The Asian order is under strain as the People’s Republic of China has become an economic colossus with growing military might and diplomatic influence. The PRC is asserting territorial claims once considered impractical or worthless. Opposing China are Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam.
Washington is not a claimant, but has sparred with the PRC over the U.S. Navy’s legal right to engage in intelligence gathering in Chinese waters. More important, America has a formal military alliance with Japan which, the president declared, covers disputed territories. Washington’s military relationship with Manila is looser, but Philippine officials are seeking a similar territorial guarantee.
The Obama administration has escalated U.S. involvement by sending American aircraft over islands reclaimed by China and discussing joint patrols with Japanese aircraft. An aerial or maritime incident could result in a dangerous confrontation.
Most of the islands or islets are intrinsically worthless and provide little security value. Maritime rights are affected, but in peacetime the difference wouldn’t matter so much; in wartime everything would depend on the capabilities of the contending navies.
“Instead of goading China, the administration should withdraw from East Asia’s territorial miasma.”
The economic benefits from control are real but still relatively small compared to the economies of most of the claimants. For most of the countries national ego is the primary issue.
What should the U.S. do? Pressure is rising for a more actively negative policy toward China, to make Beijing pay “a price” for its increased aggressiveness, especially in East Asia. Yet such an approach would endanger America.
U.S. interests are few and of middling importance. Washington would prefer an ally rather than a rival control territorial waters and direct resource development. The U.S. also seeks to uphold global norms, in this case navigational freedom and peaceful conflict resolution.
The theory prevalent in Washington’s pro-war precincts is that a whiff of gunpowder on America’s part would deter a war on China’s part. However, for Washington to attempt to coerce the PRC over interests viewed in Beijing as important if not vital guarantees a much more confrontational relationship.
China likely would respond by matching American air and naval maneuvers, accelerating military outlays, and challenging U.S. interests elsewhere. Americans should reflect on how they would respond if Beijing acted like the U.S.
Nor is maintaining the overly large and expensive military necessary for Washington to project power thousands of miles from home sustainable over the long-term. It costs far more to build carriers than to sink them. Americans are unlikely to heed a clarion call for sacrifice to ensure that the Senkakus stay Japanese.
In contrast, it would cost Beijing far less to bolster its military to further increase the cost of U.S. intervention. Moreover, the Chinese people likely would be willing to spend and risk much more to ensure that contested territories end up Chinese.
Instead of goading China, the administration should withdraw from East Asia’s territorial miasma. First, Washington should acknowledge that East Asian hegemony it not essential for America’s security.
Second, Washington should make clear through action as well as rhetoric that it takes no position regarding competing territorial claims. While the U.S. should assert freedom of navigation — and insist that there is no valid legal justification for turning 80 percent of the South China Sea into Chinese territorial waters — Beijing so far has not threatened that basic freedom.
Third, the administration should remove contested territories from security guarantees. America’s interest is in Japan’s and the Philippines’ independence, not their control over worthless rock piles. It is quite foolish to threaten war against a nuclear-armed state over territories to which the latter might be entitled.
Fourth, the administration should allow events to take their natural course, most obviously the increasingly hostile reaction of China’s neighbors to Beijing’s aggressiveness. Japan is spending more and rethinking historic strictures on its military, smaller nations are arming, some of them are working with Tokyo, and everyone is encouraging India to play a larger regional role.
Fifth, U.S. officials should more effectively make the case for negotiation. Washington should press its friends to offer creative solutions to the region’s many disputes, such as setting aside or sharing island sovereignty.
Finally, Washington, having so often been involved in war in Asia, should highlight the advantages of peace for all concerned, especially China. The future should not be risked for stakes of such limited value.
What should the U.S. do about East Asia’s territorial disputes? In most of East Asia’s territorial controversies America’s interests are peripheral and Washington should take a back seat role. America’s most important interest today is keeping the peace.Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is author of several books, including Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empires (Xulon).
Secretary of State John Kerry recently visited Seoul and South Korean President Park Geun-hye will head to Washington later this month. The main agenda item: what to do about North Korea. As usual, no one knows what is going on in Pyongyang. Its internal politics appears to be bloodier than usual. Ironically, this might provide an opportunity for Washington to initiate talks over a more open bilateral relationship.
Almost everyone will believe anything, however implausible, about the determinedly secretive and ostentatiously odd North. The latest rumor is that young dictator Kim Jong-un had his defense minister executed with anti-aircraft fire for disrespectful conduct, including falling asleep in meetings.
Like so many other stories about the North this one should be true even if it isn’t. What better evidence of the aberrant and abhorrent nature of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea?
Minister Hyon Yong-chol probably has been purged, though his picture atypically appeared in older television programming after his alleged demise. Perhaps the best evidence that Hyon is dead is the DPRK’s failure to produce him to embarrass the Republic of Korea. However, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service acknowledged that it could not confirm his particularly gruesome form of execution.
If Hyon was killed quickly and unexpectedly, it probably wasn’t for dozing off, even in front of the new strongman. More likely the military man was plotting, or at least feared to be plotting, against the North’s leadership. Certainly that is a better explanation for his expeditious dispatch, especially by an anti-aircraft gun.
“Someday Pyongyang will change. Engagement is the best way to prepare for that day.”
There has been striking turnover among party and military officials, including multiple appointments for some positions, since Kim Jong-un took over after his father’s death in December 2011. Half of the top 218 officials have been changed, according to the NIS. Five of the seven pallbearers other than Kim fils are gone. Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, one of the “regents” appointed to aid Kim in consolidating power, was removed after an unusual Presidium meeting in July 2012. Ri was rumored to have died in a gunfight with arresting officers or have been convicted of being a counter-revolutionary.
Even more dramatic was the arrest and execution of Kim’s uncle, Jang Song-taek, another “regent” seen as the regime number two, in December 2013. He was charged with treason, among other offenses, and his blood relatives were said to have been later executed as well. Kim family members had fallen from power before: Kim Il-sung chose his son, Kim Jong-il, over the former’s brother, and Jang, married to Kim Il-sung’s daughter, was purged but then reinstated by both Il-sung and Jong-il. Never before had a family member been publicly removed and executed. Then came conflicting reports on whether Kim Jong-un’s aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, had died, was poisoned, or is still alive.
In April the NIS reported that so far this year 15 high ranking North Korean officials, including an economist whose advice Kim Jong-un disliked, had been executed. Overall some 70 top apparatchiks and more than 400 lower level officials apparently have been killed this year, many by extraordinary, even horrific means, including flamethrowers.
This brutality towards the power elite sets Kim apart from his father and grandfather. The latter fought bitter factional battles in the mid-1950s but once he gained supreme power purges usually meant demotion and internal exile, not death. Disgraced officials, such as Jang, often made a comeback. Similar was the experience under Kim Jong-il, who kept a younger step-brother in Europe as an ambassador and even resurrected the uncle long before shorn of power to ease Kim’s rise.
While Kim Jong-un’s apparent penchant for executions may reflect a peculiarly sadistic nature, it more likely grows out of insecurity. Only 28 or maybe 27 when his father died, Kim’s succession was pushed extremely quickly after his father suffered a stroke in August 2008. In contrast, Kim’s grandfather spent decades grooming Kim Jong-il to take over. No doubt there were other family members, such as Jang, who saw themselves as more qualified for the job, and many party and military officials who believed it was time to move power outside of the Kim family entirely.
Although there is no sign of organized resistance to the latest Kim, continuing turnover and executions after more than four years in charge suggests that Kim is not, or at least does not see himself, as yet secure. An iron hand may cow any thought of resistance. However, the changing political game in Pyongyang almost certainly exacerbates regime instability since there no longer is a relatively safe harbor, acquiescing to whatever the latest Leader decides since one might reappear for a second act. If execution instead awaits one, even for acts short of actual rebellion, it might be worth going for broke.
Repression is rising in other ways. For instance, the regime apparently has been employing “Patrol Teams” as press gangs to fill out its construction work force for projects to be finished by October, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Korean Workers’ Party. According to Radio Free Asia the regime has targeted the unemployed, those not wearing pins for Kim’s father and grandfather (limited to the elite), and more stylishly dressed young men. District committees also apparently hand out unpopular work assignments related to the upcoming celebration. Moreover, the Korean Worker’s Party has been sending out propaganda teams across the country extolling the DPRK’s military might and ability to defeat both the U.S. and South Korea.
The regime also has strengthened border controls with China. The number of North Koreans arriving in South Korea is down more than half since Kim took over. The government has increased the amount and quality of fencing, surveillance of cross-border phone calls, number of border guards, rotation of border personnel, and use of returnees to warn against defection. The cost of passage—bribes to guards and payments to traffickers—has doubled.
If Kim retains control, none of this might matter. However, everyone is wary of something other than the usual predictable unpredictability in Pyongyang. Secretary Kerry denounced the “stories of grotesque, grisly, horrendous public displays of executions on a whim and a fancy.” President Park Geun-hye noted “growing concern” over “an extreme reign of terror within North Korea.”
Governance matters since the North continues to expand its nuclear capabilities. Although Pyongyang appears to have faked its supposed submarine missile launch and experts disagree over the likelihood that the DPRK has miniaturized a nuclear warhead, analysts worry that North Korea could have 20 warheads by next year and 50 to 100 by 2020. While nothing suggests that Kim is suicidal—members of the dynasty appear to prefer their virgins in this world rather than the next—Pyongyang’s decision-making process could become more unilateral, unpredictable, or both.
Unfortunately, there is little that the U.S., and American allies South Korea and Japan, can do to directly influence events within the DPRK. War would be a foolhardy risk; tougher sanctions aren’t likely to work, and certainly won’t do so without China’s support. Badgering Beijing isn’t likely to convince it to risk the peninsula’s stability in an attempt to oust Kim. The Kim regime is well beyond the reach of moral suasion.
Nor is negotiation likely to have much effect. There is unmistakable evidence of economic reform and greater prosperity in North Korea, but the state has been attempting to reassert control over the black market economy which has burgeoned since the famine. Moreover, there is no political change. While the North recently launched an international charm offensive, it continues to highlight weapons development and spout rehashed threats against America and the ROK. The regime might be willing to negotiate over future weapons expansion, but would not likely trade away the one factor causing the world to follow events in the DPRK. Moreover, no piece of paper would guarantee against Washington’s propensity to impose regime change whenever it seems convenient.
Nevertheless, the possibility of division and dissension in Pyongyang gives Washington a new reason to suggest direct discussions without preconditions, but with the prospect of benefits for a change in direction. In February, the Kim regime disclaimed any interest in talking to the “gangster-like” U.S. government, but likely would not reject a process seeming to offer the respect it long has craved. If the regime is unsettled, those disaffected might benefit if Washington stood ready to reward a new approach. Of course, opposition to Kim may have nothing to do with substance; indeed, the military most likely is unhappy with its loss of its influence and privileges under Kim Jong-un. No one is going to risk their life simply in hopes of engaging the West.
However, Kim’s bloody rule offers at least a possibility of a shift within the ruling elite. Then a clear American willingness to reward a more reform-minded government might aid the least bad actors in any power struggle. A peace treaty, diplomatic relations, and end of economic sanctions all should be on the table. It’s still a long-shot, but almost any proposal to address the North is a long-shot.
We look through a glass darkly, wrote the Apostle Paul, and that certainly is the case for North Korea. Last week officials from the U.S., ROK, and Japan gathered to discuss how to respond to the North, but no new ideas were forthcoming. However, recent events suggest that something unusual is going on in that normally abnormal place. Proposing talks and suggesting rewards would be the best response to an uncertain situation. Someday Pyongyang will change. Engagement is the best way to prepare for that day.Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan.
A handful of provisions of the sprawling USA Patriot Act are now all but certain to at least temporarily expire at the end of the month, including the controversial section 215, the basis of the National Security Agency’s notorious bulk telephone records dragnet.
As a result, NSA has already begun winding down the program, first revealed nearly two years ago by Edward Snowden, and many civil libertarians are breaking out the champagne.
Yet the celebration may not only be premature, but counterproductive if the impending expiration is perceived as a substantial victory in itself. Some legislators and activists are now so fixated on the symbolism of sunsetting “the Patriot Act” that they’re even urging opposition to broader reforms.
The pivot to viewing sunset as a big win for privacy advocates is relatively recent. For months, civil libertarians had rallied behind the latest version of the USA Freedom Act , a modest but significant reform bill with broad bipartisan support, as the best realistic hope to begin reining in our ballooning surveillance state. But surveillance reform plans, like indie rock bands, seem to alienate many of their early core fans just as they achieve mainstream popularity.
Thus, when the Freedom Act finally passed the House by an overwhelming margin earlier this month, many of the “no” votes came from the National Security Agency’s fiercest critics—and in an epic 11 hour jeremiad against the Patriot Act delivered from the Senate floor, Sen. Rand Paul had nearly as many harsh words for the Freedom Act, even suggesting that the bill could ultimately expand rather than restrict government spying powers.
Though a majority of senators last weekend voted in favor of moving forward with the Freedom Act—which would extend section 215 in a heavily modified form—it didn’t get the 60 votes now required to accomplish anything in the Senate. A competing proposal to simply reauthorize the expiring powers without any changes, supported by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, was even less popular. Other senators are preparing alternatives—mostly weakened versions of USA Freedom—but with the House in recess until after the sunset date, at least a temporary lapse of the authorities now seems assured.
“‘Sunset the Patriot Act’ makes for an appealing slogan, the fact remains that the vast majority of the Patriot Act is permanent.”
Meanwhile, many erstwhile reformer boosters—including the American Civil Liberties Union and an assortment of grassroots groups—have adopted a new message: They’re simply embracing the looming sunset. While for some this is a largely strategic shift grounded in the hope that sunset will strengthen their bargaining position, others seem to genuinely think expiration would be a bigger victory for privacy than passing reform legislation.
But while “Sunset the Patriot Act” makes for an appealing slogan, the fact remains that the vast majority of the Patriot Act is permanent—and includes an array of overlapping authorities that will limit the effect of an expiration.
While section 215 covers business records, section 214, also known as the “pen register/trap & trace” authority, covers the acquisition of communications “metadata” (things like dialed phone numbers and email or Internet Protocol addresses) in real time.
Years before the current version of the NSA telephone program under 215 was born, the government employed similar arguments to persuade the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to bless a bulk program vacuuming up international internet metadata under the aegis of section 214. Though that program was ended in 2011—likely at least in part because NSA was able to obtain much of the same data by collecting it overseas, with fewer restrictions—the authority is permanent.
Also permanent are National Security Letters or NSLs, which that allow the FBI to obtain a more limited range of telecommunications and financial records without even needing to seek judicial approval. Unsurprisingly, the government loves these streamlined tools, and used them so promiscuously that the FBI didn’t even bother using 215 for more than a year after the passage of the Patriot Act. Inspector General reports have also made clear that the FBI is happy to substitute NSLs for 215 orders when even the highly accommodating FISC manages a rare display of backbone. In at least one case, when the secret court refused an application for journalists’ records on First Amendment grounds, the Bureau turned around and obtained the same data using National Security Letters.
Currently the other major use of 215, aside from the bulk telephone program, is to obtain internet records. Previously this was done primarily via NSL, but a 2008 memorandum from the Office of Legal Counsel slapped the FBI’s wrist for reading its National Security Letter authorities too broadly to cover any and all types of electronic communication “transactional records.” Indeed, obtaining specific internet records pursuant to an order signed by a judge seems like the kind of authority we should want the government to have in national security investigations. Ironically, removing 215 completely could make things worse from a civil liberties perspective by creating an incentive for the FBI to again push the limits of NSLs, pleading necessity on the grounds that it now lacks a court-supervised alternative—effectively shifting collection from a mechanism overseen by judges to one requiring only a senior FBI agent’s say-so.
Even 215 itself doesn’t really expire when it expires. In theory, the law reverts to a pre–Patriot Act version of the business records authority that is restricted to records that “pertain” to a suspected foreign agent or terrorist—language the government is sure to read as broadly as possible. But thanks to a little-noticed grandfather clause in the law, the current souped-up version of the law, which covers any records “relevant” to an authorized national security investigation, will remain available for investigations already open at the time of sunset, as well as new investigations into offenses committed before the sunset. Since the FBI routinely maintains massive “enterprise” investigations covering entire terror groups, which can continue for years if not decades, we can expect section 215 to have a lengthy afterlife.
The administration has promised it won’t exploit this loophole to continue the NSA’s telephone dragnet past 215’s expiration. But without transparency reforms to provide some visibility on major decisions of the secret court—one major component of the USA Freedom Act—the public will have little hope of knowing or whether how 215’s grandfather clause is used, nor of learning if the government continues invoking these other authorities to obtain telephone information or other types of sensitive data on a massive scale. All of these authorities, after all, contain the same “relevant to an authorized investigation” language that was used to legitimize the bulk telephone program, on the theory that entire vast databases (such as the phone records of nearly every American) can be “relevant” to an investigation, so long as the government later finds it useful to go trolling through the database later for information that is actually relevant.
All of this is somewhat complicated by a recent Second Circuit ruling holding the NSA telephone program unlawful, on the common-sense logic that Congress had never meant to authorize the government’s unprecedented and effectively unlimited interpretation of “relevance” when it passed the Patriot Act. But the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is not directly bound by that decision, and with the government choosing to end the current, 215-based version of its telephone program for now, the case becomes less likely to reach the Supreme Court, which does clearly have the power to rein in the FISC. Even if that court does choose to take the Second Circuit ruling into account, the recent decision really only says that this specific program, sweeping in hundreds of millions of records indiscriminately, without any concrete link to any particular investigation, stretches the language of the Patriot Act too far. That leaves the government plenty of room to argue that even slightly more limited forms of massive collection are still kosher, in front of a court with a solid track record of giving the government almost everything it wants.
That’s not to say that the USA Freedom Act is by any means an ideal alternative, or that its critics shouldn’t use the sunset of 215 as leverage to push for stronger reforms. USA Freedom, for instance, doesn’t even touch massive surveillance within the United States under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, or the even more massive spying enabled by Executive Order 12333, a Reagan-era order that covers surveillance conducted outside the United States. But the Freedom Act does at least cover the full range of Patriot Act authorities that employ the “relevance” standard, preventing a tricky shell game that simply moves collection from expired authorities to permanent ones.
The way USA Freedom seeks to do this is also hardly perfect: The law creates a streamlined process for obtaining specific telephone records from multiple phone carriers (addressing objections that a massive NSA database was the only way to avoid the cumbersome necessity of serving many companies with orders for records stored in incompatible formats) and requires that, across all these authorities, “specific selection terms”—like a phone number or billing address—be used to identify the particular records sought. That means instead of evaluating whether an entire database might be “relevant” when considered in aggregate, the court would have to consider whether the government had demonstrated the relevance of the particular records corresponding to a set of selection terms.
Given the government’s history of creative, secret reinterpretation of the law, critics of the law can’t be faulted for fearing that it still leaves ample room for shenanigans. But the critical transparency provisions would at least require the secret court to publish any significant interpretation of the “specific selection term” requirement. Moreover, some of the scenarios floated by critics like Sen. Rand Paul—such as using an entire area code or the name of a telecommunications provider like Google or Verizon as a “selection term”—are explicitly prohibited by the law’s text.
And while some, like Rep. Justin Amash, have worried that the new legislation could somehow be read to expand collection under 215, overriding the Second Circuit’s ruling, it is difficult to see how this would work: The specific selector requirement in the statute is structurally and logically independent of the relevance standard—it’s an additional requriement. As the House Committee Report on the bill makes explicit, should any judge find it ambiguous, the intent of this section is the “prohibition on bulk collection of tangible things,” and it requires the government to make “an additional showing, beyond relevance” in applications for records. Should the court somehow manage to ignore such a clear statement of legislative intent, the new transparency provisions will at least act as a failsafe—one now sorely lacking.
There’s certainly no reason to fear a 215 sunset, despite the claims of national security scaremongers, especially in light of the overwhelming evidence that the authority has not proved critical in any investigations to date. But it would be profoundly misguided to think that permanent expiration of this one authority would be better, from a civil liberties perspective, than even a highly imperfect reform that extends the authority in a heavily modified form. A temporary sunset may be a strategically useful means to the end of stronger reforms. But as a permanent end in itself, the expiration of 215 would provide the illusion of triumph even while leaving much of the machinery of surveillance intact.Julian Sanchez is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute.
Patrick J. Michaels
Day after day, year after year, the hole that climate scientists have buried themselves in gets deeper and deeper. The longer that they wait to admit their overheated forecasts were wrong, the more they are going to harm all of science.
The story is told in a simple graph, the same one that University of Alabama’s John Christy presented to the House Committee on Natural Resources on May 15.
The picture shows the remarkable disconnect between predicted global warming and the real world.
The red line is the 5-year running average temperature change forecast, beginning in 1979, predicted by the UN’s latest family of climate models, many of which are the handiwork of our own federal science establishment. The forecasts are for the average temperature change in the lower atmosphere, away from the confounding effects of cities, forestry, and agriculture.
The blue circles are the average lower-atmospheric temperature changes from four different analyses of global weather balloon data, and the green squares are the average of the two widely accepted analyses of satellite-sensed temperature. Both of these are thought to be pretty solid because they come from calibrated instruments.
“The longer that they wait to admit their overheated forecasts were wrong, the more they are going to harm all of science.”
If you look at data through 1995 the forecast appears to be doing quite well. That’s because the computer models appear to have, at least in essence, captured two periods of slight cooling.
The key word is “appear.” The computer models are tuned to account for big volcanoes that are known to induce temporary cooling in the lower atmosphere. These would be the 1982 eruption of El Chichon in Mexico, and 1992’s spectacular Mt. Pinatubo, the biggest natural explosion on earth since Alaska’s Katmai in 1912.
Since Pinatubo, the earth has been pretty quiescent, so that warming from increasing carbon dioxide should proceed unimpeded. Obviously, the spread between forecast and observed temperatures grows pretty much every year, and is now a yawning chasm.
It’s impossible, as a scientist, to look at this graph and not rage at the destruction of science that is being wreaked by the inability of climatologists to look us in the eye and say perhaps the three most important words in life: we were wrong.Patrick J. Michaels is the director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute.
Patrick G. Eddington
The month of June has proven to a notable one for revelations about abuses of government power carried out under the cloak of secrecy. June 1971 brought us the Pentagon Papers case, followed two years later with the Watergate hearings into the break in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. A generation later, another national security whistleblower—Edward Snowden—revealed in June 2013 a fresh series of government abuses of power in secret.
And now, with some of those abusive powers facing a June 1, 2015 expiration date, Congress faces another moment of truth: Will it act decisively to end unconstitutional executive branch overreach, as it did a generation ago?
One of the most haunting and compelling witnesses at those initial Watergate hearings was former White House Counsel John Dean. In his testimony on June 25, 1973, Dean recounted for the committee how he told President Nixon that the Watergate burglary and subsequent cover up were “a cancer on the Presidency” that threatened to destroy Nixon himself unless all involved came clean immediately. The months of public hearings that followed and the damning revelations about Nixon’s role in the break in and cover up culminated in Congress moving to excise the cancer Dean described through the impeachment process, which led to Nixon’s resignation.
The documents smuggled out of the National Security Agency (NSA) by Snowden sparked the first real public debate about government surveillance powers employed in the post-9/11 era. But in contrast to Congress’s aggressive and forceful reaction to the Watergate era revelations of executive branch criminality and overreach, the Congressional response to Snowden’s revelations of government surveillance abuse has been dangerously anemic. And in the case of these surveillance abuses, we have a cancer not simply on one institution of government, but on the Constitution itself.
“Will Congress act decisively to end unconstitutional executive branch overreach?”
Compare the level of effort Congress expended investigating Watergate and the other surveillance-related scandals of the 1970s with that expended to date on Snowden’s revelations. In the Watergate era, Congress set up entire special committees with literally dozens of staff to investigate not only the Nixon White House but the entire U.S. intelligence community, the latter through the select committee chaired by then-Senator Frank Church of Idaho (i.e., the Church Committee). Those investigations lasted years and included dozens of publicly televised hearings.
When the House Judiciary Committee considered the USA Freedom Act in May 2015—one of the few bills introduced in response to Snowden’s revelations—committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia claimed the committee had conducted “aggressive” oversight of the issue through a total of three hearings.
As ProPublica noted, Snowden exposed literally dozens of NSA programs and activities that have a direct impact on the constitutional rights of Americans living at home or abroad. The House Judiciary Committee’s three hearings did not even scratch the surface of those programs.
The Senate Judiciary Committee under then-chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont conducted a worthwhile examination of government surveillance programs in March 2013. It stands out for its singular moment in which Senator Ron Wyden caught Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in a falsehood about the scope of government surveillance against Americans. Snowden’s revelations helped highlight just how disingenuous Clapper and other U.S. intelligence community officials had been on the issue, not just with Congress but with the FISA court as well.
Yet none of those revelations moved the Senate to create a select committee to investigate the full scope of post-9/11 surveillance programs, and the Senate Intelligence Committee has been far more a defender of these programs than an overseer of them. The House Intelligence Committee’s public record on this issue is also dismal, with only a single public hearing in the months after Snowden’s revelations that discussed almost purely cosmetic changes to U.S. surveillance authorities.
Indeed, when reform-minded House members not on the House Intelligence Committee have attempted to get information on these programs, they have been blocked from doing so—including in periods leading up to PATRIOT Act reauthorization votes. House reformers have also been stymied in their efforts to rein in or even end dubious surveillance activities, largely through the efforts of the House GOP leadership to restrict the terms and scope of the surveillance reform debate.
The House has seen fit to create a select committee to investigate the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens—a singular, tragic event already investigated by the State Department and the House Armed Services Committee. However, it has refused to create such a select committee to investigate Snowden’s revelations, despite their magnitude and direct impact on the rights of Americans and the threat NSA’s actions pose for American technology companies. That’s a far cry from how the Watergate and Church Committees went about their business.
In the introduction to the Watergate Committee’s final report, the authors noted the critical role the committee’s open hearings had played in educating the public about the issues at stake:
Perhaps proof of the impact of the committee’s hearings is found in the unprecedented public response to the firing of Special Prosecutor Cox on October 20, 1973. On that weekend alone, a half million telegrams came into the Congress. Hundreds of thousands of telegrams flowed in during the following days. The overwhelming sentiment of these telegrams was in opposition to the President’s actions. It is doubtful that public sentiment would have been so aroused by the President’s action had the public not been sensitized to the issues involved through the committee’s hearings.
The failure of existing committees to properly probe Snowden’s revelations, the active efforts by previous House Intelligence Committee leadership to impede inquiries by individual House members, and the efforts of House and Senate leaders to truncate any meaningful debate over these surveillance powers—all of these actions make it appear that Congressional leaders are engaged in a process designed to conceal the U.S. intelligence community’s domestic spying transgressions rather than educate the public on them and their implications for our democracy.
And following Senator Rand Paul’s 11-hour filibuster against attempts to extend the PATRIOT Act for five more years, we have more evidence of abuse of PATRIOT Act powers.
On May 21, 2015, the day after Paul’s filibuster, the Department of Justice finally released a partially declassified version of the Sec. 215 PATRIOT Act compliance report covering the period from 2007 to 2009. That report found that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) violated the PATRIOT Act Sec. 215’s privacy safeguard requirements for seven years. It also found that the Sec. 215 authority was used aggressively by the FBI to acquire huge volumes of information on U.S. citizens not the subject of any authorized investigation:
Section 215 authority is not limited to requesting information related to the known subjects of specific underlying investigations. The authority is also used in investigations of groups comprised of unknown members and to obtain information in bulk concerning persons who are not the subjects of or associated with any FBI investigation.
The government is vacuuming up the communications of you, your family, your neighbors, your coworkers. No probable cause and no connection to terrorists or foreign intelligence services required. And this is the surveillance dragnet law Congress is considering renewing.
As important as the debate over the Sec. 215 program is, it involves only one of many government surveillance programs that will continue after the current debate is over—and without Congress having taken the time to actually determine how many such programs even exist, much less whether they have violated Americans’ rights or even been operationally effective. Meanwhile, the cancer on our Constitution grows.Patrick G. Eddington is a policy analyst in Homeland Security and Civil Liberties at the Cato Institute, and an assistant professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University.
Not every person on Wall Street is a morally corrupt Gordon Gekko. Do Wall Street traders want to make money? Yes. Are they generally people who thrive in a fast-paced, competitive environment? You bet. And that is a good thing.
“While the news about corruption, corporate welfare and lawbreaking is very bad, it doesn’t mean the entire industry is rotten.”
At its core, here’s what Wall Street does: It makes sure that companies doing useful things get the money they need to keep doing those things. Do you like your smartphone? Does it make your life easier? The company that made that phone got the money to develop the product and get it into the store where you bought it with the help of Wall Street.
When a company wants to expand, or make a new product, or improve its old products, it needs money, and it often gets that money by selling stock or bonds. That helps those companies, the broader economy and consumers generally.
When we have flashing headlines about Wall Street traders acting badly, as we had last week with news of five major banks pleading guilty to criminal charges, it is very easy to hate Wall Street. But we only hear headlines about the worst behavior.
No one writes news stories about traders who go about their business every day, carefully complying with the many (and there are many) rules and regulations that govern their work. Also, the financial sector, which is usually what people mean when they say “Wall Street,” isn’t only or even mostly the big banks.
There are small firms, banks, funds and advisers that make up a large portion of our financial industry. While the news about corruption, corporate welfare and lawbreaking is very bad, it doesn’t mean the entire industry is rotten. Or, more important, that we don’t need it.
Wall Street could be better. We could eliminate regulations that crowd out competition for the big banks. We could reform the system to do away with “too big to fail,” making it harder for bad traders to get away with bad behavior. Either way, we shouldn’t lose sight of the very real economic and social benefits Wall Street provides.Thaya Knight is associate director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute.
Michael D. Tanner
There was none of the sturm und drang that has accompanied past budget battles, but earlier this month the Republican-controlled Congress passed the first fully Republican budget since 2005. A historic event, to be sure, but, given that it has been a decade since Republicans had this ability to shape federal tax and spending policy, it is disappointing that the end result was such mediocre gruel.
First the good news: The budget would spend $6 billion less over the next 10 years than the current baselines, and would, in theory, balance by 2024. The agreement at least ostensibly sticks to the budget caps agreed to under sequestration, although it circumvents them in a way by shifting more funds to “overseas contingency operations” (OCO), which are not subject to the caps.
“It contains some positive steps, but also some sleight-of-hand and increased spending.”
Moreover, as valuable as the sequester caps have proven to be in restraining spending, they remain a blunt instrument that allows Congress to avoid truly tough decisions. As one bad sign, the budget agreement takes note of $140 billion in needed health-care savings to offset the cost of the recent “doc fix” agreement, but doesn’t actually propose any specific cuts. On the other hand, the budget resolution establishes a deficit-neutral reserve fund that could allow for some reallocations that would give policymakers flexibility to replace sequestration with other cuts as long as those actions don’t increase the ten-year deficit. We will have to see how this plays out in a practical sense, but if the deficit-neutrality is strict enough, it could potentially be an improvement.
The budget resolution also engages in some serious sleight-of-hand when it comes to defense spending. The resolution keeps the sequester caps on defense in place, but only by shifting some $38 billion in spending for next year to the OCO account, essentially using this war-fighting appropriation as a slush fund. The final budget agreement also removed a Senate provision requiring 60 votes to add future funds to the OCO without offsetting spending cuts.
We should also remember that, while a balanced budget is important, it is not as important as reducing overall levels of federal spending. And the GOP budget envisions spending $1.14 trillion more (in nominal dollars) by 2025. That is not a good thing just because tax revenues will rise fast enough to offset the increases.
The budget’s biggest failing comes, as usual, in its refusal to seriously address entitlement reform. Mandatory outlays now comprise 62 percent of all federal spending, and that proportion would only rise under the GOP budget. In fact, just 3 programs (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) account for 47 percent of federal spending. Unless Congress is willing to reform those programs, any balanced budget will be purely ephemeral.
So what does the budget resolution propose to do about Social Security? The program is currently running a roughly $78 billion cash-flow shortfall that will grow worse with each passing year. Overall, Social Security’s unfunded liabilities approach $25 trillion. And in response, the budget resolution says that “the President should submit legislation to Congress addressing the long-term insolvency of [Social Security].” So a congressional budget resolution solves Social Security’s problems by asking the president to tell them what to do. There’s courage for you.
Medicare’s finances are in even worse shape than Social Security’s, with the program’s unfunded liabilities exceeding $47 trillion. The House budget had included Paul Ryan’s plan to add a premium-support model to Medicare. While Ryan’s plan was substantially watered down — it wouldn’t have taken effect for a decade and would have continued traditional Medicare as an option — it was dropped entirely from the final resolution.
A spokesman for Ryan was reduced to claiming a victory because “nothing in the conference report prevents us from continuing to pursue it.” Fair enough. Nothing prevents me from running for president either, but I wouldn’t buy any inaugural tickets just yet.
Essentially the budget kicks the Medicare can down the road, calling for “the committees of jurisdiction in the House and Senate [to determine] the specific Medicare reforms needed to bring spending levels under current law in line with the budget.” Don’t hold your breath.
Let’s be clear: The GOP budget is a big improvement over the one presented by President Obama, and if appropriators follow through, it would improve our fiscal position. It would spend less and, presumably, tax less. It includes a reconciliation mechanism that could be used to repeal Obamacare.
But given the Democrats’ power to filibuster in the Senate and the president’s veto, the budget resolution is the one area where congressional Republicans can really exercise the power of the purse. One can’t escape the wish that they had done better.Michael Tanner is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Instititute and author of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.
The rising nation was full of self-confidence and determined to expand. Its neighbor refused to negotiate in a bitter territorial dispute, convinced there was no legitimate issue to discuss. The new entrant to the international order also challenged the world’s greatest global power, which was forced to decide whether war could be justified against a country thousands of miles from home. The upstart’s territorial claims were excessive, but no one desired a rerun of past conflicts.
The year was 1845. The United States had absorbed Texas after the latter’s violent secession from Mexico; Washington demanded its neighbor’s acquiescence not only to the errant territory’s annexation but also to a new national boundary set well beyond Anglo settlements. The United States backed its position with provocative military maneuvers, occupying disputed territory. War soon resulted.
Around the same time Washington took an equally truculent position in dealing with Great Britain over the far western boundary between America and Canada. Where prior agreements had left ambiguity, the United States saw certainty. Some Americans proclaimed “54-40 or fight,” wanting to push the Oregon border up to the Russian territory (Alaska) later sold to the United States. The Polk administration took a less extreme position and London accommodated the arrogant juvenile nation, a necessary step in ultimately developing the “special relationship” between onetime enemies.
Today Beijing’s actions in the East Asian waters have a similar feel. The international and regional order is under strain as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has become an economic colossus with growing military might and diplomatic influence. Control of islands offer resource ownership and maritime primacy, encouraging the PRC to assert territorial claims once considered impractical or worthless.
“Beijing’s claims in Asia look extravagant, however, they are as valid as those made by the United States against Mexico and Great Britain in the mid-19th century.”
Although America’s military remains supreme, the U.S. presence no longer intimidates. Beijing has become increasingly assertive, even truculent. Analysts spin scenarios in which America and China end up at war over some “damn fool thing” in the western Pacific rather than the Balkans, as was the case in World War I.
The waters of East Asia are filled with islands, including the Diaoyu/Senkaku, Nansha/Spratly, and Xisha/Paracel Islands, as well as Huangyan Island/Scarborough Reef. (For simplicity’s sake I will use the latter names, more familiar in the United States) The PRC claims all (and Taiwan, many) of these isles. Asserting a variety of opposing claims are Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
Washington is not a claimant, but has sparred with China over the U.S. Navy’s legal right to engage in intelligence gathering within China’s 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). More important, America has a formal military alliance with Japan which, the president declared, covers disputed territories under Tokyo’s control. Japan recently revised its defense guidelines to improve bilateral cooperation against the PRC (in contrast, Tokyo promised little assistance for U.S. security objectives). Washington’s military relationship with Manila is looser, but Philippine officials are seeking a similar territorial guarantee. The United States also views herself as the globe’s dominatrix into whose hands every dispute is properly remitted.
The Obama administration has escalated U.S. involvement by sending American aircraft over islands reclaimed by China and discussing joint patrols with Japanese aircraft. The United States and China resolved peacefully but not entirely smoothly the problems surrounding the crash-landing of the EP-3 spy plane in 2001 and subsequent maritime incidents. A future clash could pose greater challenges.
None of the claims generating so much controversy is worth war. China is carefully using “salami-slicing tactics,” successively grabbing small pieces of a larger whole to avoid a conflict. But who is prepared to fight even for the larger whole?
Most of the islands or islets are intrinsically worthless and provide little security value. Maritime rights are affected, but in peacetime the difference wouldn’t matter so much; in wartime everything would depend on the capabilities of the contending navies. The economic benefits from control could be substantial but still relatively small compared to the sizable economies of most of the claimants. Peaceful joint development would release whatever hydrocarbons lurk beneath the territory’s surface at less cost and little risk.
For many, if not all of the countries involved in the territorial disputes, national ego rather than juridical niceties is the primary issue. It is good when the latter coincide with the former, but as the young American republic demonstrated 170 years ago, facts often mean little in territorial disputes. Legal rights depend on a complex interplay of national history and control, international law and treaty. Beijing’s extravagant claims look, well, extravagant, but they are not without varying degrees of legitimacy. They certainly are as good as those made by the United States of America against Mexico and Great Britain.
While everyone officially agrees that territorial disputes should be settled peacefully, the rising power China has an obvious incentive to rattle its saber, if not draw the weapon. Beijing is a revisionist power, coming late to the international table to challenge existing claims and create new facts on the ground (or in the water). Moreover, the PRC finally possesses a navy which matches that of Japan and greatly exceeds that of other affected states.
What should the United States do? Pressure is rising, domestic and foreign, for a more actively negative policy toward China, to make Beijing pay “a price” for its increased aggressiveness, especially in East Asia. Yet such an approach would endanger America.
The interests of the direct claimants are obvious and strong. Control more territory, increase national power, enhance global prestige, expand maritime rights, acquire resources. America’s interests, in contrast, are fewer and less important. Washington would prefer that an ally rather than a rival control territorial waters and direct resource development. The United States also seeks to uphold beneficial global norms, in this case navigational freedom and peaceful conflict resolution.
While these interests are more than nominal, they must compete with the ideas that faced Britain and Mexico nearly two centuries ago in facing America: over what is one willing to risk war with a power on the rise and only likely to grow stronger? In particular, how would the future look if conflict comes today?
Of course, the theory prevalent in Washington’s pro-war precincts is that a whiff of gunpowder on America’s part would deter a war on China’s part. Perhaps—for a time. However, the world is not static, as Britain clearly understood when it appeased, by negotiating a disadvantageous settlement, the growing American republic. The course of future U.S.-China relations remains open. For Washington to attempt to coerce the PRC over interests viewed in Beijing as important if not vital guarantees a much more confrontational relationship. China likely would respond by matching American air and naval maneuvers, accelerating military outlays, and challenging U.S. interests elsewhere. Indeed, turning today’s regional dispute into a quasi-superpower confrontation would raise the stakes and make the issues harder to resolve. Americans should reflect on how they would respond to such a challenge—and to how they responded to threats in the past, going back to the so-called Barbary Pirates.
Nor is maintaining the overly large and expensive military necessary for Washington to project power thousands of miles from home a sustainable policy over the long-term. Hawkish Rep. J. Randy Forbes forthrightly demands that the United States retain “escalation dominance” over China and the continuing ability to “overcome China’s growing anti-access and area-denial systems” so as to “intervene decisively” on behalf of “allies and partners.” However, it costs far more to build carriers than to sink them. American economic dominance will continue to fade and federal budget difficulties will continue to worsen as the Baby Boomer generation fills Medicare and Social Security rolls. Americans, young and old, are unlikely to heed a clarion call for sacrifice to ensure that the Senkakus stay Japanese and Filipino flag remains atop Scarborough Reef.
In contrast, it would cost Beijing far less to bolster its military to further increase the cost of U.S. intervention. Moreover, the Chinese people likely would be willing to spend and risk much more to ensure that contested territories end up Chinese. Even younger, liberal students overwhelmingly appear to believe the contested islands are Chinese.
This makes the status quo so dangerous. “All Chinese believe these territories belong to China,” one university student informed me after I finished speaking at a seminar on the peaceful resolution of competing territorial claims. Most Japanese, Filipinos, Vietnamese, and others also believe that the disputed lands and waters belong to their respective countries. But virtually no American has the slightest interest in what belongs to whom. Yet hawks like Forbes would place Americans in the middle of these complex, potentially violent disputes.
Indeed, American intervention is making the situation more dangerous. Backing Japan and the Philippines shifts the costs of confrontation from Tokyo and Manila to America (without any commensurate benefit transfer). Neither ally is inclined to compromise or even to negotiate so long as it believes it is shielded by America’s nuclear arsenal. Whether ambitious, nationalistic Japan or perpetually crisis-ridden Philippines is the more dangerous party is anyone’s guess. Yet America is allied to both. In turn, China can hardly believe, to paraphrase one Chinese general, that the United States would risk Los Angeles for Tokyo or Manila. What happens if a frightened, careless, or ambitious sailor or airman fires a shot? And a frightened, careless, or ambitious politician backs him up?
The Obama administration is fighting enough wars. Instead of goading China, it should withdraw from East Asia’s territorial miasma. First, Washington should acknowledge that East Asian hegemony it not essential for America’s security. Indeed, attempting to maintain such dominance is a source of instability, seen by the PRC as a threat to its vital interests.
Second, Washington should make clear through action as well as rhetoric that it takes no position regarding competing territorial claims. That means no actions which challenge Chinese but not allied control of disputed territories. Especially verboten should be military missions, whether unilateral or in conjunction with allied forces.
While the United States should assert freedom of navigation—and insist that there is no valid legal justification for turning 80 percent of the South China Sea into Chinese territorial waters—Beijing so far has not threatened that basic freedom (and could do so without controlling any of the contested islands). Rather, along with India and several other nations, China disputes military intelligence activities within its Exclusive Economic Zone. The issue isn’t clear under the Law of the Sea Treaty. While the U.S. position is legitimate, little is gained from undertaking missions seemingly designed to provoke—and which will not curb provocative Chinese behavior elsewhere.
Third, the administration should remove contested territories from security guarantees. Why does the United States continue to defend a state like Japan so long after it became capable of protecting itself? In any case, America’s interest is in Japan’s independence, not control over worthless rock piles to which it might not be entitled. The same with Manila’s claim to Scarborough Reef. It is bad enough for Washington to put its full military faith and credit on the line for nations not vital to America’s survival. It is quite foolish to threaten war against a nuclear-armed state over territories to which the latter might be entitled.
Fourth, the administration should allow events to take their natural course, most obviously the increasingly hostile reaction of China’s neighbors to Beijing’s aggressiveness. Japan is spending more and rethinking historic restrictions on its military, smaller nations are arming (including buying submarines), some of them are working with Tokyo, and everyone is encouraging India to play a larger regional role. The PRC is surrounded by states with which it has been at war over the last century or so—India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and Vietnam. Now it risks making new adversaries. Even Burma and North Korea are seeking space in response to Beijing’s suffocating embrace. Better for China to face arising regional coalition, perhaps armed by Washington, than for America to stand in Beijing’s way.
Fifth, U.S. officials should more effectively make the case for negotiation. Washington should demonstrate that its objective is not to “defeat” Beijing but to strengthen regional peace and stability. The administration should press its friends to offer creative solutions to the region’s many disputes. In some cases bilateral negotiation with outside mediation. In cases with multiple claimants, perhaps a multilateral dialogue or forum. Perhaps use of an international panel, whether formal (such as the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea) or ad hoc. Another possibility, once backed by Beijing, would be to set aside formal sovereignty and create systems of joint resource development and maritime policing. Shared sovereignty expands options for compromise. Codes of conduct could prevent minor incidents involving disputed territories escalating into major crises. Countries could agree to leave waters internationally free irrespective of how sovereignty is divided. Wu Shicun of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies called on parties to “seek common ground while reserving differences.”
Finally, Washington, having so often been involved in war in Asia, should highlight the advantages of peace for all concerned, especially China. Economic development has delivered Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and most recently China from poverty. Peace has allowed the PRC to emerge on the world stage and play an increasing role around the globe, including in Africa and Latin America. Peace in Asia should not be risked for stakes that are, on reflection, of only limited value. All parties should lower tensions even while asserting their perceived interests.
What should the United States do about East Asia’s territorial disputes? Help ensure that “the broad Pacific Ocean is vast enough to embrace both China and the United States,” as President Xi Jinping recently told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Negotiations are mandatory where a major power is emerging which, understandably, sees no reason to blithely accept past international strictures agreed to by others. And talking often works, even with Beijing. Of twenty-three previous border disputes involving the PRC, seventeen were settled peacefully.
Even when negotiations fail, there usually is no need for the United States to go to war. In most of East Asia’s territorial controversies, America’s interests are peripheral and Washington should take a back seat role. Indeed, the administration should look back a couple centuries at how the superpower of the age handled the truculent new republic whose people were prepared to fight. London settled. America’s most important interest today, like Britain’s then, is keeping the peace rather than starting a war.Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is author of several books, including Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empires (Xulon).
DAYTON, Ohio — Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan arrived in Ohio this week to news of dropping poll numbers and a widening gap in the Buckeye state between the Republican nominee and President Obama. Luckily, they brought back up.
Sen. Rand Paul,R-Ky., joined the pair on the road Tuesday, and while he had planned to campaign for Romney, his appearance on the trail couldn’t have come at a better time. The libertarian worldview that made him and his father — Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas — populist heroes was on full display in his brief remarks before he introduced Romney and Ryan. Paul told the crowd he was “mortified” by the fact that people in foreign countries are on television burning the American flag and yet still receive foreign aid.
“They are attacking our embassy, burning our flag, torturing and imprisoning the man who helped us get (Osama) bin Laden . . . what’s President Obama’s answer? Send them more of your money,”
INDIANAPOLIS — Richard Mourdock became one of the tea party’s biggest winners of the 2012 primary season when he knocked off veteran Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar in a brutal campaign built on his contention that Lugar was too old, too out of touch andtoo friendly with Democrats – a RINO, Republican in name only.
But the movement’s biggest RINO hunter is now changing his tune as he tries to woo moderate voters in a tight race that stands as a key test of the tea party’s ability to win outside the nation’s most conservative states.
Mourdock is matched in the general election against moderate Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly, who is running even in recent polls despite Indiana’s Republican tilt. Suddenly, gone is the strident rhetoric in which Mourdock proclaimed that bipartisanship meant Democrats coming over to Republicans’ thinking and that winning meant he would “inflict my opinion on someone else.” In its place are support for parts of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, pledges to protect Democratic-championed programs like Social Security and Medicare, and even the once-shunned notion of compromise.
A tea party blogger who initially urged Rep. Todd Akin to step down after his “legitimate rape” gaffe is now calling on conservatives to support him, saying larger interests are at stake.
Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips wrote that “it’s time to take one for the team,” and support Mr. Akin — simply to stop his opponent, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, from winning a second term and helping Democrats keep their Senate majority.
A tea party blogger who initially urged Rep. Todd Akin to step down after his “legitimate rape” gaffe is now calling on conservatives to support him, saying larger interests are at stake.
Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips wrote that “it’s time to take one for the team,” and support Mr. Akin — simply to stop his opponent, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, from winning a second term and helping Democrats keep their Senate majority.