump
administration is “committed to addressing the totality of
the Iranian threat,” asking America’s allies “to
join us in standing up to all of Iran’s malign
behavior,” including its “support for terrorist
organizations” and “active ballistic missile
development program.”

He echoed President Trump’s rationale last month for decertifying the Iran
nuclear deal, an Obama-era agreement that put a lid on Iran’s
nuclear program by imposing a set of restrictions and a
comprehensive inspections regime. Like Tillerson, Trump cited two
issues that lie outside the deal itself: Iran’s support for proxy groups such as Hezbollah in
Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and Houthi rebels in Yemen; and Iran’s
development of ballistic missiles.

But the obsession with these Iranian policies amounts to threat
inflation. Neither poses a serious threat to America’s
domestic security or core national interests and they don’t
warrant jettisoning a thus-far successful nuclear nonproliferation
agreement.

This is just a way for
Trump and Tillerson to attack an agreement they don’t
want.

As Thomas Juneau recently argued for The Post, “Tehran’s
support for the Houthis is limited, and its influence in Yemen is
marginal.” They aren’t primarily Iranian proxies, but
characterizing them as such serves a narrative perpetuated by the
Saudi Arabian government, the Iranian regime’s chief regional
rival. Hamas barely holds on to power in Gaza, one of the most
impoverished, densely populated and smallest slices of territory in
the world.

Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group and political party based in
Lebanon, functions as an Iranian proxy and has, in the past, been
linked to attacks on Americans: the group was implicated in the
1996 Khobar Towers attack; in Beirut in 1983 and 1984, Hezbollah
targeted the U.S. Marine Corps barracks and the U.S. Embassy annex,
respectively, killing 243 Americans, attempting to force a U.S.
military withdrawal. But unlike al-Qaeda and the Islamic State,
there’s not much today to suggest that Hamas’s,
Hezbollah’s or the Houthi rebels’ mission is attacking
United States.

Trump says Iran is “the world’s leading
state sponsor of terrorism,” while Sen. John McCain warns that, “A web of Iranian
proxies” threatens the “stability, freedom of
navigation and the territory of our partners and allies.”
Even though the Iran deal deliberately disaggregated Iran’s
support for these groups from the issue of its nuclear ambitions,
Trump has heaped the issues together rhetorically to argue that he
has no choice but to tear the deal up.

Not only does that obfuscate the aim of the deal, but it serves
to obscure the fact that the United States looks away as Iran’s
rivals engage in behavior that is similar, or worse, than Iran’s.
For several years now, the Saudis, with American support, have relentlessly bombed
Yemen in a campaign against the Houthis that has resulted in a
humanitarian crisis. In addition to being
investigated by the United Nations for war
crimes, one of the consequences of the Saudi’s military campaign
has been to bolster the position of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in
Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi actions have had
greater negative impact on U.S. interests, in terms of regional
destabilization, intensification of a proxy war and the expansion
of al-Qaeda, than Iran’s support for the Houthis.

In contrast to the regional agendas of Hamas and Hezbollah, the
Saudis have long been implicated in promoting and exactly the kinds of Sunni militant groups that try to target the
U.S.: the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other Sunni militant groups
boosted by the Saudis have perpetrated more than 94 percent of deaths caused by Islamic
terrorism since 2001.

If we can tolerate such behavior from an ally such as Saudi
Arabia, surely Iran’s support for its proxies is a poor
excuse for scuttling an agreement that effectively restrains an
Iranian nuclear weapons program.

According to the Center for Strategic & International
Studies, Iran is not
known to possess
and reportedly does not seek, missiles that can
reach U.S. territory. The Pentagon, as well as the U.S. Institute
of Peace, have repeatedly assessed in recent years that Iran’s military
posture is defensive in nature. Earlier this year, with respect to
Iran, Sen. Tom Cotton said, “I don’t see how anyone can
say America can be safe as long as you have in power a theocratic
despotism.” Presumably, though, Cotton makes an exception for
the despotic, theocratic regime in Riyadh that enjoys bipartisan
Washington support.

At any rate, Iran is profoundly unlikely to attack the United
States. America possesses an overwhelming nuclear deterrent; and we
remain the world’s largest economy, with a GDP 50 times that of Iran. Iran’s annual
military spending is around 5 percent of ours and 9 percent of their region’s total. Iran
has a large army — around a half million troops — but
can’t meaningfully project power beyond the Middle East.

Indeed, Iran’s regional behaviors are only a threat to the
United States to the extent that we continue to insist on meddling
unnecessarily in a region whose strategic importance has been
overstated for decades. We have thousands of troops and multiple
bases in the region, and we’ve been in a constant state of war there for years with
little to show for it. The prevailing strategic rationales for
America’s excessive over-involvement in the Middle East —
defending Israel, fighting terrorism and protecting the free flow
of oil — don’t even come close to justifying the costs of
pursuing them.

Even if Iran challenges other regional powers, that’s not a
reason to get rid of a deal that prevents it from gaining nuclear
weapons. It makes nonproliferation a more crucial security priority
than ever.

Abandoning the nuclear deal doesn’t make Israel any safer:
Most of Israel’s military and intelligence community agrees that facing an Iran with a nuclear
program under tight inspections and limitations is better than
facing an Iran with an expanding nuclear program hidden from
international monitors. When it comes to Saudi Arabia, we’re
applying a double standard. And when it comes to directly
safeguarding U.S. security, we’re safer when we don’t elect to adopt the region’s
problems as our own.

John Glaser is
director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.

Individual-Mandate Repeal Makes GOP Tax-Reform Plan More Attractive

Michael D. Tanner

Tax reform was always going to be a difficult lift for
Republicans, so it came as something of a surprise when the Senate
added a new complication to the mix: a repeal of Obamacare’s
individual mandate. Yet it was the right thing to do.

The justification for repealing the mandate was the search for
money. Because some people might choose not to purchase insurance
if they are not forced to, the government will have to pay out
fewer subsidies. That means some $340 billion less in government
spending over the next decade. Senate Republicans were able to use
these savings to reduce tax rates by an additional half percentage
point across the board.

It should be pointed out that repealing the individual mandate
is itself a tax cut for many Americans. (We know the mandate is a
tax because Chief Justice John Roberts told us so.) In 2016, 6.5
million Americans paid more than $4.5 billion in penalties for
failing to enroll in an Obamacare-compliant health-care plan. Those
penalties, which averaged $695 per person in 2016 and over $2,000
for a family of four, are a particular burden for low and
moderate-income families. More than 92 percent of those hit with
the penalty earn $75,000 per year or less; nearly 80 percent earn
less than $50,000. That’s not exactly another tax cut for the
rich.

There’s a lot to be wary
of in the Republican plan, but getting rid of Obamacare’s most
onerous provision would be a win for everyone.

But the biggest problem with the individual mandate is not a
question of money. The idea that government can force every
American to purchase a specific product, even for the common good,
is deeply offensive to the American idea of individual liberty.
There is a good reason why the individual mandate is the most
unpopular part of Obamacare: It runs contrary to the American
character, and fundamentally alters the relationship between
government and the individual. That alone would justify repeal.

Of course, as noted, without the mandate many Americans would
choose not to purchase health insurance. The Congressional Budget
Office estimates that within a decade as many as 13 million more
people will go without insurance. For many of those people,
forgoing insurance is not a wise decision. But it is still
their decision. Contrary to progressive talking points, no
one’s insurance is going to be taken away.

It is possible that, since young and healthy people are most
likely to decide against buying insurance, repealing the mandate
could speed the ongoing adverse-selection problem that afflicts
Obamacare, and raise some premiums over time. Still, if your
health-care model depends on a product so lousy and overpriced that
no one will buy it unless you force them to … well, perhaps you
should rethink it.

Moreover, the CBO has long overstated the impact of the power of
the individual mandate to induce insurance coverage. That’s one
reason why actual ACA enrollment has consistently fallen short of
CBO projections. An independent analysis released last week by
S&P Global concluded that repealing the individual mandate
would result in just 3-5 million fewer people purchasing insurance
over the next decade. That would mean a smaller reduction in
government spending, but also a smaller impact on premiums.

The Senate is expected to vote on its version of the tax bill as
early as Thursday. Right now, its fate is said to hang on the votes
of roughly eight senators who are undecided or have expressed
concerns about the package (Collins, Corker, Daines, Flake,
Johnson, Lankford, McCain, and Moran). There are reasons to be
skeptical of the bill, including its impact on the deficit. But
there should be no doubt that individual-mandate repeal makes it a
more attractive proposition.

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

The Duplicitous Superpower

Ted Galen Carpenter

For any country, the foundation of successful diplomacy is a
reputation for credibility and reliability. Governments are wary of
concluding agreements with a negotiating partner that violates
existing commitments and has a record of duplicity. Recent U.S.
administrations have ignored that principle, and their actions have
backfired majorly, damaging American foreign policy in the
process.

The consequences of previous deceit are most evident in the
ongoing effort to achieve a diplomatic solution to the North Korean
nuclear crisis. During his recent trip to East Asia, President
Trump urged Kim Jong-un’s regime to “come
to the negotiating table” and “do the right
thing”—relinquish the country’s nuclear weapons
and ballistic missile programs. Presumably, that concession would
lead to a lifting (or at least an easing) of international economic
sanctions and a more normal relationship between Pyongyang and the
international community.

Unfortunately, North Korean leaders have abundant reasons to be wary of such U.S.
enticements. Trump’s transparent attempt to renege on
Washington’s commitment to the deal with Iran known as the
Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—which the United
States and other major powers signed in 2015 to curb Tehran’s
nuclear program—certainly does not increase Pyongyang’s
incentive to sign a similar agreement. His decision to decertify
Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA, even when the United
Nations confirms that Tehran is adhering to its obligations, appears
more than a little disingenuous.

North Korea is likely focused on another incident that raises
even greater doubts about U.S. credibility. Libyan dictator Muammar
Qaddafi capitulated on the nuclear issue in December of 2003,
abandoning his country’s nuclear program and reiterating a
commitment to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In exchange, the
United States and its allies lifted economic sanctions and welcomed
Libya back into the community of respectable nations. Barely seven
years later, though, Washington and its NATO partners
double-crossed Qaddafi, launching airstrikes and cruise missile
attacks to assist rebels in their campaign to overthrow the Libyan
strongman. North Korea and other powers took notice of
Qaddafi’s fate, making the already difficult task of getting
a de-nuclearization agreement with Pyongyang nearly impossible.

The Libya intervention sullied America’s reputation in
another way. Washington and its NATO allies prevailed on the UN
Security Council to pass a resolution endorsing a military
intervention to protect innocent civilians. Russia and China
refrained from vetoing that resolution after Washington’s
assurances that military action would be limited in scope and
solely for humanitarian purposes. Once the assault began, it
quickly became evident that the resolution was merely a fig leaf
for another U.S.-led regime-change war.

Beijing, and especially Moscow, understandably felt duped.
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates succinctly described Russia’s reaction,
both short-term and long-term:

The Russians later firmly believed they had been deceived on
Libya. They had been persuaded to abstain at the UN on the grounds
that the resolution provided for a humanitarian mission to prevent
the slaughter of civilians. Yet as the list of bombing targets
steadily grew, it became obvious that very few targets were
off-limits, and that NATO was intent on getting rid of Qaddafi.
Convinced they had been tricked, the Russians would subsequently
block any such future resolutions, including against President
Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

The Libya episode was hardly the first time the Russians
concluded that U.S. leaders had cynically misled them . Moscow asserts that
when East Germany unraveled in 1990, both U.S. Secretary of State
James Baker and West German Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher
offered verbal assurances that, if Russia accepted a unified
Germany within NATO, the alliance would not expand beyond
Germany’s eastern border. The official U.S. position that
there was nothing in writing affirming such a limitation is
correct—and the clarity, extent, and duration of any verbal
commitment to refrain from enlargement are certainly matters of intense controversy . But invoking a “you
didn’t get it in writing” dodge does not inspire
another government’s trust.

There seems to be no limit to Washington’s desire to crowd
Russia. NATO has even added the Baltic republics, which had been
part of the Soviet Union itself. In early 2008, President George W.
Bush unsuccessfully tried to admit Georgia and Ukraine, which would
have engineered yet another alliance move eastward. By that time,
Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders were beyond furious.

The timing of Bush’s attempted ploy could scarcely have
been worse. It came on the heels of Russia’s resentment at
another example of U.S. duplicity. In 1999, Moscow had reluctantly
accepted a UN mandate to cover NATO’s military intervention
against Serbia, a long-standing Russian client. The alliance
airstrikes and subsequent moves to detach and occupy Serbia’s
restless province of Kosovo for the ostensible reason of protecting
innocent civilians from atrocities was the same
“humanitarian” justification that the West would use
subsequently in Libya.

Nine years after the initial Kosovo intervention, the United
States adopted an evasive policy move, showing utter contempt for
Russia’s wishes and interests in the process. Kosovo wanted
to declare its formal independence from Serbia, but it was clear
that such a move would face a certain Russian (and probable
Chinese) veto in the UN Security Council. Washington and an ad-hoc
coalition of European Union countries brazenly bypassed the Council
and approved Pristina’s independence declaration. It was an
extremely controversial move. Not even all EU members were on board
with the policy, since some of them (e.g., Spain) had secessionist
problems of their own.

Russia’s leaders protested vehemently and warned that the
West’s unauthorized action established a dangerous,
destabilizing international precedent. Washington rebuffed their
complaints, arguing that the Kosovo situation was unique. Under
Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns made
that point explicitly in a February 2008 State Department
briefing. Both the illogic and the hubris of that position were
breathtaking.

It is painful for any American to admit that the United States
has acquired a well-deserved reputation for duplicity in its
foreign policy. But the evidence for that proposition is quite
substantial. Indeed, disingenuous U.S. behavior regarding NATO
expansion and the resolution of Kosovo’s political status may
be the single most important factor for the poisoned bilateral
relationship with Moscow. The U.S. track record of duplicity and
betrayal is one reason why prospects for resolving the North Korean
nuclear issue through diplomacy are so bleak.

Actions have consequences, and Washington’s reputation for
disingenuous behavior has complicated America’s own foreign
policy objectives. This is a textbook example of a great power
shooting itself in the foot.

Ted Galen
Carpenter
, a senior fellow in defense and foreign policy
studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of 10 books, the
contributing editor of 10 books, and the author of more than 700
articles and policy studies on international affairs.

Disciplinary and Performance Problems Plague Border Patrol

Alex Nowrasteh

A new report by federal watchdogs at the U.S. Government
Accountability Office found that more U.S. Border Patrol agents are
leaving than can be hired. This should concern President Donald
Trump, who in January signed an executive order to hire 5,000 more
agents. The hires will likely come in the form of a bill introduced
in Congress by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, last month, the Border
Security for America Act.

However, Border Patrol agents have significant disciplinary,
performance and even corruption problems that should be resolved
before hiring more agents.

Border Patrol is the second-largest federal law enforcement
agency in the country, with nearly 20,000 agents. They have
extraordinary powers to enter property close to the Mexican border
without a warrant and run checkpoints within 100 miles of any land
or sea border, yet without the oversight that is common in even
small-city police departments.

President Trump said that
hiring 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents will help “restore the
rule of law in the United States” – but such a laudable goal is
impossible if law enforcement officers are themselves riven by
corruption, misconduct, poor performance and a lack of
discipline.

James Tomsheck, the former head of an internal affairs
department that oversaw Border Patrol, recently said that it is
“conservative to estimate that 5 percent of the [Border
Patrol] force” is corrupt. This corruption and misconduct
ranges from the brutal to the commonplace. Border Patrol agent
Esteban Manzanares assaulted, kidnapped and raped three illegal
immigrants he apprehended while on the job and later committed
suicide when the police surrounded his apartment. The youngest of
his victims was still bound in his home at the time. Oscar Ortiz
was convicted of conspiring to bring at least 100 illegal
immigrants into the United States and, oddly enough, being an
illegal immigrant himself with a false claim to U.S.
citizenship.

These problems exist because Border Patrol isn’t monitored
properly. After 9/11, Congress created a new agency called Customs
and Border Protection (CBP) inside of the new Department of
Homeland Security, which eventually came to house Border Patrol.
Congress forgot to transfer Border Patrol’s old internal
affairs department and didn’t create a new one. Only in
August 2014 did Tomsheck’s internal affairs department
finally get the authority to investigate criminal misconduct.

Confusing and contradictory data make it difficult to gauge the
extent of corruption and misconduct problems at CBP. According to
one source, 158 CBP employees (which includes Border Patrol agents)
were convicted or charged with corruption from 2005 to 2016.
Another source claims there were 358 such convictions, but it
doesn’t distinguish between CBP employees and non-CBP persons
who conspired with them.

Fortunately, the Office of Personnel Management does report data
showing how many agents are terminated for disciplinary and
performance reasons. To be clear, not all of those terminations
represent corruption, but they do indicate performance issues – at
minimum. A new Cato Institute study analyzed OPM data from 2006
through 2016 and found that Border Patrol agents had the highest
termination rate of any large federal law enforcement agency.
Border Patrol agents were 49 percent more likely than other CBP
officers to be terminated for such reasons. They were 54 percent
more likely to be terminated than guards at the Bureau of Prisons,
six times as likely as FBI agents, 7.1 times as likely as Drug
Enforcement Administration agents and 12.9 times as likely as
Secret Service agents.

A good first step to fixing these personnel problems is
implementing the Homeland Security Advisory Council’s
recommendations to speed investigations and streamlining internal
affairs. One particularly important recommendation is bringing the
number of internal affairs officers up to 729, which would give
Border Patrol as least as much internal affairs oversight as the
New York City Police Department. Arizona Republican Rep. Martha
McSally’s amendment to McCaul’s border bill that
guarantees 550 full-time internal affairs investigators for CBP is
a good start.

Congress should go further and not authorize any additional
net-hires at Border Patrol until adequate oversight brings the
termination rate down to that of other large federal law
enforcement agencies.

The GAO should audit internal affairs at Border Patrol and use
its forensic audits and investigative services to conduct
undercover investigations to insure compliance. Communities should
also be able to form civilian review boards to oversee all
complaints made against agents, because law enforcement functions
better with local trust and cooperation.

President Trump said that hiring 5,000 additional Border Patrol
agents will help “restore the rule of law in the United
States” – but such a laudable goal is impossible if law
enforcement officers are themselves riven by corruption,
misconduct, poor performance and a lack of discipline. Restoring
the rule of law starts by holding law enforcement officers
accountable to the law before expanding their numbers.

Alex
Nowrasteh
is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato
Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.

‘Fiscal Phil’ Has One Chance to Live Up to His Namesake

Ryan Bourne

For five years, the Conservatives made deficit reduction the key
plank of their economic platform.

Yet, strangely, chancellor Philip Hammond now finds himself
under pressure from much of his own party to substantially loosen
the fiscal purse strings.

Conventional wisdom says the country is weary of austerity. More
money is needed for public services. Committed Brexiteers seem to
want the chancellor to bank on some future Brexit dividend to
justify yet higher spending and tax cuts. And there are still those
who believe that anything labeled “government investment” must by
necessity be economically beneficial and worthy of higher public
borrowing.

But the economic case for higher UK government spending right
now is weak.

Keynesian economists would suggest that so-called stimulus
spending through borrowing is needed when there is lots of spare
capacity in the economy and the Bank of England has exhausted
lowering interest rates.

But with unemployment at 4.3 per cent and the Bank having
recently raised rates, the country is not in any need of some
“demand-side boost” through more public spending, even if one
believes it could at other times be beneficial.

The key issue for the UK’s growth prospects is now the outlook
for productivity — or the supply-side.

The economic case for
higher UK government spending right now is weak.

Claiming more borrowing will be “good for the economy” is really
an argument that the borrowing will boost the country’s growth
potential.

Tax cuts and commitments to eliminate tariffs after we leave the
EU could play a role here. By sharpening incentives to save,
produce and invest, or by opening up industry to the
productivity-enhancing effects of competition, cutting taxes can
raise the potential size of the economy.

However, if the path of government spending (the true burden of
government) is not adjusted downwards too, tax cuts today are in
large part tax rises in future, and blunt much of this
growth-inducing impact.

Theoretically, some spending on infrastructure investment could
enhance productivity too, if the government invested well in
high-impact schemes. But that’s a big “if”.

Actual government experience of projection selection on
infrastructure suggests it unlikely. The UK 2010 Comprehensive
Spending Review, for example, deferred, cancelled or placed under
review strategic road schemes with average benefit-cost ratios of
6.8, 3.2 and 4.2 respectively, yet persisted with HS2 with an
estimated benefit-cost ratio of 1.2.

If anything, a government concerned about long-term economic
growth might be thinking about constraining spending further. With
the tax burden already set to hit the highest level as a proportion
of GDP since Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, cutting spending
would leave more resources in the private economy, and create space
for future cuts to marginal tax rates that will be good for
growth.

The case for more spending restraint can be justified from a
public finance perspective too.

The UK is still running a modest deficit of around 2-3 per cent
of GDP a decade after the crisis. The government’s independent
fiscal watchdog — the Office for Budget Responsibility
— considers this deficit almost entirely structural.

As a result, the UK’s national debt is rising and is headed
towards 90 per cent of GDP, leaving the UK government finances in a
vulnerable position given the unknown risk of a potential recession
and the known headwinds of an ageing population.

The government really should be seeking to get the debt-to-GDP
sustainably on a downward path in the coming years, rather than
continually pushing off fiscal balance. Again, the implication is
tighter control of spending, not loosening it.

All this is not to suggest the chancellor should be unambitious
this week. There is plenty of scope for him to use the upcoming
Budget for pro-growth tax reform.

As the main economic ministry, the Treasury should be pressing
colleagues to overhaul Britain’s growth-suffocating land-use
planning laws. Even for a given amount of funds, Hammond could
reorient spending to achieve a bigger economic return.

But calls for the chancellor to open the spending taps again are
deeply irresponsible.

Those who supported Brexit should be honest enough to recognise
that it comes with significant uncertainties in the near term.

To make it a success requires long-term economic liberalisation
with the newly repatriated powers over trade, regulation, and
public money. But that liberalisation requires actually doing the
hard work of regulatory reform, gaining public acceptance for freer
trade, and limiting the size of the state to enable low taxes.

All this could enhance growth in future and provide more
resources for public services. But to simply tell the chancellor to
be more optimistic about Brexit and use that as justification for
more public spending is to put the cart before the horse. The case
for fiscal restraint is as strong today as ever.

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

Can Telemedicine Boost Medi-Cal Access?

Shirley Svorny

For years, Medi-Cal patients’ access to doctors has been limited, especially
for those who need specialty care or live in rural areas.

California’s low physician reimbursement rates are partly to
blame. The 2017-18 state budget includes a 2.5 percent increase in
reimbursements — the first increase since 2001 and totally dependent on new tobacco tax
revenues
.

There are other options worth considering. Interstate
telemedicine would allow an expansion of Medi-Cal services at
current reimbursement rates.

If California doctors
won’t take Medi-Cal patients, why not let out-of-state physicians
provide services?

If California doctors won’t take Medi-Cal patients, why not let
out-of-state physicians provide services? Rents and salaries are
lower in some states, which is why call centers are in the
Midwest.

California could allow physicians licensed in other states to
enroll as Medi-Cal providers to offer telemedicine services without
obtaining a California license, which is expensive and time
consuming.

Why would state legislators block out-of-state physicians?
According to the physicians’ lobby, the goal of licensing
regulations is not to protect them from competition but to ensure high-quality care.

But state medical boards don’t protect patients from low-quality
care and are notoriously bad at disciplining doctors.
Instead, quality assurance comes from efforts by health care
providers to protect their reputations and to avoid liability.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, whose problems
providing care have made national headlines, will soon allow its
physicians to practice telemedicine in any state. Why shouldn’t
California do the same for Medi-Cal patients?

The Legislature should end the requirement that out-of-state
physicians secure a California license to provide telemedicine care
to Medi-Cal patients. Not only would such as change expand options
for Medi-Cal recipients, it would let the state experiment with
interstate telemedicine, which has the potential to make health
care more accessible and less costly for all Californians.

Shirley
Svorny
is a professor of economics at California State
University, Northridge, and an adjunct scholar at the Cato
Institute.

Trump’s Declaration of North Korea as a State Sponsor of Terror Is Just Another in a Long Line of Policy Flip-Flops

A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner

President Trump’s objective of getting North Korea to abandon
its nuclear arsenal is clear. His strategy for achieving that goal,
however, is not.

Even less clear are Trump’s communications to the world, and
North Korea, about American intentions. He has flip-flopped and
changed his tune on North Korea multiple times in just his first 10
months in office, making it impossible for anyone to know what he
will do next. Effective foreign policy, on the contrary, requires
the president to signal credible and consistent assurances to
allies and threats to adversaries.

Trump’s recent trip to Asia and his
designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism
,
unfortunately, reveal either an inability or disinclination to
conduct foreign policy in this manner. The consequences of
Trump’s inconsistency are potentially dire.

Prior to the 2016 election, then-candidate Trump characterized
his North Korea strategy as “What I would do very simply is say,

China, this is your baby
. … You solve the problem.” Months
later the president appeared to abruptly end that strategy,
tweeting, “I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi
& China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out.

At least I know China tried!
” During his recent trip to
Asia, however, the president changed back to an earlier refrain:
China can fix this problem quickly and
easily.”

On the diplomatic front, in June of this year Trump noted,
“The era of strategic patience with the North Korean regime
has failed, many years it has failed. Frankly, that
patience is over
.” A month later he offered an answer to
what might come next: “North Korea best not make any more
threats to the United States,” or else “[t]hey will be
met with
fire and fury
like the world has never seen.”

Then, during his recent Asia trip, he again changed course.
Instead of elaborating on his implied military threat and trying to
amplify its coercive power, Trump called for “progress, not
provocation … stability, not chaos, and … peace, not war.” Those words sounded a
lot like a call to the hard and slow work of diplomacy. Bolstering
that notion, during the trip Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
indicated that Trump had invited the North Korean regime to direct
negotiations; an extension, perhaps, of the “direct contact” that Trump appeared to
have ruled out previously but that the secretary said had in fact
been ongoing.

But again on Monday, Trump reversed course yet again, declaring
North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism and imposing further
sanctions on the regime.

So what is the Trump administration’s strategy towards
North Korea? Does China play a critical role or not? Have
diplomatic means and patience been abandoned? Is the U.S.
prioritizing direct talks with the North Korean regime or will only
threats and force resolve the situation? In the past year, the
president has suggested the answer is “yes” to each of
those strategic options. At times, he has said both yes and no to
the same option at the same time.

If Americans cannot determine what the president’s
strategy is, then how can the North Korean regime? Media reports
indicate that the North Koreans are indeed confused by Trump and
have contacted former American officials trying to
ascertain what exactly Trump is doing.

Trump’s defenders argue that his vacillations are
strategic, designed to pressure North Korea into negotiations by
threatening “devastating
attacks. But Trump’s threats have been anything but clear and
credible.

Not only does North Korea have trouble understanding Trump, his
threats are in fact empty. Analysts agree the United States has no
real military option at this point. According to a Pentagon assessment and other analyses, any
attempt to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear arsenal by force would
require a ground invasion, likely resulting in hundreds of
thousands of deaths in the first few days of conflict and creating
a significant risk that North Korea would use nuclear weapons
against Seoul and Tokyo.

Nor is there any reason to believe that re-designating North
Korea a sponsor of terrorism or imposing additional sanctions will
have much impact. Indeed, the very fact that North Korea was able
to develop nuclear weapons while laboring under heavy sanctions
over decades makes clear
how unlikely
it is that additional penalties will encourage Kim
Jong Un to change course.

In light of the facts, Trump’s rhetorical inconsistency makes
conflict more likely, not less. If the North Koreans can’t figure
out what Trump’s strategy is, but they start to believe his threats
about using military force, then the risk of a North Korean
pre-emptive strike rises significantly. The risk of U.S.
miscalculation also rises. If North Korea begins preparations to
defend itself against what it believes is an imminent American
attack, the United States might misread the signs and think North
Korea was about to attack, thus setting off a conflict that neither
side desired.

Instead of flip-flopping between approaches, the president needs
to focus on sending North Korea consistent and clear messages. If
he doesn’t, Kim Jong Un could miscalculate, and that’s a nuclear
mistake we cannot afford.

Erik
Goepner
, a retired colonel from the U.S. Air Force, is a
visiting research fellow at the Cato Institute. A. Trevor Thrall is
a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Defense and Foreign Policy
Department and associate professor at George Mason University’s
Schar School of Policy and Government.

Trump’s Foreign Policy, One Year In

Sahar Khan

President Trump was elected on the promise to make America great again.
As best as one can decipher from a campaign that consistently
contradicted itself and was headed by a candidate with no real
foreign policy experience, this meant prioritizing U.S. interests
and security and improving America’s standing in the
world.

Russia and China’s growing assertiveness, fears over
terrorism and cyber security, and costly military quagmires
Afghanistan and Iraq certainly indicated a need to reassess
American foreign policy. Yet, after a year in office, it remains
unclear how the president’s approach to foreign policy will
accomplish this reassessment. The bigger question: what are the
core principles of Trump’s foreign policy? And how have these
principles affected U.S. interests and status in the world?

The Trump Doctrine seems to consist of three characteristics:
protectionist trade policies (dubbed “economic
nationalism
”), cracking down on immigration in the name
of security (e.g., the current travel ban), and
basing foreign policy decisions on personal relationships rather
than strategic interests.

A year of the Trump
Doctrine has not fundamentally changed U.S. interests or U.S.
foreign policy, but has eroded the moral high ground the United
States’ used to enjoy – and use to its advantage.

The first two characteristics of Trump’s foreign policy
approach are deeply ideological. For example, Trump’s
withdrawal from the
Trans-Pacific
Partnership
trade agreement was based on the notion that the
agreement was taking jobs away from
Americans. In reality, the TPP would have expanded economic
freedom
and was projected to increase growth and
American jobs. While NAFTA may not suffer the same fate as the TPP,
Trump’s insistence on renegotiating parts of it is creating
tension between the
United States and its two neighbors, Mexico and Canada.

Similarly, the president’s focus on countering terrorism
via immigration, which he suggests is the most prominent threat to
the American homeland, ignores empirical evidence saying otherwise.
Not only is 99.7 percent of migration
legal
, but the greater threat facing the U.S. homeland is
coming from domestic right-wing
groups
. It is not coming from refugees nor is it
coming from Muslim migrants inspired by jihadism.
Furthermore, none of the countries listed in the travel
ban
have been responsible for terrorist attacks within the
United States.

The most disturbing characteristic, however, remains the
president’s penchant for choosing inexperienced
national security officials as top foreign policy advisors. For
instance, the president chose Rex Tillerson, the ex-CEO of
ExxonMobil, to lead the State Department. Tillerson, however, had
no foreign policy experience, which was blatantly obvious during
his confirmation hearing,
but was offered the position because of his business expertise. As
a result, the State Department is in disarray and roughly
half of the positions, including an ambassadorship to South Korea,
remain empty. Similarly,
Trump named Jared Kushner a senior advisor to the
White House simply because he is the president’s son-in-law.
In his capacity, Kushner is tasked with addressing some of the most
intractable international disputes and routinely meets with other
world leaders; he was just recently in Saudi Arabia – his
third trip this year.

The president’s nepotism, contempt for the political
process and democratic institutions, and attempts to discredit the
media by making claims of “fake news” and
“alternative facts” are all hallmarks of authoritarianism.
Trump continues to surround himself with yes-men (and women, like
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley),
resulting in a self-proclaimed
foreign policy of “principled realism,” which is in
fact inconsistent,
incoherent, and bears
little resemblance to realism.

Still, Trump has yet to implement major changes to U.S. foreign
policy. For example, traditional alliances are still holding up,
and in some instances, are growing stronger, as is the case with
both U.S.-Israeli and
U.S.-Saudi Arabia
relations. Even though the president is trying to hold foreign
states more accountable for
their own security, the United States continues to maintain its
military bases
and security commitments all over the world. In
fact, Trump has decided to increase U.S. troops
in Afghanistan, which has been followed by a NATO troop increase.
And the contested liberal
world order — though faltering
still remains intact.

What has changed is the United States’ reputation and
image, both of which
have steadily declined under Trump.
One consequence seems to be the erosion of the United States’
credibility as a reliable partner. For example, Trump’s
decertification of
the Obama-era Iran Deal, which effectively halted Iran’s
nuclear weapons program, not only highlights his carelessness and
ignorance regarding the complexity of the region, but also leaves
European allies wondering if the United States can be trusted as a
partner.

In sum, a year of the Trump Doctrine has not fundamentally
changed U.S. interests or U.S. foreign policy, but has eroded the moral high
ground
the United States’ used to enjoy — and use
to its advantage. The Trump Doctrine, however, is based on the
president’s unpredictability, and hence, it is hard to
predict what U.S. foreign policy will look like in the remaining
years of this administration.

Sahar Khan is
a visiting research fellow in the Cato Institute’s Defense and
Foreign Policy Department.

Is Trump Restoring Separation of Powers?

Josh Blackman

Our Constitution carefully separates the legislative, executive,
and judicial powers into three separate branches of government:
Congress enacts laws, which the president enforces and the courts
review. However, when all of these powers are accumulated “in the
same hands,” James Madison warned in Federalist No. 47,
the government “may justly be pronounced the very definition of
tyranny.” The rise of the administrative state over the last
century has pushed us closer and closer to the brink. Today,
Congress enacts vague laws, the executive branch aggrandizes
unbounded discretion, and the courts defer to those dictates. For
decades, presidents of both parties have celebrated this ongoing
distortion of our constitutional order because it promotes their
agenda. The Trump administration, however, is poised to disrupt
this status quo.

In a series of significant speeches at the Federalist Society’s
national convention, the president’s lawyers have begun to
articulate a framework for restoring the separation of powers:
First, Congress should cease delegating its legislative power to
the executive branch; second, the executive branch will stop using
informal “guidance documents” that deprive people of the due
process of law without fair notice; and third, courts should stop
rubber-stamping diktats that lack the force of law.

Executive power is often described as a one-way ratchet: Each
president, Democrat or Republican, augments the authority his
predecessor aggrandized. These three planks of the Trumpian
Constitution — delegation, due process, and deference —
are remarkable, because they do the exact opposite by ratcheting
down the president’s authority. If Congress passes more
precise statues, the president has less discretion. If
federal agencies comply with the cumbersome regulatory process, the
president has less latitude. If judges become more engaged
and scrutinize federal regulations, the president receives
less deference. Each of these actions would weaken the
White House but strengthen the rule of law. To the extent that
President Trump follows through with this platform, he can
accomplish what few (myself included) thought possible: The
inexorable creep of the administrative leviathan can be slowed
down, if not forced into retreat.

Congress Should Cease Delegating Legislative Power to
the Executive Branch

The Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy Studies is the
leading organization for conservative and libertarian lawyers
interested in the current state of the legal order. I joined when I
was in law school, and I frequently speak at their events.

Every November, the Federalist Society holds its annual meeting
in Washington, D.C. But this year, the gathering had a highly
unusual dynamic. It is common for scholars to criticize Congress
for delegating its power to the executive branch, a violation of
what is known as the non-delegation doctrine. It is unprecedented
for the executive branch to share that concern. In a keynote
speech, Don McGahn, who serves as White House counsel, lamented the
fact that Congress gives the White House too much power.
“Often Congress punts the difficulty of lawmaking to the executive
branch,” he said, “then the judiciary concedes away the judicial
power of the Constitution by deferring to agency’s interpretation
of what Congress’s vague statutes.”

Several of his officials
are working to contain the administrative state.

One would think that a lawyer for the president would relish
this abdication by Congress and the courts. But no. Instead, McGahn
praised a recent concurring opinion by Justice Thomas, in which
Thomas “called for the non-delegation doctrine to be meaningfully
enforced” to prevent the “unconstitutional transfer of legislative
authority to the administrative state.” Again, reflect on the fact
that if Justice Thomas’s position gained four more votes, much of
Congress’s legislation — which carelessly lobs power to the
White House with only the vaguest guidelines — would no
longer pass constitutional muster.

Though, to be frank, there is no need to rely on the Supreme
Court to enforce the non-delegation doctrine. The president has the
power to veto half-baked legislation. (Recall what Speaker Nancy
Pelosi said of Obamacare: “We have to pass the bill so you can find
out what is in it.”) If Trump returned a bill to Congress, stating
in his message that it failed to include sufficient guidelines,
there would be a paradigm shift in Washington, D.C. Both
Republicans and Democrats would have to go back to the drawing
board and relearn how to legislate with more precision. This
process would strengthen the rule of law. Or Congress could simply
override the veto and reaffirm that it has shirked its
constitutional responsibility and could not care less about what
this president, or any president for that matter, actually
does.

The Executive Will Stop Depriving People of Due Process
of Law without Fair Notice

The problems of the administrative state extend far beyond
Congress’s delegations. During his address, McGahn deplored the
very bureaucracy his boss presides over. “The ever-growing
unaccountable administrative state,” he warned, “is a direct threat
to individual liberty.” To be sure, the president cannot remove the
heads of so-called “independent” agencies, such as the Federal
Trade Commission or the Securities and Exchange Commission. Over
the rest of the executive branch, in theory at least, the president
should have complete control. But such is not the case. Over a half
century ago, Justice Robert H. Jackson observed that the
administrative state had grown into a “veritable fourth branch of
the Government, which has deranged our three-branch legal
theories.” Citing Jackson’s wisdom, McGahn explained that the
administration will take steps to rein in this unruly power. “The
Trump vision of regulatory reform,” he said, “can be summed up in
three simple principles: due process, fair notice, and individual
liberty.”

Generally, when an administrative agency wants to affect a
person’s liberty or property, it must go through a fairly
complicated and cumbersome process that seeks public input.
(Whether or not that input makes any difference is a different
story.) However, in recent decades, administrations of both parties
have sought to bypass this process through the use of so-called
“sub-regulatory actions.” By issuing memoranda, guidance documents,
FAQs, and even blog posts, agencies have avoided the need to
formalize their rules. Yet they still expect Americans to comply
with these transitory documents or face ruinous fines or even
litigation. In particular, during the Obama administration, the
Department of Education used “Dear Colleague” letters to deprive
students of due process on college campuses. McGahn called these
missives “Orwellian.” And he’s right. In September, Betsy DeVos,
the secretary of education, rightfully rescinded these guidance
documents, announcing that “the era of rule by letter is over.”

More recently, in another speech at the Federalist Society
meeting, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that his agency
will cease issuing guidance documents that effect a change in the
law. Under the leadership of Associate Attorney General Rachel
Brand, who also spoke at the convention, the Justice Department
will review existing guidance documents and propose modifying or
even rescinding some. “This Department of Justice,” Brand said,
“will not use guidance documents to circumvent the rulemaking
process, and we will proactively work to rescind existing guidance
documents that go too far.”

This is a remarkable and refreshing position, as it
retroactively and prospectively constrains the ability of the
Justice Department to expand its own authority. Depending on how
rigorous the review of past guidance documents is, we could
actually see a contraction of the administrative state. In
Federalist No. 51, James Madison wrote of the “great
difficulty” in framing a government: “you must first enable the
government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it
to control itself.” Here, the DOJ is tying itself to the mast to
prevent further erosions of the rule of law.

No doubt, this process will be met with resistance from within,
as bureaucrats tend to protect their ossified levers of power. An
energetic executive, however, can clear out what McGahn referred to
as “regulatory sediment.” As it stands now, this policy applies
only to the Department of Justice. It could be expanded to reach
the entire executive branch, under the auspices of the little-known
but powerful Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Neomi
Rao, who heads OIRA, suggested during the Federalist Society
convention that such a review could be implemented for independent
agencies as well. (Christopher DeMuth wrote about this proposal in
the Wall Street Journal.) Though the Supreme
Court has held that the president lacks the power to remove the
heads of these commissions, there is an open question about the
extent to which the president can control their regulatory
agenda.

Courts Should Stop Rubber-Stamping Regulations That Lack
the Force of Law

There is one final but imperative aspect of the Trumpian
Constitution: the judiciary. During the 2016 campaign,
then-candidate Trump released a list of possible nominees to fill
Justice Scalia’s seat. At the time, I wrote on NRO, “I have expressed my serious doubts about
Mr. Trump’s vision of constitutional law, but so long as he sticks
with this list, I remain cautiously optimistic.” Stick with the
list he did, and then some. In addition to his nomination of Neil
Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the Trump administration has set a
modern-day record for the number of district- and circuit-court
judges confirmed in the first year. More important, the White House
is not taking any chances with these picks. McGahn noted that “they
all have paper trails, they are sitting judges, there’s nothing
unknown about them. What you see is what you get.” And there has
been a pervading philosophical consistency to these nominees.
McGahn stated it bluntly: “We are committed to nominating and
appointing judges that are committed originalists and textualists.”
In a not-too-subtle jab at Chief Justice Roberts, McGahn noted,
that his office is seeking judges who “possess the fortitude to
enforce the rule of law without fear of public pressure,” for
“judicial courage is as important as judicial independence.” Trump
is looking for “strong and smart judges.” (In 2015, Randy Barnett
and I offered similar guidance to improve the judicial
selection process).

These criteria will, by necessity, exclude the sort of judges
who would rubber-stamp vague delegations of authority enforced by
guidance documents that lack the force of law. “The greatest threat
to the rule of law in our modern society,” the White House counsel
argued, “is the ever-expanding regulatory state and the most
effective bulwark against that threat is a strong judiciary.” To
McGahn, “the Court should view agencies’ claims of sweeping
authority with skepticism, not nonchalance in the first step to
preserving individual liberty in the face of the burgeoning federal
Leviathan.”

Recruiting judges who share these beliefs will no doubt promote
a more active judiciary, quite the opposite of the longstanding
— and vapid — mantra of judicial “restraint.” Indeed,
three decades ago, the Reagan administration championed the
so-called Chevron doctrine, whereby judges will uphold the
executive branch’s reading of an ambiguous law so long as that
reading is “reasonable” (that is, not arbitrary). The Trump
administration has now called for ending the Chevron
doctrine and eliminating this judicial abdication. By making such
strong nominations, the president has taken proactive steps not
only to limit its own power, but also to institutionalize
restraints on future presidents who may see things very
differently.

Look no further than Justice Gorsuch. In his address to
2,000-plus members of the Federalist Society packed into Union
Station, the junior justice celebrated that “originalism has
regained its place and textualism has triumphed.” The 50-year-old
declared, “neither is going anywhere on my watch.” Providing a
roadmap for the years and decades ahead, Gorsuch recalled that the
courts have “managed to reenter the field of regulating interstate
commerce,” an area long thought to be beyond the judicial
competence. “Why can’t they reenter the field of delegation?”
Gorsuch asked. “Our founders did not approve of lawmaking by
bureaucrats by fiat,” he noted. There is a danger, Gorsuch warned,
when courts “combined delegation and deference.” He’s right.
Deference only works when Congress — and not the executive
branch — is in charge of the lawmaking process.

I still harbor deep concerns about the rule of law in America
today. As reflected solely by President Trump’s Twitter feed, I
worry about his inappropriate attacks on the judiciary, calls for
the prosecution of his political opponents, taunts of foreign
dictators, delegitimization of the press, and failure to address
sexual and other improprieties in his own party, to say nothing of
our stark policy differences. With respect to the separation of
powers, however, if the Trump administration actually follows
through on its promises concerning delegation, due process, and
deference, there will be a sea change in how the administrative
state functions. Indeed, each of these actions will, ironically
enough, weaken the executive and restore the separation of powers
in the long run. That alone would be a remarkable disruption of the
status quo.

Josh Blackman is a constitutional-law professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and the author of Unraveled: Obamacare, Religious Liberty, and Executive Power.