RNC's Steele: right or wrong on Afghanistan?

RNC Chair Michael Steele’s recent comments on Afghanistan – which he derisively called “Obama’s war” while questioning the potential for victory – found pockets of support across the political spectrum.  On the left, those who oppose the war on ideological grounds agreed with Steele’s conclusions (if not his logic) that this is not a war we should be fighting.  On the more libertarian right, many who believe that America’s foreign policy is “extraconstitutional” -- overly aggressive, idealistic and beyond what the Founder’s intended -- view the Afghan campaign as a case study in federal government overreach.   If it is true that politics make strange bedfellows, Steel’s unscripted comments found a nexus of agreement from elements on the left and the right: This is a war poorly conceived, without legitimacy, and with little chance of success. I disagree with this.  While I recognize fully the difficulty of the mission, and understand that Afghanistan has been the “graveyard of empires” for a millennium or more, I also believe that Barack Obama was correct in 2008 when he called Afghanistan a war “of necessity”.  Afghanistan was the birthplace of the 9/11 attacks; the Taliban regime provided sanctuary and material support to Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda and its global network of Jihadists. The initial invasion of Afghanistan in 2001-2002 was a critical blow to this network, and provided the United States with both a measure of revenge and security after 9/11.  It also replaced the Taliban, a brutal fundamentalist Islamic regime that demanded strict fealty to Islamic law with a secular, Western-facing government.  To be sure, the government of Hamid Karzai is no model of Jeffersonian democracy.  But let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good in this case – and Karzai is quite good when compared to the rule of his predecessor, the Taliban’s Mullah Omar.

More importantly, I reject the position taken by many libertarian-oriented conservatives that the war in Afghanistan is an example of government overreach and an unconstitutional exercise of executive power.  To be sure, there are ample grounds for a substantive debate on presidential war powers and the Constitution – a debate that has heated up significantly since 9/11.   Those who take a “strict constructionist” view see Congress’ power to declare war in Article I, Section 8 as a clear limit on the use of force: without a formal declaration of war against a defined enemy, the commitment of the U.S. military to combat is essentially proscribed.  However, the case for this is not as clear as it may seem.  During the debate on this topic at the Constitutional Convention, the Founders clearly intended for the executive as Commander in Chief to have the power to “repel sudden attacks” and, in the process of providing for the “common defense”, would be able to act swiftly and decisively in the case of a national emergency.  The Founders instinctively understood that while a check on the president’s ability to unilaterally wage war was desirable, it should not prohibit decisive action when the nation’s security was under threat.

It is my belief that not only does the executive have the power to wage war in Afghanistan without a formal declaration of war, he has the constitutional responsibility to do so.  The most important aspect of the president’s job description as found in Article II of the Constitution is in Section 2:  his role as the Commander in Chief of the armed forces.  As such, he is principally responsible for ensuring the nation’s security, and enjoys wide latitude in utilizing the military in the prosecution of U.S. foreign policy.  This has been particularly true in the latter half of the 20th century, where the U.S. has waged full-scale war in Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf without a formal declaration of war.  Today, the rise of transnational terror networks and so-called “asymmetrical” warfare which targets civilians without warning has made traditional forms of extended debate on foreign policy increasingly impractical.  Terrorism and global Jihad has made traditional declarations of war truly a relic of an earlier age.

Because of this new reality, the nature of Congressional consent to military action has changed. While presidents are waging war without formal declarations, they do so also with the consent (and political cover) of Congressional approval.  Recall that on September 14, 2001 – just days after the attacks on 9/11 – the Congress passed S.J. Res. 23, which authorized the president to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001”.   Later, in 2002, the Congress passed the Iraq War Resolution, which gave Congressional approval for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  While short of formal declarations of war, both of these resolutions provide ample authority for the president to wage war in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Contrary to the opinion of Michael Steele, this is not Obama’s war.  It is America’s war.  And the stakes could not be higher.  The elimination of a sanctuary for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is a central national security issue for our future.  One of the few correct decisions that President Obama has made since taking office is recommitting the nation to the war in Afghanistan.  His recent appointment of General David Petraeus to take command is a good step in the right direction.  Now he must renounce any time tables for withdrawal and allow the U.S. military to destroy Al Qaeda and the Taliban once and for all.

The Constitution requires the federal government to provide for the common defense of the nation and its interests – principally the protection of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.  It is hard to imagine pursuing much happiness in the aftermath of a nuclear or biological attack in Times Square carried out by radical Islamists from a base in Afghanistan.

Appeasement is in Dems' DNA

Poor Bubba. Not only is he exposed as Obama’s messenger boy in the sleazy Sestak affair, but now friends report he is absolutely livid over the devastating portrayal of him in the new HBO drama “The Special Relationship” in which Dennis Quaid’s spot on Clinton tries hiding behind every international institution- U.N., NATO, EU – to avoid a decision on the Kosovo genocide until he is shamed into action by a decisive and principled Tony Blair. This fact-based revelation of Clinton’s proclivity for appeasing dictators- in this case the murderous Serbian Milosovic- eerily parallels Jimmy Carter’s contemplated sell-out of West German and South Korean freedom in response to rampant Soviet aggressiveness until a leaked White House document (Presidential Review Memorandum-10) caused a Congressional uproar that sent Peanut Man ducking for cover.

Clinton and Carter however were minor leaguers compared to their ideological descendent Barack Obama who has taken appeasement to unimagined new heights. Just a glance at current headlines suggests just how much damage this multitasking appeaser can do in a very short time.

Iran – Americans were incredulous when Iranian dictator Ahmadinejad arrogantly announced he would no longer discuss his nuclear program until the United States agreed to discuss giving up its own nuclear weapons. Now just a few months later the United States voted with Iran to hold a United Nations conference on a “Nuclear Free Middle East”. The wording of the resolution however makes clear that the real problem is not Iran getting nuclear weapons but Israel having them.

Korea – When a North Korean submarine sent forty-six South Korean sailors to a watery grave the United States promptly demanded that “something be done” – by someone else. Hillary Clinton spoke ominously of a “possible U.N. resolution” and swiftly high tailed it to Beijing to petition the Chinese for help. China as is their recent habit simply said “No” and declared that things should be resolved by the two Koreas “without outside interference”. Happy to cede this wobbly stage to Hillary, Obama much preferred acting tough with British Petroleum than with North Korea’s lunatic dictator Kim Jong-Il.

Mexico – Just so we won’t think Obama only apologizes for the U.S. when abroad, he stood beside visiting Mexican President Felipe Calderon at the White House and decried Arizona’s “misguided” illegal alien control law. To add insult to injury Calderon the next day had the temerity to stand before a joint session of the U.S. Congress and add his own denunciation of Arizona while omitting to mention Mexico’s far more draconian treatment of illegal aliens. For this shocking breach of diplomatic protocol Calderon received a standing ovation from Democratic lawmakers.

To round out the picture that same week Assistant Secretary of State Richard Posner- former head of an Open Borders advocacy group- told visiting Chinese officials that “abuses” like the Arizona law demonstrated that China wasn’t the only country guilty of human rights violations.

Syria – Touting the virtues of “engagement” with this charter member of the “Axis of Evil” Obama appointed a U.S, Ambassador to Damascus for the first time in five years at the very same time Syrian dictator Bashar Assad was busy shipping advanced rockets capable of reaching Tel Aviv to the Lebanese terrorists of Hezbollah.

Israel – As if the above item wasn’t enough to justify Israeli citizens booing Rahm Emanual in Jerusalem just days later when a Hamas affiliate in a purposeful provocation attempted to run Israel’s blockade of Gaza Obama promptly expressed his “regrets” and joined the usual leftist suspects at the U.N. in calling for an investigation.

What’s next- a joint Obama-Chavez family vacation on Martha’s Vineyard? What will it take to make the mainstream media see that for Obama and the Democrats “engagement” is simply a synonym for “appeasement”? Is it not obvious that this serial apologizing and appeasing has gained us absolutely nothing by way of gratitude or cooperation, but has instead earned us what such weakness has always merited: contempt and ever bolder provocations?

Americans, however, should not view this sorry record as random blundering, or simple incompetence. What we are seeing is a consistent, carefully thought out realization of a long held Progressive/Liberal vision of the way the world ought to be: All global problems- legal, political, or military- should be handled in a collectivist manner by the long yearned for World Government. Liberals have long understood that reasons of short term political safety precluded openly advocating this vision, but any objective analysis of the historical and intellectual underpinnings of the Progressive Movement show that such is their goal.

In keeping with this vision, Progressives have always given the highest priority to the “transformation” ( a favorite Obama word) of American society as a necessary precondition for the New World Order. The United States historically as a sovereign independent country pursuing its own national interests is seen as a Bad Thing – spawn of war, racism, imperialism etc- and a major obstacle to the evolution of the Better World to Come.

Thus appeasement abroad is no more an aberration than the entire Obama domestic program of fast-tracking America toward dramatically expanded government, ever shrinking private sector, wealth redistribution, and the conversion of the population from freedom loving entrepreneurial individuals into a collectivist mass of dependents.

Recall those words of long ago: “None So Blind as Those Who Will Not See.

William Moloney is a Centennial Institute Fellow and former Colorado Education Commissioner (1997-2007). His columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News and Human Events.

Billion reasons to distrust Colo. Dems

Four years ago, Colorado voters decided to trust Democrats with complete control of state government - the governor's mansion and large majorities in the legislature. As voters consider their choices for 2010, they might be surprised by how little governing Democrats have trusted voters in those four years.

Since 2007, Gov. Bill Ritter and the Democrat legislature have increased property taxes by more than $160 million a year, raised vehicle license "fees" by $250 million, instituted new hospital patient "fees" that will cost $600 million, and imposed some $180 million in new sales and use taxes.

All told, Ritter and the legislature have managed to increase the cost of taxes and fees by $1.19 billion and, miraculously, not once triggered Colorado's constitutional requirement that taxes can be raised only by a vote of the people.

In 2007, Democrats changed the school finance act to force most school districts to collect more property tax revenues, thereby reducing what the state spends on K-12 education. Previously, even many Democrats acknowledged that such a change must be presented to the voters.

This time, however, Democrats commandeered the political will to pass such a law and constructed a legal argument which, although rejected by a lower court, ultimately prevailed in the Colorado Supreme Court. As a result, Coloradans will pay an extra $160 million for property taxes this year alone - and more than $1 billion over six years.

Thus emboldened, the 2009 legislature smashed another of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights' (TABOR) prohibitions by eliminating the general fund spending limit without a public vote. Although Colorado Revised Statutes specifically referred to this provision as a "limitation" on the general fund, Democrats and their attorneys argued that it was instead an "allocation strategy" and, therefore, not subject to TABOR's prohibition against weakening spending limits without a public vote.

In its ruling on the 2007 property tax hike, the supreme court also signaled lawmakers that other taxes could be raised, under the guise of eliminating tax exemptions, so long as they didn't exceed TABOR revenue limit. To Democrats, suddenly everything that wasn't already taxed was merely "exempted" and a target to be taxed. So in the middle of a recession, they raised taxes on Colorado families and businesses by $180 million over two years.

However, the greatest deception is the onslaught of taxes masquerading as fees. Generally, taxes - which, according to the constitution, can't be raised without voter approval - are collected broadly and can be spent for any purpose. Fees, however, were generally understood to cover the cost of a regulatory function or of administration (e.g., licensing or registration) for which the fee is assessed.

Democrats made no pretense that the largest of their fee increases merely cover administrative expenses. Ritter suggested that the primary criterion necessary for a tax to be considered a fee is a "direct relationship" between the payer of the fee and a government activity funded by the fee.

Under this construction, it seems obvious that a new "fee" on gasoline could be imposed without a public vote so long as revenues are dedicated exclusively to highway construction or repair.

The most egregious fee - a $600 million tax on hospital services - is assessed on "outpatient and inpatient services" and ultimately paid by patients or their insurers, who receive no direct benefit in return. Ironically, Democrats dubbed this legislation, the "Health Care Affordability Act."

Together these two fees when fully implemented are projected to raise a combined $850 million a year. With fees of this magnitude, voters may never again be asked to approve a genuine tax.

Democrat candidate for governor John Hickenlooper recently said, "I think if you put issues before the public, they'll decide if it's a worthwhile investment."

That's not the way Democrats have governed for the past four years. So why should Colorado voters trust Democrats when Democrats clearly don't trust voters?

The VAT: coming to America

I know I've been on an ObamaCare kick for the past few months, and I wouldn't blame you if you are tired of it by now.  I wish I could abandon it for some other topic -- any other topic, in fact.  But, alas, I cannot.  Why? Because I see this new law as the greatest single threat to our continued prosperity in my lifetime.

Those on the left think that conservatives are exaggerating the potential impact of this law.  Paul Krugman, no doubt the dumbest Nobel Prize winner in history, was on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday and talked of the the health care reform law as "a minor change", and is certain that it will both be cost and care effective in improving the nation's medical system.  Indeed, this is the talking point for the Democrats, who want to focus on all the "good" things in the law and act as if the economic sleight-of-hand implicit in the law's assumptions are trivial.  Of course, it's all trivial when you are saving the lives of women, children and the infirm (well, most children, anyhow -- we won't mention the baby killing public abortion funding in the law -- I know the left doesn't like to talk about that part).

And herein lies the problem: the left is touting the benefits, while hiding the costs.  And the costs are a killer -- a path to insolvency for this country.  Why?  Because the numbers just don't add up.  As Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute points out in today's Wall Street Journal, Obama's plan is to tax "the rich" to pay for all this entitlement spending:

President Barack Obama's new health-care legislation aims to raise $210 billion over 10 years to pay for the extensive new entitlements. How? By slapping a 3.8% "Medicare tax" on interest and rental income, dividends and capital gains of couples earning more than $250,000, or singles with more than $200,000.
The president also hopes to raise $364 billion over 10 years from the same taxpayers by raising the top two tax rates to 36%-39.6% from 33%-35%, plus another $105 billion by raising the tax on dividends and capital gains to 20% from 15%, and another $500 billion by capping and phasing out exemptions and deductions.
Add it up and the government is counting on squeezing an extra $1.2 trillion over 10 years from a tiny sliver of taxpayers who already pay more than half of all individual taxes.
It won't work. It never works.

How do we know it won't work?  Because we've tried it before -- in California, in fact.  A burgeoning entitlement and public employee pension system paid for by a tiny percentage of tax payers.  I've written about it before here and here.  California has relied on its top earners to the point where too much of the budget relies on too few tax payers.  And now it has squeezed them to the point that there is no more blood in the rock.  There just isn't any more marginal revenue to gain from raising taxes further, and the "brain drain" to other states has only made the situation worse.

We are now about to embark on a similar experience nationally -- and the numbers won't work any differently there than they have in California.  As Reynolds makes clear, higher marginal tax rates will ultimately lead to LESS revenue, not more.  It's the same lesson that Regan taught us -- that the left refuses to learn: incentives matter:

In short, the belief that higher tax rates on the rich could eventually raise significant sums over the next decade is a dangerous delusion, because it means the already horrific estimates of long-term deficits are seriously understated. The cost of new health-insurance subsidies and Medicaid enrollees are projected to grow by at least 7% a year, which means the cost doubles every decade—to $432 billion a year by 2029, $864 billion by 2039, and more than $1.72 trillion by 2049.
If anyone thinks taxing the rich will cover any significant portion of such expenses, think again.
The federal government has embarked on an unprecedented spending spree, granting new entitlements in the guise of refundable tax credits while drawing false comfort from phantom revenue projections that will never materialize.

At the end of this train comes Nancy Pelosi's big dream: the Value Added Tax (VAT).  The VAT is a tax on goods at every stage of production -- hence the "value added" after each stage (production, assembly, packaging, distribution, etc.)  It's a stealth tax because they don't add it at the cash register -- it's already baked in.  And it's high -- in the UK, for example, that VAT is 17.5%.  And it is in addition to the income, property, capital gains and local sales taxes you pay.

Remember this fact: every nation with a nationalized health care system has at VAT.  It is the only way that the high costs of national health care can be paid for.  Nancy Pelosi is on record as favoring a VAT; she told Charlie Rose in October, 2009:

"Somewhere along the way, a value-added tax plays into this," she said. "Of course, we want to take down the health-care cost, that's one part of it. But in the scheme of things, I think it's fair to look at a value-added tax as well."
The Wall Street Journal has outlined the desires of Pelosi and other Democrats for a VAT on numerous occasions as well:
Mrs. Pelosi is the second prominent Democrat to call for a VAT in recent weeks. John Podesta, an adviser to President Obama and president of the very liberal Center for American Progress, called in September for a "small and more progressive" VAT. Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Podesta argue a new tax is necessary to address the nation's exploding financial liabilities, as if those liabilities exploded on their own. Of course, VATs always start "small" and get bigger. The bills for the Democratic spending blowout are coming due even sooner than advertised, and the middle class will pay, whatever Mr. Obama's campaign promises. 

So, here's the dirty little secret of ObamaCare: the left knows the numbers are wrong and that the program will lead to massive deficits.  They know it will happen and it is by design: the only way to fully re-make America in Europe's vision is to have a VAT that will support the welfare state.

It is a key part of the leftist game plan.

You heard it here first:  The VAT is coming to America, and sooner than you think.