Sunday, June 22, 2014

Downgrading the U.S. Federal Government's Creditworthiness

In 2011, major financial agencies reduced the rating of bonds and other forms of debt issued by the United States federal government. Simply put, the USA isn't as good a risk as it used to be.

This doesn't mean that the nation is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Yet. But it does mean that by standards as objective as any can be, we've not done a good job of managing our budget.

Naturally, efforts were made to hold someone responsible for this. Who to blame? The Democrats and Republicans blame each other; the liberals and conservative blame each other; the Congress and the President blame each other. Perhaps the most realistic, and least political, location in which to lodge blame is in the past, about forty years earlier.

President Lyndon Johnson, under his slogan of a "Great Society," orchestrated a mathematical impossibility, a sort of generational Ponzi scheme stretching over decades. One financial engine motivating the eventual downgrade of the nation's credit is the Medicare Plan. Kevin Williamson writes:

The blame for Standard & Poor’s downgrade of U.S. sovereign credit belongs almost exclusively to the president, the most socialistic American chief executive in living memory, but also to key congressional Republicans, who got carried away by their emotions. The president is Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the congressional Republicans are the 70 members of the House and 13 senators who, led by Rep. John W. Byrnes (R., Wis.), voted to create Medicare, a welfare handout disguised as an insurance program and structured as a Ponzi scheme. The handiwork of these illustrious gentlemen has taken some time to catch up with us, but catch up it has.

One definition of 'Ponzi scheme' in a common dictionary tells of "the payment of quick returns to the first investors from money invested by later investors." LBJ's Medicare setup was never financially viable; but it took forty years to reach critical mass. Exacerbating factors included other Great Society programs like Medicaid.

Medicare cannot go out of business, no matter how boneheaded its financial decisions. Because enrollment in Medicare is automatic rather than voluntary, because it is funded mainly out of payroll taxes, and because its premiums are mostly symbolic, Medicare encourages beneficiaries to make maximum use of it, which drives up both overall healthcare expenses and the deficit. We have managed to cut ourselves with both sides of that double-edged sword.

Hence the downgrading of the USA's credit. Medicare is an example of what some economic textbooks call a perverse incentive. Selling insurance for far less than its market value encourages consumers to buy it and use it - and those most likely to see the benefit to themselves in the arrangement are those least likely to need it: educated consumers, used to calculating comparative advantages, tend to come not from the lowest income classes. Kevin Williamson explains that while a number of various Great Society programs pose dangers to the nation's credit rating, Medicare is by far the most dangerous, precisely because it appeals to those savvy consumers who need it least:

And it’s really Medicare. Medicaid is a clear and present fiscal danger, but it will be relatively easy to fix, because it is easier to take benefits away from poor people than to take them away from well-off people, and the oldsters who collect Medicare are one of the most affluent and therefore politically powerful demographic groups in the country, age and wealth going together in our society more or less.

Medicare is also an example of a regressive tax. The poor are likely to put more money into it, while getting less out of it. Life expectancy alone would insure this regressiveness, but education does as well. Well-educated people tend to live longer and accumulate greater net worths.

It is worth keeping in mind that, as a National Bureau of Economic Research report found, “Medicare has led to net transfers from the poor to the wealthy, as a result of relatively regressive financing mechanisms and the higher expenditures and longer survival times of wealthier beneficiaries. Even with recent financing reforms, net transfers to the wealthy are likely to continue for at least several more decades.”

When the USA's credit rating was lowered in 2011, it was the fault of neither President Obama nor President Bush. It was a long time coming, and it was due to President Johnson.

Inconveniencing the Stalinists: the Smith Act

The Smith Act, a bit of legislation passed by the Congress in 1940, made explicit the notion implicit in any form of government: that those who advocate the violent overthrow of the government are afoul of the law. In a free society, which the United States attempts to be, there is a constant tension between freedom of speech and the security of the citizens.

On the one hand, criticism of the government, and even proposals to replace the government with a different one, are within the realm of a civil liberty, while the advocation of violent overthrow is a premeditation bent on harming individuals and therefore punishable by law. But where, exactly, is the boundary line between the two?

A number of famous trials involved the Smith Act, and some of them reached the Supreme Court. A few of them involved leaders of the Communist Party (CP), which was operating in the United States as both an intelligence-gathering network for the Soviets, and as a network for those who were prepared to sabotage the U.S. government. This latter, active, aspect of the CP's presence in the USA ranged from influencing policy decisions in the federal government, so that decisions were made against the nation's best interests, to developing and preparing saboteurs who were prepared for acts of violence against persons and objects - prepared to shoot people and dynamite buildings. Ronald Radosh writes:

the post-war Smith Act trial that took place in 1949, when the Justice Department brought to the docket the top leaders of the American CP, and indicted them for conspiring to advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government by force. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. In Dennis v. U.S., the Court, led by Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, ruled in a 6–2 decision that the convictions were legal and that the Smith Act under which the defendants were indicted was constitutional. The Court’s majority decision stated that the government had a right to prohibit the intention to commit acts meant to overthrow the American republic, and to prosecute the plotters before they acted.

In reaction to the verdict in Dennis vs. U.S., those who supported the communists claimed that First Amendment rights were violated; that the defendants were being prosecuted for what they had merely said. The legal task here is to find the boundary between speaking about an act and preparing to commit an act. If a man speaks, in an abstract way, about changing governments, about the need for a new government, and even about the possibility of doing so by means of violence, then his speech, however unpleasant, may still be protected by the First Amendment. But when he begins to stockpile bombs and guns, when he makes specific and concrete plans about whom he will shoot and which buildings he will explode, when he is receiving instructions and materials from of hostile foreign government, and when he trains and organizes others to do so, he will at some point move out of the realm of those things which are protected by the First Amendment.

Over the past two decades, since the release of the so-called Venona decrypts of Soviet intelligence operations in the U.S. and the more recent Vassiliev KGB files, as well as documents found in Moscow by Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, much evidence has been assembled that proves beyond any doubt that the American Communist party was not just another political party, but an institution whose policies, leadership, and programs were forged in Moscow, and that served as a recruiting ground for Soviet intelligence, with the participation and cooperation of the American party’s top leaders.

Despite the claims of the communists and their supporters, evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that they were under the supervision of Soviet intelligence agencies like the KGB. It must be remembered that in the late 1940s and 1950s, the USSR was actively preparing for war, anticipating a major conflict when it attempted to overrun those parts of Europe which it had not already dominated. The USSR was also preparing to trigger an overthrow of the United States government from within, by means of the Communist Party of the United States of American (CPUSA) - the official and alternative title for the American Communist Party.

the American Communist party was an organ of Joseph Stalin and a ready fifth column in the event that war broke out between the U.S. and the USSR.

Elizabeth Bentley was a spy for the Soviets from 1938 until 1945, when she defected from the communists and revealed what she knew to the FBI. She provided one of the biggest breaks in terms of uncovering Soviet espionage activity on American soil.

Soviet spying was not a figment of the imagination, and that the Smith Act indictments took place concurrently with the revelations by Elizabeth Bentley concerning the spy networks she handled in the United States.

One of the espionage networks with whom Elizabeth Bentley worked, and about whom she revealed data to the FBI, was the Silvermaster network, which carried out a number of operations for the NKGB (a predecessor of the KGB). One such operation was the theft of currency printing plates, which allowed the Soviet government to counterfeit currency, thereby simultaneously destabilizing the economy of the western allies and siphoning wealth from the United States to the Soviet Union.

Not only did members of the American Communist party have direct contacts with the NKGB, the KGB, and other Soviet espionage agencies, but some of them had been taken to Russia to be trained. Ronald Radosh explains that

a labor historian named Albert V. Lannon wrote a post on a historians’ Internet discussion group. Lannon is the son of Al Lannon, later a Smith Act defendant in the second New York Communist trial in 1951, who was the CP’s head of Communist waterfront dock workers in New York City. Lannon wrote that, at the time of his father’s trial, his father told him that while he was in Moscow at the Lenin school for party cadres, he was instructed that if war broke out between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, he was to organize party cadres in the factories and get those at the Celanese plant in Cumberland, Md., to engage in sabotage.

Some branches of the communist network in the United States were more violent than others; some directly planned to use physical violence, others kept it as an option to be used if needed.

one defendant, Gil Green, acknowledged that he had, in a speech, urged the use of violence to attain the party’s goal of achieving Communism in America. Green, he writes, “admitted that he had at times advocated violence — though only ... if, ‘heaven forbid, America becomes the victim of a fascist dictatorship and change became impossible by orderly, majority, and, above all, democratic means.’”

The insiders in the American Communist party were so thoroughly indoctrinated that they saw little difference between Adolf Hitler and Harry Truman. They saw the U.S. government as utterly unjust and as needing replacement. Holding such opinions, as bizarre as they might be, was within their First Amendment rights; planning sabotage was not.

hard as it is to comprehend, in 1949 the CPUSA believed that the U.S. was most of the way to fascism already, and that Pres. Harry S. Truman was the leader of the Wall Street warmongers who desired war with the USSR and the head of an essentially fascist government. Thus Green’s own words reveal that the prosecution was indeed correct in its assertion that the Communists were advocating force and violence, necessary because they lived in a fascist America.

In the minds of the CPUSA members, if Harry Truman were the moral equivalent of Benito Mussolini, and if the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s were as fascist as Hitler's Nazi-controlled Germany, then a violent overthrow of the government was not only justified, it was a duty. To be sure, the United States wasn't then, and isn't now, perfect; but these moral equations seem at least odd, and perhaps even surreal. It is important to understand, however, that these equations were integrally woven into the worldview of the inner circle of the CPUSA members, which explains their readiness to use violence. Undeniably, there were also CPUSA members on the fringe of the organization who had not fully internalized the demonization of the United States and who were not contemplating the use of force in a political overthrow.

There is a historical irony in the tension between the fact that, on the one hand, the 1950s saw advanced in civil rights for African-Americans and a rise in the number of women obtaining college educations, while on the other hand the CPUSA saw the United States as a fascist country. Even as the USA was moving in the direction of still greater freedom, the CPUSA members were convinced that it was repressive, and to compound the irony, the CPUSA wanted to replace the U.S. government with a Soviet-style dictatorship, the alleged cure for the alleged repression!

The powerful hold which this worldview had on the minds of CPUSA members is seen in their behavior after they were convicted. Having been found guilty under the Smith Act, and awaiting verdicts, Ronald Radosh reports their continued preparations for a violent communist revolution on American soil:

After the guilty verdict came in, a few of the convicted defendants fled while on bail, and hid out for years. One of them was World War II hero Robert Thompson, who had received the Distinguished Service Cross. He came to the home of another underground party cadre, Carl Ross, asking to be put up in a safe house. He told Ross it was important that he, Thompson, stay free because he was both a senior CP leader and had military experience in both World War II and the Spanish Civil War, and he would be needed to lead U.S. Communist guerrillas against the American fascist regime, or during World War III should war break out between the U.S. and Russia.

Prosecutions under the Smith Act identified a list individuals who were undoubtedly Soviet agents. The lives and safety of ordinary citizens in the United States were in an amount of danger which seemed unlikely at the time. As the nation worked to return to a sense of normal life after WWII, the everyday concerns of living were about sending returning soldiers to colleges, an upsurge in the house construction market, and the Baby Boom as millions of young couples got married and began families. Few of them were thinking that the Soviets were so close to destroying their way of life.

So when key FBI informants — including ex-Communist Louis Budenz and Herbert Philbrick, an FBI infiltrator into the party — testified that, in the event of domestic repression, they would have become underground saboteurs, they were telling the truth.

The CPUSA was, then, a direct extension of Stalin's KGB and of other Soviet intelligence agencies, and carefully prepared to unleash a wave of sabotage and assassinations on U.S. soil. This is the unpleasant reality behind the image of daily life in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Foreign Policy: Monroe, Roosevelt, Truman, Kerry, Obama

The famous Monroe Doctrine was not the first statement on U.S. foreign policy, but it remains one of the most famous. Nearly two hundred years later, President James Monroe's text is indisputably significant, but perhaps sometimes misunderstood. His words, in fact, are a notable step in the process of ending colonizing and ending the imperialistic drive. In a speech to Congress in 1823, he discussed negotiations taking place with Russia about the status of Alaska, and said:

the occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.

While the main message of the text is usually interpreted as U.S. opposition to European empire-building efforts, there is more to the text than this one point. Commenting on a revolution in Spain which produced a brief respite from absolutist rule between 1820 and 1823, and on the subsequent resumption of absolutism in Spain, Monroe adds:

It was stated at the commencement of the last session that a great effort was then making in Spain and Portugal to improve the condition of the people of those countries, and that it appeared to be conducted with extraordinary moderation. It need scarcely be remarked that the result has been so far very different from what was then anticipated. Of events in that quarter of the globe, with which we have so much intercourse and from which we derive our origin, we have always been anxious and interested spectators.

The citizens of the United States cherish sentiments the most friendly in favor of the liberty and happiness of their fellow men on that side of the Atlantic. In the wars of the European powers in matters relating to themselves we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy so to do.

Sorting through the garbled syntax of the speech, Monroe seems to be saying that while many Americans were privately disappointed at the resumption of absolutist rule in Hapsburg Spain, the United States would not intervene in European matters. A war between European states, or a civil war inside a European state, would not be an occasion for U.S. military action. This is a clear and noteworthy statement by a U.S. president. Monroe goes on to specify the conditions under which the United States would mobilize its military:

It is only when our rights are invaded or seriously menaced that we resent injuries or make preparation for our defense. With the movements in this hemisphere we are of necessity more immediately connected, and by causes which must be obvious to all enlightened and impartial observers.

The political system of the allied powers is essentially different in this respect from that of America. This difference proceeds from that which exists in their respective Governments; and to the defense of our own, which has been achieved by the loss of so much blood and treasure, and matured by the wisdom of their most enlightened citizens, and under which we have enjoyed unexampled felicity, this whole nation is devoted.

We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere, but with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.

In the war between those new Governments and Spain we declared our neutrality at the time of their recognition, and to this we have adhered, and shall continue to adhere, provided no change shall occur which, in the judgment of the competent authorities of this Government, shall make a corresponding change on the part of the United States indispensable to their security.

Having established then, that the United States would not interfere in a conflict between two European powers, but that it would intervene in a conflict between a European power and an American nation, Monroe explains the apparent asymmetry - why would he justify military intervention in the one case, but not the other?

The different responses which the United States would be intelligible, Monroe argues, because the European situation is remote, while the other American nations are close to, in some cases even bordering, the United States. The extent to which the other European powers chose to intervene in the situation in Spain in the early 1820s, he adds, is a matter for the private judgment of the respective nations.

The late events in Spain and Portugal shew that Europe is still unsettled. Of this important fact no stronger proof can be adduced than that the allied powers should have thought it proper, on any principle satisfactory to themselves, to have interposed by force in the internal concerns of Spain. To what extent such interposition may be carried, on the same principle, is a question in which all independent powers whose governments differ from theirs are interested, even those most remote, and surely none more so than the United States.

Our policy in regard to Europe, which was adopted at an early stage of the wars which have so long agitated that quarter of the globe, nevertheless remains the same, which is, not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its powers; to consider the government de facto as the legitimate government for us; to cultivate friendly relations with it, and to preserve those relations by a frank, firm, and manly policy, meeting in all instances the just claims of every power, submitting to injuries from none.

The neutrality, despite private sentiments, which the United States was able to demonstrate regarding Spain will not be demonstrated regarding nations in the western hemisphere. Any European aggression toward a nation in the two American continents will be seen not only as a threat to U.S. security, but also as a violation of the principle of self-determination, a violation of Locke's vision of a government obtaining its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, a violation of the vision of a republic with freely-elected representatives, and a violation of the principle of majority rule.

But in regard to those continents circumstances are eminently and conspicuously different. It is impossible that the allied powers should extend their political system to any portion of either continent without endangering our peace and happiness; nor can anyone believe that our southern brethren, if left to themselves, would adopt it of their own accord. It is equally impossible, therefore, that we should behold such interposition in any form with indifference. If we look to the comparative strength and resources of Spain and those new Governments, and their distance from each other, it must be obvious that she can never subdue them. It is still the true policy of the United States to leave the parties to themselves, in the hope that other powers will pursue the same course.

Thus the Monroe Doctrine not only states that the U.S. will defend other western hemisphere nations against imperialistic encroachments, but it also states that the United States will remain out of conflicts inside Europe, and it gives a justification for the distinction.

For nearly a century, this guiding principle was solidly a part of American foreign policy. That would change with the Progressive Era, as historians sometimes label the early part of the twentieth century. Speaking to Congress in 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt, a representative of such Progressivism, articulated a change in the Monroe Doctrine:

It is not true that the United States feels any land hunger or entertains any projects as regards the other nations of the Western Hemisphere save such as are for their welfare. All that this country desires is to see the neighboring countries stable, orderly, and prosperous. Any country whose people conduct themselves well can count upon our hearty friendship. If a nation shows that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference from the United States. Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power. If every country washed by the Caribbean Sea would show the progress in stable and just civilization which with the aid of the Platt Amendment Cuba has shown since our troops left the island, and which so many of the republics in both Americas are constantly and brilliantly showing, all question of interference by this Nation with their affairs would be at an end. Our interests and those of our southern neighbors are in reality identical. They have great natural riches, and if within their borders the reign of law and justice obtains, prosperity is sure to come to them. While they thus obey the primary laws of civilized society they may rest assured that they will be treated by us in a spirit of cordial and helpful sympathy. We would interfere with them only in the last resort, and then only if it became evident that their inability or unwillingness to do justice at home and abroad had violated the rights of the United States or had invited foreign aggression to the detriment of the entire body of American nations. It is a mere truism to say that every nation, whether in America or anywhere else, which desires to maintain its freedom, its independence, must ultimately realize that the right of such independence can not be separated from the responsibility of making good use of it.

Roosevelt's policy innovation is, of course, famously known as the Roosevelt Corollary, although it is not, strictly speaking, a corollary. Roosevelt's stance is his own creation. A corollary is a proposition which is logically entailed by another proposition; a proposition which follows necessarily from another, already proven, proposition. Roosevelt went beyond anything implied or entailed by Monroe.

It would be President Woodrow Wilson who would explore the full possibilities in Roosevelt's brainchild. Both Roosevelt and Wilson belong to the progressivist movement, despite the fact that they were members of different political parties. The progressivists rejected the anti-imperialism put forth by William Jennings Bryan, Andrew Carnegie, and William James. This anti-imperialism appeared in the late 1890's and early 1900's, partially in the context of the aftermath of the Spanish-American War.

By contrast, the progressivists like Wilson and Roosevelt embraced an activist and internationalist foreign policy. Roosevelt argued that some situations "require intervention by some civilized nation." That nation might be the United States, and his adjective 'civilized' manifests an air of imperialistic superiority. The United States might have to be "an international police power," and, bluntly, the USA's "interference" might be both necessary and justified.

Although Roosevelt made some minor actions in central America which demonstrated his policy, Woodrow Wilson understood the far greater implications. Just as the original Monroe Doctrine shaped not only America's actions in the western hemisphere, but also America's actions elsewhere, so also, Wilson saw, Roosevelt's corollary not only opened the door for an activist policy in central America, but also an international activist intervention elsewhere in the world.

In calling for war in 1917, Wilson combined the rhetoric his audience expected to hear, the rhetoric he knew was necessary to get approval for his declaration of war, and hints at his progressivist foreign policy agenda:

The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.

Clearly, Wilson had no hesitation in assuming the role of 'international policeman' for the other countries in the world. What precisely he meant by 'liberty' and 'freedom' must be understood in light of his willingness to impose significant restrictions on free speech and his willingness to impose various planned economies and social engineering experiments on the citizens of the United States.

Wilson's embrace of Roosevelt's corollary led to U.S. involvement in WWI, to Wilson's nation-building efforts vis-a-vis Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, and to Wilson's idealistic formation of the League of Nations.

Progressivist foreign policy led to the deaths of millions in WWI, and set up the deaths of millions more in WWII.

If the U.S. exceeded its proper role, if it disrespected the sovereignty of Latin American nations, if it intervened beyond propriety - then it is because of Wilson's stretching of Roosevelt's corollary to its outer limits.

After the bitter experiences of two worlds wars, a failed effort at isolationism between them, and the start of the Cold War after them, President Harry Truman worked to define a new direction for U.S. foreign policy. The progressivism of Woodrow Wilson was a failure. In March 1947, as overt and covert Soviet efforts threatened Greece and Turkey, Truman enunciated his policy:

One of the primary objectives of the foreign policy of the United States is the creation of conditions in which we and other nations will be able to work out a way of life free from coercion. This was a fundamental issue in the war with Germany and Japan. Our victory was won over countries which sought to impose their will, and their way of life, upon other nations.

To ensure the peaceful development of nations, free from coercion, the United States has taken a leading part in establishing the United Nations. The United Nations is designed to make possible lasting freedom and independence for all its members. We shall not realize our objectives, however, unless we are willing to help free peoples to maintain their free institutions and their national integrity against aggressive movements that seek to impose upon them totalitarian regimes. This is no more than a frank recognition that totalitarian regimes imposed upon free peoples, by direct or indirect aggression, undermine the foundations of international peace and hence the security of the United States.

The peoples of a number of countries of the world have recently had totalitarian regimes forced upon them against their will. The Government of the United States has made frequent protests against coercion and intimidation, in violation of the Yalta agreement, in Poland, Rumania, and Bulgaria. I must also state that in a number of other countries there have been similar developments.

At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one.

One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression.

The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio, fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms.

I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.

I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes.

The Truman Doctrine, as it came to be known, can perhaps be seen as a moderation of progressivist foreign policy. While going beyond the Monroe Doctrine in allowing U.S. involvement overseas, it curbed the imperialism and adventurism of Wilson's willingness to consider U.S. involvement nearly anywhere for nearly any reason.

Truman's criteria for intervention seem to be narrower than Wilson's. Truman works to give some definition to his concept of freedom, creating at least some notion of the test for whether or not intervention is appropriate in any given concrete situation. By contrast, Wilson seemed willing to intervene overseas motivated either by the domestic political opportunities created by foreign wars, or by the desire to impose a progressivist internationalist framework on the nations of the world, or by a sheer desire for adventurism.

Specifically, Truman argued that the U.S. should respond against aggression, whereas Wilson did not restrict himself in this way, i.e., Wilson would be willing to consider intervention even in the absence of aggression. The complex political dynamics which led to the start of WWI forestall any simplistic analysis in which one nation is cast as an aggressor and the other as victim. The Cold War, on the other hand, was a clear case of ambition on the part of the USSR over against smaller nations of eastern Europe.

Unlike Wilson's enthusiastic romp into WWI, motivated at least in part by his notion that a foreign war would give him prerogatives in implementing his domestic policies, Truman's 1947 announcement of his doctrine was directly motivated by geopolitical realities. As Charles Krauthammer writes:

In March 1947, with Greece in danger of collapse from a Soviet-backed insurgency and Turkey under direct Russian pressure, President Truman went to Congress for major and immediate economic and military aid to both countries.

More than sixty years later, Secretary of State John Kerry would attempt to adjust U.S. foreign policy again, with a statement about the Monroe doctrine. In November 2013, he said:

When people speak of the Western Hemisphere, they often talk about transformations that have taken place, but the truth is one of the biggest transformations has happened right here in the United States of America. In the early days of our republic, the United States made a choice about its relationship with Latin America. President James Monroe, who was also a former Secretary of State, declared that the United States would unilaterally, and as a matter of fact, act as the protector of the region. The doctrine that bears his name asserted our authority to step in and oppose the influence of European powers in Latin America. And throughout our nation’s history, successive presidents have reinforced that doctrine and made a similar choice. Today, however, we have made a different choice. The era of the Monroe Doctrine is over.

Careful analysis shows that Kerry cannot have meant what he said, and that he cannot have said what he meant. A latecomer to the Obama administration, Kerry is inheriting a policy which might be described, not as ending the Monroe Doctrine, but rather going even farther in the same direction as the Monroe Doctrine. The Obama administration has worked to change the status of the Falkland Islands. Under the original understanding of the Monroe Doctrine, the United States was content to allow England to retain the Falklands, because the islands did not represent an imperialistic expansion on the part of Britain, but rather were already long-held and long-established British holdings by the time President Monroe issued his statement. The Monroe Doctrine was designed to keep European powers from barging into the New World and claiming territory as colonies. The Monroe Doctrine is content to allow nations from outside the western hemisphere to retain their already established holdings. Monroe was interesting in prevented new acquisitions, not in confiscating old ones.

The Obama administration, however, is attempting to transfer ownership of the Falklands from the English to the Argentinians. Although most of the administration's actions on this topic occurred before Kerry became Secretary of State, Kerry is still carrying the flag of the administration. The administration not only retains the Monroe Doctrine, but goes much further and embraces the much more interventionist and activist Roosevelt corollary. Kerry continued his statement:

The relationship that we seek and that we have worked hard to foster is not about a United States declaration about how and when it will intervene in the affairs of other American states. It’s about all of our countries viewing one another as equals, sharing responsibilities, cooperating on security issues, and adhering not to doctrine, but to the decisions that we make as partners to advance the values and the interests that we share.

A clearer insight into the Kerry/Obama foreign policy can be gained to ascending to a broader global level. The Monroe Doctrine, the Roosevelt Corollary, and the Truman Doctrine are neither sincerely embraced nor sincerely rejected by Obama; instead, they are used or ignored depending on the policy needs of a higher order.

At the macro level, one of Obama's foreign policy goals is to weaken the USA's relations with its allies: recall the incident in which he rejected the bust of Winston Churchill. Another goal is to weaken those allies themselves: hence the desire to pry the Falklands from England. A final goal is to weaken the United States: in part by means of the first two goals, in part by relinquishing power and failing to project an image of power, and in part by a self-abasing rhetoric.

In the service of these goals, which are the core of Obama's global vision, the historic foreign policy doctrines of the United States are mere tools, to be used, reinterpreted, misinterpreted, or discarded in the service of dismantling a reliable diplomatic structure. While Obama and Kerry may have some acquaintance with the Monroe Doctrine, neither cares about it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

An Ill-Starred Political Career

The bumpy history of Kathleen Sebelius has met more than the average share of disasters. Whether you call it luck, chance, or fate, it seems unfair that she has been left holding the bag - left to suddenly have to deal with a difficult problem or responsibility because someone else has decided he does not want to deal with it.

In 2007, a tornado destroyed most of the town of Greensburg, Kansas. The destruction of the buildings was almost complete. Seeing an opportunity, green politicians decided that Greensburg, aptly named, could be their chance to construct an example of a planned environmentally-friendly community.

By ensuring that each of rebuilding was recognized as green, the bureaucrats could unlock plentiful grants to fund cutting-edge technology and embed it into the town from the ground up. Writing for the Associated Press, reporter Roxana Hegeman notes:

But local leaders were enthralled by an idea proposed by then-Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and other clean-energy proponents, who saw a blank slate on which to create a better place. The Kansas prairie offered plentiful sunshine and powerful winds to provide power.

In addition to the insurance settlements and other private funding which would have normally been available for reconstruction anyway, approximately $75 million in grants - money from ordinary taxpayers in other communities - funded expensive projects designed to meet high technological standards.

The landscape is dotted with windmills, solar panel fields, and odd cylinder-shaped houses. The futuristic, environmentally friendly, energy efficient, high-tech town is also built to withstand tornadoes like the one which destroyed it in 2007.

But there's one problem: very few people want to live there.

The government has been unsuccessful in repopulating the city. Houses and businesses, new and never occupied, stand empty, having cost millions of dollars.

The reasons vary: some people don't want to live there because the cost of living is much higher; maintaining these homes, schools, and stores takes more money, and more work, than normal structures.

Others don't want to live there because of aesthetics. The sky is cluttered with windmills and the horizon with solar panel arrays. Many of the houses are concrete domes.

Some choose not to live there because of the extra hassle required to operate all the green equipment and to ensure that everything is done to green standards. Washing the dishes or mowing the lawn suddenly becomes complex and time-consuming.

The enthusiasm of green experts left Kathleen Sebelius in the awkward situation of having orchestrated the funding of a project which few people seemed to want. $75 million in government funds were used to build houses which now stand empty and build streets on which nobody now drives. Windmills, paid for by taxpayers, generate electricity which nobody uses. Solar arrays, paid for by taxpayers, likewise produce current which is unused.

Greensburg is a high-tech ghost town, as Hegeman documents in her AP piece. The movie Field of Dreams gave rise to the phrase, "build it and they will come." Sebelius built Greensburg, but nobody came.

It would be easy to blame Sebelius for all of this, but she was in some ways placed into this compromising position by over-enthusiastic and over-eager green experts, who hoped to demonstrate their high-tech prowess - and by insincere businesses who saw a way to tap into taxpayer money even if it meant selling unneeded products.

Sadly for Sebelius, this would not be the last time she was left to publicly take the blame for ill-conceived plans which squandered public money.

Leaving the governor's mansion in Kansas, she became Secretary of Health and Human Services. In this role, she would be put forth to take responsibility for other people's failures - to take responsibility for Obamacare, and further for the failed Obamacare website.

The text of the Obamacare legislation was composed by many hands, of which hers was among the least. The Obamacare website was subcontracted out to the administration's cronies, with little regard as to whether they were competent to design and construct the site.

Obamacare was the product of naive idealism, of incompetence, and of cynical opportunism. Sebelius, who was responsible for little of this, was made to be one of the public faces for a taxpayer-funded debacle. Politics have not been kind to her. She has become a scapegoat for the failure of other policymakers.