Endless War Is No Honor to America’s Veterans

Doug Bandow

Veterans Day has passed. The annual ritual never changes.
Politicians who didn’t serve in the armed services start
unnecessary wars, killing military personnel whose sacrifices are
then lauded. Officials say these heroes died defending our freedom.
That is almost always a lie.

Sometimes Washington must go to war. Not often, however. Despite
the endless claims that we live in a dangerous world, America is
amazingly safe. No other power could defeat, let alone conquer, the
United States. Only Russia has a comparable nuclear arsenal, but it
would be destroyed if Moscow targeted America. China and Russia
trail U.S. conventional military strength and are more or less
strategically isolated. In contrast, Washington is allied with
every other major industrialized state.

Despite their bluster, the so-called rogue states, most notably
North Korea and Iran, are not planning to attack the United States.
Instead, they are desperate to ward off American attack. Since
Washington routinely employs regime change against governments on
America’s “naughty” list, Kim Jong-un looks rational, not suicidal,
in seeking to create a deterrent to preserve his rule.

Washington’s most pressing security challenge is terrorism. But
while targeting civilians is a moral outrage, terrorism does not
pose an existential threat to America. Indeed, European and Latin
American nations have confronted and survived more virulent
attacks. Israel, Sri Lanka and Turkey also have suffered prolific
terrorist bombings. So, too, Iraq, after Washington invaded that
country and triggered sectarian war.

Moreover, interventions, invasions and occupations are no answer
to terrorism. On the contrary, terrorism is a poor man’s weapons
against stronger powers. It is politics by other means when the
other side has a preponderance of traditional military power. To
understand terrorism is not to justify it. But it long has been a
political tool: two Russian czars, an Austro-Hungarian archduke
(heir apparent), two former Indian prime ministers and countless
other foreign officials have been assassinated by terrorists.
Before Iraq, the most prolific suicide bombers on earth did their
killing in Sri Lanka. Countries like Russia are not targeted
because they are so liberal; Turkey, Jordan and Kuwait are not
attacked for being infidels.

U.S. servicemen and women
perform extraordinary tasks in difficult circumstances. But their
commitment and courage are being misused by politicians who have
seemingly forgotten that America is a republic, not an
empire.

Washington should kill or incapacitate those already determined
to kill Americans, but also stop making so many enemies. In Yemen,
for instance, the United States is helping the repressive,
licentious Saudi royals slaughter people who have never done
anything against America. Washington is involved in a civil war in
which Riyadh intervened to reinstall a pliant regime. The Yemenis
know who is providing the bombs to Saudi Arabia, offering targeting
assistance to the Saudi air force and refueling Saudi planes. It
should surprise no one if someday a Yemeni commits terrorism
against the United States and its people.

Yet the United States is constantly at war, and in far more
nations than most Americans realize. Combat in Afghanistan is
entering its seventeenth year. U.S. personnel are back in Iraq.
They are fighting in Syria, the Philippines and across Africa,
including Niger, where four American servicemen recently died.
Drone campaigns and special operations forces have been
particularly active in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. As noted
earlier, the United States is also underwriting Saudi Arabia’s
aggressive war against Yemen. Worse, Washington is prepared to
battle China, Russia and North Korea to defend prosperous and
populous allies, which could defend themselves.

Perhaps most striking is how few of America’s “big wars” are
justifiable. Most were conflicts of choice undermining rather than
sustaining American liberties. The revolution created the nation.
But while Washington was justified in defending itself from Great
Britain in the War of 1812, the most serious casus belli, an attack
on an American warship, took place years before. In 1812, war fever
mostly reflected the desire to annex Britain’s Canadian
possessions.

The Mexican-American War was an imperialistic bonanza, in which
Washington used a dubious territorial claim as an excuse to seize
half of its neighbor. Some U.S. officials desired to take the whole
nation. The Spanish-American War was equally misguided: Spain
brutalized its colony of Cuba, but no worse than Americans treated
their native population. Moreover, Washington seized the
Philippines as well, even though it had nothing to do with the
initial dispute. The United States suppressed an indigenous
independence movement with enormous brutality; some two hundred
thousand Filipinos died in the process.

World War I was a foolish, unnecessary war. Washington joined
with the so-called Entente, which included the anti-Semitic
despotism of the Russian Empire, and defended Serbia, whose
murderous rulers triggered the conflict by engaging in an act of
state terrorism. Aiding them did nothing to “make the world safe
for democracy.” Rather, President Woodrow Wilson imagined himself
anointed from on high to remake the globe.

Alas, World War II was the inevitable result of Wilson’s folly,
the unfinished business from the so-called Great War. World War II
is usually considered the “good war,” with clear and evil enemies.
But it likely would not have occurred had the United States not
previously unbalanced the European balance of power and promoted an
unsustainable “settlement,” which broke down almost
immediately.

In the Korean War, Washington had little choice but to
intervene, having helped set up the conflict; the Cold War context
made the heretofore irrelevant peninsula important to U.S.
security. But not Vietnam. Washington took over from the French
colonial empire and fought an extended war in an area of no great
geopolitical significance to America. The conflict’s end
demonstrated that the battle was unnecessary. The dominoes
ultimately fell, but stopped with Laos and Cambodia. A decade
later, Vietnam was seeking to improve relations with America as a
counterweight to China, with which it fought a short war.

Ronald Reagan used the military sparingly. His intervention in
Lebanon’s civil war was folly, which he recognized after the
attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine Corps barracks. Grenada
provided attractive visuals of American medical students arriving
home, but mattered little for U.S. security.

Most of Washington’s “little wars” after the Cold War did not
make America safer. Ousting Panama’s Manuel Noriega, forcing out
the Haitian military junta, intervening in the Bosnian civil war,
dismantling Serbia and tracking down warlords in Somalia were
essentially international social work. At least the first Gulf War
was limited in scope and effect, though Washington’s previous
support for Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, most notably his war of
aggression against Iran, likely confused him about America’s
intentions.

George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq [3] was catastrophically foolhardy,
spreading sectarian war, victimizing religious minorities,
expanding Iran’s influence and setting loose vicious Islamist
forces, which morphed into the Islamic State. Presidents Bush,
Obama [4] and Trump [5] each took a mission [6] that started as destroying
the terrorist group that attacked Americans at home and turned it
into an interminable nation-building mission that has become a
black hole for U.S. lives and resources. President Obama initiated
his own war in Libya, which he refused to call by that name. The
resulting violent overflow inflamed conflict in neighboring
countries such as Chad and Niger.

Why this enthusiasm, even addiction to war? The dominance of
U.S. foreign policy by elites ever ready to sacrifice their
countrymen’s lives is one factor. Indeed, the bipartisan commitment
to intervene survived President Trump, who had criticized Hillary
Clinton’s proclivity for war, said the United States should not
have invaded Iraq, blasted subsidies for wealthy allies, called
Afghanistan “a total and complete disaster” and more. In practice,
little has changed. More troops have gone to Afghanistan, Iraq and
Syria on this president’s watch. The blank check for Saudi Arabia
has gotten bigger. He is threatening war against North Korea.

Congress’s de facto abandonment of its power to declare war is
another factor. America’s founders consciously sought to ensure
that no one man could let slip the dogs of war. But legislators
prefer not to take on the responsibility. Let presidents do the
dirty work, and members of Congress can applaud or carp, depending
on the result. There is little popular accountability for
presidents, at least until body bags start coming home. Even then,
attempts to hold executive officials accountable for their bad
decisions are drowned out by demands to “support the troops,” which
really means insulating warmongering politicians from
responsibility.

U.S. military power makes intervention easy. No country,
especially the small, Third World states that usually end up in
Washington’s crosshairs, can resist America’s armed forces. For a
president able to unilaterally deploy the military, the world is a
target-rich environment. As then Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright said to Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Colin Powell:
“What’s the use of this great military you keep talking about if we
never use it?”

Policymakers are increasingly unlikely to have served in the
military or have family members or friends who do so. The problem
is not the volunteer military, but an armed forces that is
relatively small compared to the population. Inevitably, fewer
people will serve in the military. Even with conscription, few
children of elites would be forced into the service, and an even
smaller proportion would serve in combat arms. Politicians
disconnected from the realities of war are more likely to view the
military as the answer to just about every geopolitical
problem.

Extraordinary hubris, born of America’s unique founding and
present dominance, encourages Washington policymakers to engage in
international social engineering. With sufficient military power,
they believe, they can overcome differences in history, religion,
geography, ethnicity, culture, politics and more, and remold the
world to their liking. Every failure merely causes them to
overreach more next time.

Also important is the recent affection of supposedly
limited-government conservatives for international social
engineering. Once skeptical of participation in foreign wars, the
conservative movement shifted because of the Cold War. After the
collapse of the Soviet Union, some on the right reverted to their
historic commitment to a foreign policy fit for a republic. But the
majority seemed to glory in the prospect of an American-style
empire, in which the very federal politicians they reviled at home
would spread capitalism, liberty and democracy abroad.

Costs to others are simply ignored, and maybe not even noticed.
A few hundred thousand dead Iraqis? Well, one must break eggs to
make an omelet. Sen. Lindsey Graham has been surprisingly blunt in
advocating war against North Korea since, he explained, it would
not occur “over here.” So what if South Korea would be turned into
a battleground? Offloading the costs on others makes it easier for
Washington to conduct wars.

Most important may be the fact that the United States is so
secure. Republican presidential candidates last year acted as if
America was a small, beleaguered, Third World country threatened by
such global behemoths as Iran and North Korea. However, Washington
is a colossus. It can waste lives and money with wild abandon with
few ill effects at home, other than on the service members who are
killed or injured. The ill impact is mostly on others: hapless
Libyans, Iraqis, Syrians and Yemenis, for instance, who suffer
through devastation, chaos and hardship created by Washington’s
blundering.

America always has been unique, even exceptional. But the
nation’s founders didn’t view that as a reason to join the old
imperial powers in sacrificing their people’s welfare in pursuit of
international glory. Today Washington seems most exceptional to the
degree to which it relies on military power to advance often
peripheral interests-and the lack of accountability for those who
misuse that power so badly and promiscuously.

U.S. servicemen and women perform extraordinary tasks in
difficult circumstances. But their commitment and courage are being
misused by politicians who have seemingly forgotten that America is
a republic, not an empire. And their responsibility is to defend
America, not the rest of the world.

Veterans Day should be considered commemoration of tragedy, not
celebration of victory. President Trump should spend the coming
year ending old wars, not starting new ones.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of several books, including Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.

Don’t Start Rejoicing over Mugabe’s Fall Just Yet

Marian L. Tupy

Robert Mugabe, the cartoonish dictator of Zimbabwe, wasn’t
corrupted by 37 years in power. Contrary to the myth his admirers
created in the 1980s, he never was a selfless revolutionary devoted
to the welfare of his people.

From his political emergence in the 1960s to his ousting in a coup this week, Mugabe
remained what he always was: a hard-core Marxist willing to do
anything to gain and hold onto absolute power.

His time in office was marked by violence and economic
illiteracy — a fatal combination that broke the
once-prosperous country. As befits the fate of a tyrant, Mugabe
finally found himself at the mercy of his erstwhile henchmen. And
as he exits the political arena, he leaves Zimbabwe in the hands of
a man who is, arguably, even more brutal than Mugabe himself.

Zimbabwe is a long way
from gaining political freedom or returning to economic
growth.

Mugabe, a carpenter’s son born in 1924 in Southern
Rhodesia’s Kutama Mission, was inculcated with a deep hatred
of the British Empire by an Irish Jesuit who ran a mission. Bookish
and intelligent, Mugabe won a scholarship to study at a South
African university, where he got his first taste of Marxism.

In 1960, he joined Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African
People’s Union, a black liberation movement committed to
ending colonial rule in Rhodesia.

After falling out with Nkomo, Mugabe helped to establish the
Zimbabwe African National Union. The two movements — ZAPU,
supported by the Soviets, and ZANU, backed by the Red Chinese
— were soon at loggerheads and, following an outbreak of
violence, both Nkomo and Mugabe were imprisoned by the Rhodesian
authorities.

Upon his release in 1974, Mugabe left the country for safe haven
in Mozambique from where ZANU launched a guerrilla war against his
former captors. Unsuited for combat, Mugabe outsourced the actual
fighting to one of his deputies, Josiah Tongogara. The mounting
costs of war, international pressure and economic sanctions forced
the Rhodesian government to the negotiating table and set the
country on a path to the fateful 1980 election.

Preparing for the election, Mugabe appeared to have disposed of
Tongogara, a possible rival, in what the US Embassy in Lusaka
described as a “non-accidental” car crash.
Mugabe’s guerrillas also intimidated defenseless villagers
into casting their votes for ZANU. Much to everyone’s
surprise, Mugabe won 57 out of the 100 seats in Parliament.

In the early 1980s, Mugabe’s North Korea-trained troops
descended on Nkomo’s stronghold in the Matabeleland, killing
20,000 people and forcing Nkomo into exile. The man entrusted with
the grisly task of genocide, Emmerson Mnangagwa, would become
Mugabe’s right-hand man — for a time.

During the 1980s, government corruption metastasized while
Mugabe’s socialist policies slowly suffocated the
country’s economy. Burgeoning debt and deficits necessitated
an IMF bailout and a promise of economic reforms in the 1990s.

As socialism collapsed in Europe, the aging revolutionary
reinvented himself as the enemy of all things Western and
determined to wipe out the last vestiges of the British colonial
legacy in Zimbabwe. These were the white farmers, who constituted
the backbone of Zimbabwe’s economy.

Using the pretext of the farmers’ meddling in politics,
Mugabe started expropriating commercial farmland in 2000, which
occasioned a spectacular economic meltdown.

In 2008, the country’s output fell to the 1979 level and GDP per
capita to levels last seen in the 1950s. Zimbabwe saw the
second-highest hyperinflation in recorded history, an annualized
rate of 90 sextillion percent. Unemployment rocketed to 90 percent
and government departments — with the expectation of the
military and police — effectively ceased to function. Yet
Mugabe, propped up by South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki,
survived and limped along with Zimbabwe for another decade.

Now, aged 94, the increasingly fragile and senile Mugabe made a
grave error by dismissing his vice president to clear the way for his second wife, the
52-year-old Grace, to ascend to the presidency
. Mnangagwa
responded by apparently staging a coup and placing Mugabe under
house arrest.

Latest reports suggest that Mugabe will be permitted to go into
exile unmolested, leaving a broken country at the mercy of a
murderous maniac. If so, Zimbabwe is a long way from gaining
political freedom or returning to economic growth. The
international community will doubtless try to keep up pressure on
ZANU and its new leadership, but, in the end, it’s up to
Zimbabweans to avoid another Mugabe.

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

Let’s Talk about Respect: Chicago Police Officers Continue to Fail the Communities They Are Sworn to Serve

Jonathan Blanks

When police departments face criticism for
high-profile officer-involved shootings or more general calls for
reform, some talking heads tend to fall back on crime statistics,
particularly violent crime statistics in majority black
neighborhoods, saying that crime is the underlying problem of those
areas, not the police who work there. The “what about
black-on-black crime?” canard deflects criticism of police
and their often-abusive practices in communities of color. The
argumentative sleight of hand shifts responsibility from the police
back onto the community that lodges the complaint of police abuse,
as if the existence of high crime neighborhoods negates complaints
of police abuse. Police accountability is not an ancillary issue
that should take a back seat to crime fighting. Accountable police
officers are paramount to public safety and security.

The increase in violence on the streets of Chicago
particularly has become the go-to shibboleth of the “tough on
crime” set. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has decried
Chicago “lawlessness” and
underscored that the “most critical factor to our success
is the strength, training, and morale of the Chicago Police
Department
.” The Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac
Donald explicitly blamed Chicago’s murder spike on what she
called the “Ferguson effect”
: chilled by the public
outcry following Ferguson officer Darren Wilson’s killing of
teen Michael Brown, line officers retreated from proactive policing
and, consequently, a spike of violent crime followed. This causal
relationship was not backed by data—though “de-policing” has shown to have
correlative effects in other cities like Baltimore
—but
Chicago continues to be a buzzwordfor
those who believe police are not getting the respect they deserve
and that lack of respect is enabling violent crime.

Police accountability is
not an ancillary issue that should take a back seat to crime
fighting.

OK. Let’s talk about respect and the Chicago
Police Department (CPD).

For almost 20 years, Chicago Police Commander Jon
Burge
tortured men—primarily black men—to elicit
confessions to murders and other crimes. Many men spent decades in
prisons after these torture sessions, often for crimes they
didn’t commit. When he was finally fired, the statute of
limitations had expired for his most barbaric acts. He was
eventually convicted of lying in a civil case about the torture he
inflicted and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison. Burge
still receives a $4,000 per month
pension
, despite the City setting up a multi-million dollar
reparations fund to compensate his many victims.

More recently, Officer Dante Servin was charged for
fatally shooting Rekia Boyd, 22, from his car in 2012. Servin
claimed he was trying to shoot a man who had reached into his
waistband and pointed a gun at him, but shot into a crowd of
unarmed young black people ordered to disperse, killing Boyd and
injuring another man. The gun Servin claimed he saw was a cell
phone. Servin was charged with involuntary
manslaughter
, but the judge dismissed the case in
2016
, saying that Servin was mischarged because the facts supported first
degree murder
. Servin quit before he could be terminated for
killing Boyd so, like Burge, he too kept his pension. The City paid
Boyd’s family $4.5 million for her wrongful death.

But CPD’s problems go well beyond one or two bad
cops.

In 2015, The Guardian published a massive, multi-part investigative reportabout a
secret interrogation site in Chicago known as Homan Square. The
Guardian
had to sue to get much of the official information
about Homan Square, which held more than 7,000 individuals
functionally incommunicado from friends, family, and legal counsel.
An estimated 82 percent of the individuals held
at the black box site were African American
, and fewer than 100 had documented visits
from legal counsel
. People detained there reported being
shackled for hours and held for days at a time without outside
contact. At least 14 reported being subjected to “punches, knee strikes, elbow
strikes, slaps, wrist twists, baton blows and Tasers

that were not performed in the course of a lawful arrest and
at least two individuals died while
held at Homan Square
. One man alleged he was sexually abused in an
effort to coerce his cooperation in a drug case.

The most famous misconduct case to come out of Chicago
in recent years was the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by CPD
officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014. The shooting itself was troubling
on a number of levels—Van Dyke emptied his magazine into the
black teen’s body well after he suffered a head shot that
left him motionless on the ground—but the aftermath and the
video evidence point to even larger, systemic problems within the
CPD.

The delay in releasing the dash cam video of the
incident—forced by an investigative journalist’s
Freedom of Information Act request and subsequent
lawsuit—raised questions of politics, specifically that the
release was delayed, in part, to protect the reelection prospects of
Mayor Rahm Emanuel
. When the footage was released, none of the
dash cams had operating microphones to capture audio of the
incident. An internal CPD review showed that 80 percent of CPD dashcams had
dysfunctional audio due “to operator error or in some cases
intentional destruction” by officers
, strongly suggesting
widespread tampering with potential criminal evidence. The manager
of a Burger King near the scene reportedly told a grand jury that
police destroyed 86 minutes of surveillance
footage
he turned over to them that corresponded with the time
of the killing. Ten officers were recommended to be fired and
four officers and a sergeant were
brought up on administrative charges
for covering-up the
shooting by filing false reports about the incident. Van Dyke was
indicted for the killing and only three other CPD officers were
indicted on misconduct and obstruction charges for the
cover-up
. (The Chicago Tribunecompiled an ongoing
timeline of the case here.)

The stories above are just a few of the many cases of misconduct known
within and outside of Chicago.The CPD continues to operate in an
environment that protects officers from accountability for many
years, even in the most egregious cases of misconduct. Those who
point to Chicago to decry the lawlessness in the communities there
would do well to examine the police who patrol those streets and
why they continue to fail the people they are sworn to serve.

Jonathan
Blanks
is a Research Associate in Cato’s Project on Criminal
Justice and a Writer in Residence at Harvard University’s Fair
Punishment Project.

House Tax Plan: Good for Affordable Housing

Vanessa Brown Calder

The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate’s tax reform
plans dropped this month, and affordable-housing advocates
described the former as the “worst-case scenario” and “devastating for affordable housing.” But
unless you’ve been following federal affordable housing
policy closely, it may be hard to understand why.

Affordable-housing advocates are mainly concerned about the
House’s proposal to eliminate private activity bonds. These
bonds are frequently paired with low-income housing tax credits to provide
equity for qualifying housing projects.

Without the bonds, developers will not be able to utilize one
version of the low-income housing tax credit. As a result,
advocates have decided the affordable housing sky is falling.

But there is reason to be more upbeat. For one thing, the LIHTC
program isn’t what supporters make it out to be. The
program is arguably one of the least-efficient housing subsidy
programs overseen by the federal government.

Affordable-housing
advocates are concerned about the House’s proposal to eliminate
private activity bonds.

Research suggests a majority of LIHTC benefits go to developers
and intermediaries, rather than low-income tenants. In one study,
Economist Gregory Burge found evidencethat only one-third of the value of
LIHTC benefits low-income tenants. That leaves two-thirds of the
benefit for developers, lawyers, accountants and financiers
involved in the process.

There are other issues, too. For example, LIHTC housing seems to
displace private-market housing that would be been built without
taxpayers’ help. A 2010 study indicates “nearly 100 percent
of LIHTC development is offset by a reduction in the number of
newly built unsubsidized rental units.” That is a problem
because it means taxpayers are paying for something that would
exist even in the absence of a subsidy.

The LIHTC program also has abysmal oversight, described in two
different reports as “minimal” by the Government
Accountability Office, a federal watchdog agency. In a Senate
hearing earlier this year, the GAO auditor said the “IRS
and no one else in the federal government really has an idea of
what’s going on.” The IRS has audited only 13 percent of the local
groups administering the program.

This lack of oversight leads to corruption and fraud. For
example, NPR detailed a string of LIHTC corruption cases
in Florida earlier this year that included a major LIHTC developer
stealing $34 million from 14 different projects before getting
caught.

It would be nice if this were an anomaly. Yet the Assistant U.S.
Attorney investigating the cases told NPR he “know[s] that this
fraud doesn’t just reside in South Florida. There’s too much money
involved, and based upon other information that we’ve looked at,
this fraud exists in other jurisdictions.”

But there is an even more important reason to approve of a
reduction in the scope of the LIHTC program: LIHTC serves as a
distraction from the crux of the housing affordability problem.

In most states, zoning and land-use planning drive up housing
costs. For example, I find that increasing land-use regulation is
associated with increasing home prices in 44 states in my recent
report “Zoning,
Land-Use Planning, and Housing Affordability.

But don’t take my word for it. Economists Edward Glaeser
and Joseph Gyuorko have estimated the cost of housing is 30 percent to 50 percent higher in certain
major cities as a result of the regulatory tax associated with
zoning regulation. And restrictive zoning and land-use regulation
is associated with fewer multifamily housing developments in U.S.
cities.

Because inefficient programs like the LIHTC exist, policymakers,
lobbyists and housing advocates can go on pretending that spending
more money on housing subsidies will resolve housing affordability
problems for once and for all.

Local policymakers won’t be able to continue living under
such an illusion if Congress eliminates private activity bonds and
reduces the LIHTC as a consequence. With fewer inefficient
subsidies to point at, citizens and policymakers will have to get
serious about reforming costly regulation. Eliminating private
activity bonds is the first step, and we may have the House tax
plan to thank for it.

Vanessa Brown
Calder
is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute.

One Step Forward, but Many More to Go for Telemedicine

Shirley Svorny

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently released
its final rule for the 2018 Medicare Physician Fee
Schedule, including an increase in Medicare coverage for select
telehealth services. CMS indicates that its aim is to transform
“access to Medicare telehealth services by paying for more
services and making it easier for providers to bill for these
services.”

This is good for Medicare beneficiaries, and a promising step
for the burgeoning practice of telemedicine. But a major obstacle
remains: state physician licensing laws restrict the practice of
interstate telemedicine.

According to existing state laws, to treat an out-of-state
patient, a doctor has to be licensed in that state. To be available
to patients in 50 states, the telemedicine doctor needs 50 state
licenses. Some doctors already do this, but securing and
maintaining multiple licenses is an expensive and time-consuming
process. Distinct state-specific requirements for continuing
medical education and questionable variations across states in medical practice
standards add to the cost of compliance.

The benefit of
eliminating state licensing barriers to interstate practice has
never been greater.

Don’t take it from me: When the American Telemedicine
Association surveyed health care executives in March 2017,
they asked, “What are the key challenges you see with
telehealth in the next three years?” Fifty-three percent of
those surveyed picked “licensure/privileges” as a key
challenge. A 2012 survey of telestroke programs funded by the
U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration found
“inability to obtain physician licensing/credentialing”
as one of the most important barriers to the expansion of
stroke-related telemedicine programs.

MedLicense.com, which helps physicians get
state licenses, offers a discount for physicians who apply in more
than 20 states at one time. Michael Brooks, MedLicense.com’s
managing member, says annual license renewal fees discourage many
physicians from seeking additional state licenses.

Although state licensing requirements were first identified as a
barrier to interstate telemedicine in the late 1990s, only one
state has considered revising its law. In 2016, Florida lawmakers
failed to pass a bill that would have allowed out-of-state
telemedicine providers to offer services in the state. Such a law
would have facilitated continuity of care for the approximately one
million seasonal residents who visit Florida each year.

Congress could solve the problem. Currently, the location of the
patient determines the location of the practice of medicine. If
lawmakers were to change the definition from the location of the
patient to that of the doctor, doctors would only need one license
to practice in multiple states. It has always been legal for a
patient to travel to seek care from a physician in another state;
this change would allow the same visit to occur remotely. Legal
scholars suggest that the Commerce Clause of the U.S.
Constitution would support congressional action on this front.

The current system not only results in problems with access to
care but complicates matters for state medical boards. When a
complaint is filed against a physician with a multi-state practice,
the various state medical boards that license that physician must
cooperate—a herculean task. In contrast, moving to a system
that allows physicians to practice across states on the basis of
their home-state license would be less complicated, with the
physician’s home-state board receiving all complaints.

The benefits of opening state markets to out-of-state providers
can be substantial. For example, care from out-of-state cancer
specialists would no longer be reserved for patients with the
financial wherewithal (and physical stamina) to travel. As for
direct-to-consumer telemedicine, which offers patients care from
their home, office, or mobile device, it is reasonable to expect
the same increase in efficiency that followed the national
expansion of retail chain stores and the end of regulatory barriers
to interstate banking and trucking.

The time is ripe for reform. With the CMS moving to expand
reimbursement of telehealth services under Medicare and the
National Business Group on Health predicting near universal
adoption of telemedicine by large employers by 2019, the benefit of
eliminating state licensing barriers to interstate practice has
never been greater.

Shirley
Svorny
is a professor of economics at California State
University, Northridge, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute
and author of the forthcoming study, “Liberating Telemedicine:
Options to Eliminate the State-Licensing Roadblock.”

Here Is How America Can Bring Peace to Ukraine

Doug Bandow

The Trump administration reportedly plans to propose a
peacekeeping force for Ukraine. The initiative would have a greater
chance of success if Washington offered a package that made Ukraine
a neutral country, backed by a promise not to further expand
NATO.

Washington policymakers just can’t seem to imagine life without
an enemy. However, the supposed Russian menace falls short.
Vladimir Putin is an unpleasant autocrat, but his kingdom is freer
than that of American allies such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and
Turkey. On them Washington lavishes attention, money and
weapons.

Moscow’s election interference, which appears to have
had a minor impact at most, was obnoxious, but Washington has
little room to complain. By one count the U.S. has interfered in
elections in eighty-one countries. Indeed, the Clinton
administration did its best to ensure Boris Yeltsin’s 1996
reelection, which, ironically, ultimately resulted in the Putin
presidency.

The United States and its
allies should indicate that they have no intention to further
expand the NATO alliance.

The Russian Federation is not an ideological competitor.
Putinism has little appeal to anyone other than Vladimir Putin and
his cronies. While Putin demonstrated his authoritarian tendencies
early, he was no Communist ideologue. Rather, he bridled at the
West’s treatment of Russia. In fact, he was not otherwise
anti-American, and looks like a traditional czar, demanding respect
and emphasizing security for Russia.

Which explains Russian foreign policy. For instance, Putin
believes Moscow’s interest should be taken into account
in Syria, which is far closer geographically to
Russia than America and has been a military ally of Moscow for
years.

More important, Russia is determined to prevent Georgia and
Ukraine from entering NATO. It should surprise no one that Moscow
opposes expansion of a historically hostile alliance up to its
border, incorporating territories once integral to its predecessor
states, both Soviet Union and Russian Empire. That is unfortunate
for Georgia and Ukraine, but Washington rarely allows
“fairness” to get in the way of pursuing its security
interests.

Despite extensive wailing and gnashing of teeth in Europe over
Moscow’s behavior, there is no evidence that Putin is
contemplating aggression-what could he hope to gain even if he did
not face almost certain defeat? Rather, he has perfected the art of
unsettling nations determined to leave most hard military work to
the United States.

Only a Europe that has become hopelessly dependent on America
could seem so vulnerable to a declining power like Russia.
Collectively Europe has some twelve times the economic strength,
three times the population and two times the military outlays of
Russia. The latter lost its superpower status a quarter century
ago: today it is a serious regional military power with weak
economic and uncertain political foundations. The possession of
nuclear weapons alone gives Putin serious international heft, but
America has them in abundance and even Europe possesses a couple
small arsenals.

Washington and its allies continue to impose sanctions for no practical purpose.
Russia isn’t going to disgorge Crimea short of war. By
encouraging continued turmoil in eastern Ukraine Moscow ensures
that Kiev won’t enter NATO. Congress believes it can use
American economic clout to remold the rest of world, but sanctions
rarely cause nationalistic governments to abandon perceived vital
interests. That should come as no surprise to Americans, who would
not likely give in to Russia (or anyone else) if the situation was
reversed.

Improving relations with Moscow should be a top U.S. objective.
Western policymakers look forward to Putin’s departure, but
he represents larger political forces in Russia. He almost
certainly will not be succeeded by anyone liberal in a Western
sense. Certainly not from the circle around him. Nor even from the
opposition. Those who know Alexey Navalny, the leading opposition
activist, warn that he may be no less authoritarian and nationalist
than Putin. Waiting for change means waiting for something that may
never come.

Yet everyone would benefit if conflict in the Donbas ended and
perceived threats against Europe dissipated. Russia also can help
or hinder Western objectives elsewhere, including in the Middle
East, particularly Syria, and Asia, most notably North Korea. Other
important issues include Afghanistan and the Arctic. If U.S.-Russia
relations improved, Moscow would still pursue its independent
interests but might be more willing to accommodate allied
concerns.

Most important may be pulling Moscow away from the
People’s Republic of China (PRC). Richard Nixon’s
geopolitical masterstroke was opening a relationship with the PRC
to balance against the Soviet Union. Presidents Bill Clinton,
George W. Bush, and especially Barack Obama reversed course,
pushing Moscow and Beijing together. In fact, one of the only
interests which binds the two governments is the determination to
prevent U.S. hegemony. Yet if America faces a future military
threat, it is far more likely to come from China than Russia.

The administration’s policy toward Moscow has been
hindered by charges of electoral collusion against the Trump
campaign. Although little evidence appears to back the claim,
Congress dominated relations with Russia by intensifying sanctions,
making positive change less likely. The 2015 Minsk accord over
Ukraine remains unfulfilled, but Kiev shares the blame, having
failed to make promised constitutional changes.

The administration reportedly plans to propose a 20,000-man
peacekeeping force for the Donbas, where some 10,000 have died in
fighting since 2014. The ultimate objective is remove Russian
forces, disarm separatists and reintegrate the region into Ukraine
with greater autonomy.

Moscow’s agreement would be more likely if Washington offered to
address Russia’s larger security concerns. NATO still is formally
committed to including Ukraine and Georgia. The United States and
its allies should indicate that they have no intention to further
expand the alliance. While they would go to war to defend present
members in the unlikely event of Russian aggression, they will not
drive Western commitments, troops, and arms into what once was the
heart of the Soviet Union.

Taking NATO membership off the table would remove Moscow’s
incentive to keep the Ukrainian conflict alive. A peaceful Ukraine
would no longer pose a paradoxical military threat to Russia.
Moscow could rid itself of a costly conflict which has consumed
resources and lives for no good purpose. Ukraine could develop
economically and politically as it wished. Sanctions could end,
encouraging economic integration from Europe through Ukraine into
Russia.

 

Doug Bandow is
a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant
to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of several books,
including Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.

How to Deal with Newly Empowered Xi Jinping

Doug Bandow

The long-suffering American hope that economic liberalization
would yield intellectual and political freedom in China is
officially dead after President Xi Jinping’s coronation at
the recent party congress. He emphasized party control,
strengthened personal power, and stifled intellectual dissent. He
used the meeting to cement his dominance and demonstrate his
intention to rule beyond a second five-year term.

Xi appears to be the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng
Xiaoping if not Mao Zedong. Xi’s thoughts even have been
included in the Chinese Communist Party’s charter, just like
Mao’s. At the congress Xi outlined his vision for the future:
The People’s Republic of China is to develop into a
“fully modern economy” and become “a global
leader of composite national strength and international
influence.”

The PRC already is arguably close to achieving both objectives.
Although the country faces significant economic and political
challenges, so far it has confounded the doomsayers. Even if China
suffers setbacks in coming years, it almost certainly will become a
great power with broader global reach. Beijing is likely to pose a
substantial challenge to U.S. interests and values. That
doesn’t make conflict inevitable or even likely, but to
effectively respond policymakers should better prioritize
Washington’s objectives.

The Trump administration
must demonstrate maturity and sophistication if Washington is going
to respond effectively.

Indeed, America’s leaders, if they deserve to be called
that, should start by rescuing the U.S. political system from
laughing-stock status. Compare presidents and America loses. By all
appearances, President Xi is serious, determined, and competent; he
knows both privilege and hardship; he even lived in America, now
his country’s chief adversary. Today he dominates one of the
world’s most formidable political systems. Even Chinese
inclined toward democracy have trouble defending the American
system these days.

The operation of Congress, too, fails to live up to what the
world’s most powerful nation requires. The democratically
elected U.S. body should easily outdistance China’s
rubber-stamp National People’s Congress, but the inability of
American legislators of both parties to work effectively with each
other also seems to discredit America’s democratic
experiment.

Moreover, Washington needs to restore its economic
self-confidence. The Trump administration has multiplied trade
complaints against the PRC. The U.S. should emphasize opening
Chinese commercial and investment markets, not closing the American
economy, as President Trump would prefer. Low cost foreign goods
benefit both consumers and producers. In fact, many imports are
intermediate goods, destined for use in exports. The U.S. economy
needs to become more competitive and efficient.

The administration also should press President Xi to live up to
his past emphasis on market reforms, which would benefit American
businesses and Chinese consumers. Not incidentally, doing so would
help counteract the Xi regime’s ongoing expansion of state
control over the economy. Indeed, achieving further liberalization
would be worth concessions—including forbearance on the
president’s counter-productive threats of a trade war.

Politically, Washington should treat the PRC as a serious
competitor. Depending on the issue, China may be adversary or ally.
The U.S. should emphasize areas where the two nations’
interests coincide and look for compromises where interests
diverge. Perhaps most important, American officials must recognize
that Washington cannot dictate: negotiation over contested issues
is inevitable.

North Korea may be the most important current controversy
between the U.S. and Beijing. Washington obviously wants to prevent
Pyongyang from acquiring an ability to target the homeland with
nuclear weapons. However, the PRC desires neither a failed state on
its border—consider how Americans view Mexico—nor a
reunited Korea allied with America hosting U.S. troops. The Trump
administration should offer concessions, such as pledge to remove
American forces from a reunited peninsula.

Overall, Washington must channel the two nations’ rivalry
away from military confrontation. Despite real geopolitical
differences, the U.S. and the PRC must not come to military blows.
China would be a formidable opponent even now. It would not win a
global war with America, but has demonstrated no interest in
matching the U.S. around the world. Rather, China hopes to deter
Washington from intervening against the PRC in its own
neighborhood. While the Pentagon has developed tactics to
counteract China’s anti-access/area denial strategy,
deterrence is much cheaper than power projection. A few missiles or
torpedoes are far less expensive than the aircraft carrier they
might sink.

Moreover, even victory for the U.S. would not mean the end of
conflict. A resentful, still growing PRC would be an even more
formidable foe in the future. The American people aren’t
likely to fund endless conflict far from the U.S. when their own
defense is not directly at stake. Washington might prefer to limit
Beijing’s influence in its own neighborhood. But that
objective is not worth catastrophic conflict.

However, Americans in and out of government should do what they
can to expand the free information flow to Chinese citizens.
Unfortunately, President Trump’s soft spot for authoritarian
leaders seeming reaches Beijing, even though he freely attacked the
PRC before taking office. But the administration should not launch
an official propaganda campaign—they rarely turn out
well.

Younger, well-educated Chinese, in particular, are highly
nationalistic. Telling them what to believe would be
counter-productive. But they resent their government’s
internet controls. Widening their access to information while
allowing them to draw their own conclusions would be a better
approach. Washington should cooperate with private organizations to
blow holes in the Great Firewall. Washington also could use the
access of Chinese media to the U.S. as a bargaining chip to address
Beijing’s restrictions on American journalists.

President Xi is likely to lead China for many more years.
Although the PRC’s climb to greatness is not assured, it is
likely to pose an ever more serious challenge to the U.S. The Trump
administration must demonstrate maturity and sophistication if
Washington is going to respond effectively.

Doug Bandow is
a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant
to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of several books,
including Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.

Can Marijuana Help Addicts Kick Opioids?

Jeffrey A. Singer

Late last month Donald Trump’s administration declared the
rising death rate from opioid overdoses a national public health
emergency. Thirty-three thousand lives were lost to this scourge in
2015, and early reports from the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention paint an even bleaker picture for 2016.

Policymakers working for the president are doubling down on a
policy aimed at restricting opioids. But this policy isn’t
working. In fact, it might even be contributing to abusers’
switch to more potent drugs such as heroin in
recent years.Yet there is an approach that can truly curb the
rising rate of overdose deaths that is staring them right in the
face: legalizing marijuana.

According to research published earlier this month in the
American Journal of Public Health, Colorado’s
legalization of recreational marijuana in 2014 coincided with a 6.5
percent reduction in opioid overdose deaths. The researchers
studied the opioid overdose rate in the state from 2000 to 2015,
and found that after 14 years of a steady rise in opioid overdose
deaths, the rate decreased by an average of 0.7 deaths per
month.

Research shows this once
maligned ‘gateway’ drug could be an off-ramp.

This is not the first study to find that marijuana is associated
with a drop in the use and abuse of opioids and other dangerous
drugs. A 2014 study examined states where marijuana was
available for medical use between 1999 and 2010 and found, on
average, a 25 percent reduction in annual opioid overdose mortality
compared to states in which marijuana was illegal. Researchers at
the RAND Corporation found similar results in 2015. And in June of
this year, a study of chronic pain patients by the University of
California at Berkeley found that 97 percent of patients decreased
opioid consumption as a result of using medical marijuana, and 81
percent found marijuana alone was more effective than using both
marijuana and opioids.

Clearly some patients require fewer opioids to treat their pain
when they have access to marijuana. But Colorado’s
encouraging data reflects the impact of recreational marijuana
access—not medicinal. These new findings suggest the
possibility that people seeking to get “high” on
mind-altering drugs, when given the opportunity, tend to choose the
safer option—when it’s legal and available from sources
other than black market drug dealers. There might even be a
pharmacological basis to these findings. Research published in 2013 in the journal
Addiction Biology suggests cannabis “interferes with
brain reward mechanisms responsible for the expression of the acute
rewarding properties of opioids…”

And a 2017 article by researchers at Mt. Sinai School of
Medicine points to animal models that suggest cannabidiol, found in
cannabis, might reduce withdrawal symptoms as well as
opioid-seeking behavior. This is an area that needs further
investigation, but one thing is clear: marijuana availability is
associated with a decrease in opioid use, abuse, and overdose.

Opponents of marijuana legalization have claimed for years that
marijuana is a dangerous “gateway drug” that leads users to more
treacherous and addictive drugs, like heroin. These claims are
premised on the fact that most users of heroin, cocaine, and other
dangerous drugs also report that they use marijuana. But they also
report the use of tobacco and alcohol. Critics of the gateway
theory are quick to point out that correlation is not the same as
causation. Now there’s evidence of a negative
correlation between marijuana and harder drugs. More marijuana
correlates with less opioids.

Even proponents of opioid restriction agree that
Medication-Assisted Treatment is a useful tool for dealing with
opioid addiction. This employs medications such as methadone,
suboxone, and naltrexone to wean addicts away from opioids.
Marijuana’s potential for medicinal use has been recognized
by healthcare professionals—and realized by
patients—for many years. Now, it offers the potential for
averting and treating opioid abuse.

Rather than a gateway, marijuana may be an off-ramp to opioid
abuse. Opponents of marijuana legalization should keep that in mind
before they try to close this ramp off.

Jeffrey A.
Singer
practices general surgery in Phoenix, is a visiting
fellow at the Goldwater Institute, and a Senior Fellow at the Cato
Institute.

Libya: The Forgotten Reason North Korea Desperately Wants Nuclear Weapons

Ted Galen Carpenter

The United States and its allies continue to cajole and threaten
North Korea to negotiate an agreement that would relinquish its
growing nuclear and ballistic-missile programs. The latest verbal
prodding came from President Trump during his joint press
conference with South Korean president Moon Jae-in. Trump urged Pyongyang to “come to the
negotiating table,” and asserted that it “makes sense
for North Korea to do the right thing.” The “right
thing” Trump and his predecessors have always maintained, is
for North Korea to become nonnuclear.

It is unlikely that the DPRK will ever return to nuclear
virginity. Pyongyang has multiple reasons for retaining its nukes.
For a country with an economy roughly the size of Paraguay’s,
a bizarre political system that has no external appeal, and an
increasingly antiquated conventional military force, a
nuclear-weapons capability is the sole factor that provides
prestige and a seat at the table of international affairs. There is
one other crucial reason for the DPRK’s truculence, though.
North Korean leaders simply do not trust the United States to honor
any agreement that might be reached.

For a country with an
economy roughly the size of Paraguay’s, a bizarre political system
that has no external appeal, and an increasingly antiquated
conventional military force, a nuclear-weapons capability is the
sole factor that provides prestige and a seat at the table of
international affairs.

Unfortunately, there are ample reasons for such distrust. North
Korean leaders have witnessed how the United States treats
nonnuclear adversaries such as Serbia and Iraq. But it was the U.S.-led intervention in Libya in
2011 that underscored to Pyongyang why achieving and retaining a
nuclear-weapons capability might be the only reliable way to
prevent a regime-change war directed against the DPRK.

Partially in response to Washington’s war that ousted
Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the spring of 2003, ostensibly
because of a threat posed by Baghdad’s “weapons of mass
destruction,” Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi seemed to
capitulate regarding such matters. He signed the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty in December of that year and agreed to
abandon his country’s embryonic nuclear program. In exchange,
the United States and its allies lifted economic sanctions and
pledged that they no longer sought to isolate Libya. Qaddafi was
welcomed back into the international community once he relinquished
his nuclear ambitions.

That reconciliation lasted less than a decade. When one of the
periodic domestic revolts against Qaddafi’s rule erupted
again in 2011, Washington and its NATO partners argued that a
humanitarian catastrophe was imminent (despite meager evidence of that scenario), and
initiated a military intervention. It soon became apparent that the
official justification to protect innocent civilians was a cynical
pretext, and that another regime-change war was underway. The
Western powers launched devastating air strikes and cruise-missile
attacks against Libyan government forces. NATO also armed rebel
units and assisted the insurgency in other ways.

Although all previous revolts had fizzled, extensive Western
military involvement produced a very different result this time.
The insurgents not only overthrew Qaddafi, they captured, tortured
and executed him in an especially grisly fashion.
Washington’s response was astonishingly flippant. Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton quipped: “We came, we saw, he
died.”

The behavior of Washington and its allies in Libya certainly did
not give any incentive to North Korea or other would-be nuclear
powers to abandon such ambitions in exchange for U.S. paper promises for normal relations. Indeed,
North Korea promptly cited the Libya episode as a reason why it
needed a deterrent capability—a point that Pyongyang has
reiterated several times in the years since Muammar el-Qaddafi
ouster. There is little doubt that the West’s betrayal of
Qaddafi has made an agreement with the DPRK to denuclearize
even less attainable than it might have been otherwise. Even some U.S. officials concede that the Libya
episode convinced North Korean leaders that nuclear weapons were
necessary for regime survival.

The foundation for successful diplomacy is a country’s
reputation for credibility and reliability. U.S. leaders fret that
autocratic regimes—such as those in Iran and North
Korea—might well violate agreements they sign. There are
legitimate reasons for wariness, although in Iran’s case, the
government appears to be complying with its obligations under the Joint
Comprehensive Plan of Action that Tehran signed with the United
States and other major powers in 2015—despite allegations
from U.S. hawks about violations.

When it comes to problems with credibility, though, U.S. leaders
also need to look in the mirror. Washington’s conduct in Libya was
a case of brazen duplicity. It is hardly a surprise if North Korea
(or other countries) now regard the United States as an
untrustworthy negotiating partner. Because of Pyongyang’s other
reasons for wanting a nuclear capability, a denuclearization accord
was always a long shot. But U.S. actions in Libya reduced prospects
to the vanishing point. American leaders have only themselves to
blame for that situation.

Ted Galen
Carpenter
, a senior fellow in defense and foreign-policy
studies at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at the
National Interest, is the author or coauthor of ten books,
including
The
Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South
Korea

How to Realistically Solve the North Korea Crisis

Doug Bandow

Washington sees North Korea as a security challenge. Yet the North threatens
America only because the United States intervened in the conflict
between the two Koreas. The case for defending now populous and
prosperous South Korea expired long ago.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea sees nuclear weapons as its primary means of regime
survival. When I visited Pyongyang in June, North Korean officials
pointed to Washington’s “hostile policy” and
“nuclear threats.” America’s enthusiasm for
regime change weighed particularly heavily on DPRK officials: they
cited Afghanistan, Iraq, and especially Libya, whose dictator
negotiated away his nuclear and missile programs—only to be
ousted a few years later by his erstwhile friends.

The potential cost of America’s commitment will rise
dramatically once the North gains the ability to retaliate against the U.S. homeland. Yet
preventive strikes to take out North Korea’s deadliest weapons and/or decapitate the
leadership likely would trigger horrendous, full-scale war. While
Americans would die fighting, the Republic of Korea would become
the principal allied battleground and suffer mass casualties and
destruction. North Koreans, too, would die prodigiously.

With the North becoming a
genuine nuclear power, it is time for Washington to try something
new.

In fact, the chief victims of decades of hostility and
confrontation on the Korean Peninsula are the DPRK’s
citizens. The Kim dynasty, begun by Kim Il-sung and continued
through his son, Kim Jong-il, and grandson, Kim Jong-un, was never
likely to rule gently. But isolation—North Korea has few real
friends, not even China, which barely qualifies as a
frenemy—has left the North essentially under siege. The
result is a more repressive (and essentially totalitarian)
regime.

Facing the world’s sole superpower alone discourages
reforms that might unravel one of the world’s most formidable
national-security states. China long encouraged Kim Jong-il to
adopt the Chinese model and relax economic controls, but he paid
Beijing no heed. He was unwilling risk calling forth the genie of
change.

Kim Jong-un, despite a brief educational sojourn in Switzerland,
is no liberal. In late October the State Department released a
report on human-rights abuses in the DPRK. State noted
“extrajudicial killings, forced labor, torture, prolonged
arbitrary detention, as well as rape, forced abortions and other
sexual violence inside the country.” Brutality doesn’t
stop at the nation’s borders: “The government deploys
security officials on assignments overseas to monitor the
activities of North Koreans abroad and to forcibly repatriate
individuals seeking asylum abroad.” Workers sent overseas
often endure the status of de facto forced labor.

The Department’s more formal human-rights report stated
with sublime understatement that the DPRK’s “most
recent national elections, held in 2014, were neither free nor
fair.” The people could not choose their government, which
“subjected citizens to rigid controls over many aspects of
their lives, including denial of the freedoms of speech, press,
assembly, association, religion, movement and worker rights. The
government operated a network of political prison camps in which
conditions were often harsh, life threatening and included forced
and compulsory labor.”

The North usually tops the list of religious persecutors
worldwide. Explained State, “there was an almost complete
denial by the government of the right to freedom of thought,
conscience and religion.” The Kim cult is quasi-religious,
and the authorities see traditional faiths as a grave threat. Added
State, it appears that “the government’s policy towards
religion has been to maintain an appearance of tolerance for
international audiences, while suppressing internally all
non-state-sanctioned religious activities.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom targeted
North Korea’s “deplorable” record and rated the
DPRK as a Country of Particular Concern. Explained USCIRF:
“The North Korean government relentlessly persecutes and
punished religious believers through arrest, torture, imprisonment
and sometimes execution.” The State Department published a
series of factsheets on individual camps, each holding thousands of
prisoners.

Kim Jong-un, known as the supreme leader, is tougher than his
father and grandfather—at least toward his top officials. Kim
has executed some 140 members of the elite, including his uncle,
long at the center of power. Kim has tightened border controls in
an attempt to reduce defections.

Yet he offers one small reason for hope. Kim has implemented
substantial economic reforms. It is not capitalism, as his
embarrassed officials rushed to assure me on my recent trip. But
there are private markets and increased economic autonomy even for
state firms. The benefits were evident on the streets of Pyongyang
(the countryside remains far more primitive).

Apparently, Kim recognizes that a stronger, more successful DPRK
must use the power of market forces. While that does not guarantee
reform elsewhere, his father was right to worry that economic
liberalization tends to loosen state controls and empower
individuals. Moreover, Kim might come to recognize that human
creativity, exploration and entrepreneurship are all essential to
economic dynamism. Then he will have to choose between economic
development and political control, or at least make some
compromises, accepting greater risk of dissent.

While the United States has little leverage to force change in
Pyongyang—a regime determined to survive no matter what isn’t
going to change its political practices at Washington’s
request—engagement might create conditions more conducive to
an improvement in human rights. Taking steps which reduce the Kim
regime’s paranoia and insecurity would eliminate one impetus for
tougher repression. While a more secure Kim might feel freer to
abuse his population, he would face less pressure to do so from
fear of upheaval. Increasing the regime’s sense of security may be
a necessary—if not a sufficient—condition for
improvement.

Moreover, engaging the North diplomatically would create an
opportunity to talk about human rights. Although Pyongyang
routinely dismisses human-rights concerns, it has on occasion
engaged in talks with U.S. officials on the issue, including over
the return of Otto Warmbier, the college student jailed last year.
Washington could offer the direct diplomatic contacts which the
DPRK long desired, while insisting on a human-rights dialogue as
part of the process.

Such a conversation wouldn’t lead to dismantlement of the DPRK
police state, but still might increase outside access to North
Korea and greater exposure of abuses—and encourage at least
modest change. Creating an ongoing dialogue would give Pyongyang a
stake in the bilateral relationship and reason to consider
concessions.

The North Korean people deserve a transformed government.
However, the ability of outside states to influence the DPRK is
extremely limited. Refusing to talk to Pyongyang only increased its
sense of threat and corresponding incentive to oppress its people.
Engagement might fail to shift today’s seemingly hopeless dynamic,
but nothing else has worked. With the North becoming a genuine
nuclear power, it is time for Washington to try something new.

Doug Bandow is
a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant
to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of several books,
including Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed
World
and The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with
North and South Korea