Think Tanks Wrap-up

March 21, 2002 at 5:44 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 21 (UPI) -- The UPI Think Tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering brief opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks.

The Cato Institute

WASHINGTON--U.S. Should Withdraw Troops From Saudi Arabia,

Study Says Propping up corrupt Saudi regime encourages terrorist attacks on U.S.

As U.S. and Saudi officials publicly proclaim their commitment to the long-standing alliance between the two countries, a new study from the Cato study argues that the United States should reassess its relationship with the Saudi regime and withdraw its troops from that country.

In "Befriending Saudi Princes: A High Price for a Dubious Alliance," Cato senior fellow Doug Bandow writes that Saudi Arabia is among Washington's most dubious allies, "a corrupt and totalitarian regime at sharp variance with America's most cherished values, including religious liberty."

Americans are now paying for Washington's cozy ties with Riyadh, Bandow argues. "One must take Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden's pronouncements with some grains of salt, but ending American support for the corrupt regime in Riyadh and expelling U.S. forces from the Persian Gulf region appear to be his main goals." The U.S. presence, he says, will continue to inflame Islamic extremists and encourage future terrorist attacks.

Despite years of support for the Saudi regime, the United States has got nothing in return, Bandow says. The Saudi regime has for a long time been wary of aiding the United States despite direct attacks on Americans. As well as obstructing investigations, it has also financed the Taliban and madrassa fundamentalist academies in Pakistan, and has nurtured political extremism and terrorism within Saudi Arabia itself, he argues.

Proponents of a U.S. presence argue that it is needed to secure access to oil. But if the Saudi regime fell, prices would only rise substantially if the conqueror--whether internal or external--kept the oil off the market, Bandow writes. Withholding oil "would defeat the very purpose of conquest, even for a fundamentalist regime," he says. And the risk of a price increase should be balanced against the annual cost--around $50 billion--of using U.S. forces to protect access to that oil.

Maintaining Saudi "stability," even if that could be done, does not justify a U.S. presence, Bandow says. "Should the House of Saud fall or be overrun, Washington would finally be relieved of the moral dead weight of defending that regime. And consumers would almost certainly continue to purchase sufficient oil, if not directly from a hostile Saudi regime, then from other producers in a marketplace that would remain global. Americans would adjust to any higher prices by finding new supplies, developing alternative energy forms, and reducing consumption."

The report is available as Policy Analysis no. 428 on the Cato Institute website at

WASHINGTON--Bush's rules for military tribunals fail to address four important issues, says Cato scholar

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld today released the administration's rules for military tribunals, which may be used to prosecute combatants captured in the anti-terrorism war in Afghanistan. Yesterday, President Bush said of the rules: "The world now will begin to see what we meant by a fair system ... to bring people to justice." Robert A. Levy, senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute, had the following comments:

"The new regulations on military tribunals are mostly good news, addressing many of the criticisms leveled by civil libertarians. But the administration has not been responsive in four key areas.

"First, tribunals should be convened only outside of the United States. On U.S. soil, our criminal courts are a perfectly acceptable venue.

"Second, tribunals should be limited to prosecuting unlawful combatants, not merely someone who may be tangentially related to international terrorism.

"Third, tribunals should be congressionally authorized, not unilaterally decreed by the executive branch.

"Finally, verdicts should be appealable to our civilian courts, not only to a military review board.

"As it now stands, the Bush military order shows too little respect for separation of powers, a centerpiece of our Constitution. The executive branch sets the rules, then prosecutes, and then has sole review authority--unchecked power in a single branch of government."

WASHINGTON--Nation Building Won't Prevent Terrorism, Study Says

The conventional wisdom is that to prevent terrorism the United States needs to build civil societies in failed states and in poor or oppressed countries. But a new study from the Cato Institute argues that this theory is flawed and that nation building efforts might actually increase the risk of terrorism.

In "Old Folly in New Disguise: Nation Building to Combat Terrorism," Cato foreign policy analyst Gary Dempsey argues that it is time for a reality check. If the United States were to engage in nation building missions in all countries that are oppressive, or in which terrorist groups operate, then it would be dealing with as many as 3.6 billion people, or 59 percent of the world's population, he says.

Dempsey argues that the "Nation Building Is the Best Defense" school of thought is based on several flawed assumptions. Using nation building to combat terrorism misconstrues the political problem, he says. "The problem of failed states is not usually one of too little outside involvement or not enough foreign aid. It is a problem of fake countries and flawed borders."

Nation building also misconstrues the military problem, Dempsey argues. "Failed states are where the terrorists are most vulnerable to covert action, commando raids, surprise attacks, and local informants willing to work for a few dollars," he writes. "Failed states are not 'safe havens.' They are defenseless positions."

Nation building also misrepresents deprivation as the cause of terrorism, Dempsey says. "Poverty can exist without terrorism, as it did during the Great Depression and does today in most of sub-Saharan Africa. And terrorism can thrive without poverty." European left-wing terrorists during the 1970s and 1980s were mostly middle class, and the September 11 hijackers were highly educated and well off, he notes.

Increasing foreign aid is counterproductive because the heart of the terrorism problem is political, not economic. And Somalia demonstrated that flooding a country with aid actually fuels the cycle of violence, he argues. Many groups have called for a new Marshall Plan, but as Dempsey points out, "similar plans have routinely failed since then." Despite over $1 trillion in U.S. foreign aid since World War II, 70 of the countries that received assistance were poorer in 1997 than they were in 1980, and an incredible 43 were worse off than in 1970.

To counter future terrorism, Dempsey argues for a policy of credible deterrence and strict accountability to prevent other countries and groups from thinking they can get away with it. "Nation building, therefore, is the wrong prescription. It is likely to create more incentives, targets and opportunities for anti-American terrorism, not fewer."

The report is available as Policy Analysis no. 429 on the Cato Institute website at

Institute for Public Accuracy

(The IPA is a nationwide consortium of policy researchers that seeks to broaden public discourse by gaining media access for experts whose perspectives are often overshadowed by major think tanks and other influential institutions.)

WASHINGTON--Campaign Finance: Reform or Scam?

*Stephanie Wilson, executive director of the Fannie Lou Hamer Project.

"We were supporters of McCain-Feingold until the limit for individual contributions was raised from $1,000 to $2,000.... This is now actually deform, not reform.... Less than 1 percent of the population contributes 80 percent of the money that funds political campaigns. This group of contributors is overwhelmingly dominated by white men with household incomes of more than $100,000.... The disparities in contributions stem from racial disparities in wealth. Currently, the net worth for white households is eight times greater than that of African-American households and 12 times greater than Latino households.... Just like the poll tax, the current campaign finance system excludes those without resources from an important part of the political process.... We believe that the future of the movement requires that it embrace the inclusive democratic values put forth by legendary voting rights advocate Fannie Lou Hamer, and that it push for full public financing of campaigns. The next step for comprehensive campaign finance reform is to create a voluntary system of full public financing. Full public financing of campaigns would offer the opportunity of equal political participation to the overwhelming majority of Americans who are not a part of the less than 7 percent of the population that now funds federal elections."

*David Donnelly, director of Mass Voters for Clean Elections.

"In 1998, voters in Massachusetts passed one of the most sweeping campaign finance reform measures in the country. The Massachusetts Legislature has refused to implement it, even though the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found the Legislature in violation of the state constitution three times this year: on Jan. 25, Feb. 25 and March 12.... Republican Gov. Jane Swift has shown unparalleled leadership on the voter-approved Clean Elections Law. She has made it impossible for legislative opponents of campaign finance reform to successfully advance a repeal or damaging changes to what the people passed in 1998 by a two-to-one margin. By threatening to veto anything that contradicts what voters passed, she continues to hold the Legislature accountable and preserved Clean Elections." (The Massachusetts Clean Elections Law allows candidates who agree to fixed spending limits and $100 contribution limits to receive a set amount of public money for the primary and general elections.)

*Rob Richie, director of the Center for Voting and Democracy.

"The thirst for a better democracy will continue. In cities and states around the nation, democracy advocates are involved in new efforts to improve our politics. San Francisco just voted on March 5 to adopt instant runoff voting for its major elections -- thus boosting turnout and voter choice and decreasing candidates' reliance on special interest contributions. More than a dozen states have been debating instant runoff voting in their legislatures."

WASHINGTON--Military Tribunals, Ashcroft's 'Voluntary' Interviews

*Marjorie Cohn, associate professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, Calif.

"The new rules for military tribunals violate due process by allowing the admission of hearsay evidence that hasn't been authenticated and providing no guidelines for sentencing. They raise serious separation of powers problems because the appellate panels are named by the president and are not judicial bodies. The U.S. has already been secretly sending prisoners to Egypt and Jordan, where torture is permissible during interrogation. A U.S. diplomat said, 'It allows us to get information from terrorists in a way we can't do on U.S. soil.' But even sending them elsewhere to be tortured violates the Convention Against Torture, which the U.S. has ratified."

*Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of

Law, Boyle commented today on the military tribunals.

"These are still kangaroo courts that violate the terms of the Third Geneva Convention and the U.S. Geneva Convention Act."

Susan Akram, author of the forthcoming law review article "Race, Civil Rights, and

Immigration Law After Sept. 11, 2001: The Targeting of Arabs and Muslims."

"Attorney General Ashcroft's latest pronouncement that the Department of Justice is initiating another round of 'voluntary' interviews, targeting another 3,000 individuals, continues administration policy that is singling out the Arab and Muslim communities for heightened scrutiny in the 'war on terrorism.' The policies put in place since Sept. 11 include the arrests, interrogations and detentions of well over 1,000 individuals; the mass arrests of nonimmigrant students; the 'voluntary' interviews of 5,000 men; and the roundup of 6,000 individuals who have outstanding deportation orders.... The latest actions, coupled with sweeping new provisions in the USA Patriot Act ... create an atmosphere of suspicion and intolerance towards the Arab/Muslim communities.... Among the most problematic measures is the revival of racial profiling, which had largely been discredited by the courts when applied to African-American and other communities before Sept. 11. The policies also raise very serious First Amendment issues, as all the measures are designed or implemented in a way that chills the speech and association rights of Arabs and Muslims, and deprives the rest of the American public of the discourse of these additional viewpoints, particularly on issues relating to the Middle East. Provisions in the Patriot Act, along with these targeted actions, also

revive the discredited notion that an individual can be deported or denied entry solely because her views are unpopular with the U.S. government."

The Competitive Enterprise Institute

(CEI is a free-market think tank that supports principles of free enterprise and limited government, and actively engages in public policy debate.)

WASHINGTON-- Robert Redford's Latest 'Role' Misleads Americans About Dangers of Fuel Economy Standards

Robert Redford may have given the most incredible performance of his career when he narrated radio ads recently for the Natural Resources Defense Council, saying higher government fuel economy standards would give us "safer" cars. Today the Competitive Enterprise Institute responded to the misleading ad campaign with a full-page ad in the Orem Times near Redford's ranch in Utah.

"For the NRDC and Mr. Redford to claim that more stringent fuel economy standards would increase vehicle safety is absolutely ridiculous," said Sam Kazman, CEI's general counsel and fuel economy expert.

"It's been clear for more than a decade that the federal government's program increases traffic deaths by restricting the production of larger, more crashworthy cars. This is demonstrated by a Harvard-Brookings study and a National Academy of Sciences report that shows the program already kills 1,300 to 2,600 people each year," added Kazman.

The NRDC radio campaign aired last week during the U.S. Senate's debate over whether to raise fuel economy standards. A proposal by Senator John Kerry (D-MA) to significantly raise the standards was defeated, and instead the Senate chose to adopt an amendment that keeps the decision-making process regarding the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) program at the Department of Transportation. The amendment expressly directs DOT to consider CAFE's impact on safety, among other factors.

CHICAGO--Ten Second Response: Ice Shelf Breaks Off Antarctica Coastline

by Gretchen Randall

Background: Scientists believe the 12,000 year old ice shelf which broke off the coast of Antarctica over a recent 35-day period detached as the result of warming in the region over the last 50 years or more. But they could not conclude that it was the result of human activity such as greenhouse gas emissions. Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Center told the San Francisco Chronicle, "It will take a lot more evidence and a lot more worldwide climate modeling before we can say anything for certain."

Ten Second Response: Scientists again admit that there isn't enough evidence to point to man as the cause of warming events.

Thirty Second Response: Scientists studying Antarctica acknowledge that there's been a warming trend there for hundreds of years ? long before greenhouse gas emissions became an issue. Temperatures in the interior of Antarctica have actually been cooling since the mid-1980s. It's another case of the power of nature.

Discussion: The 1,250 square mile piece of the Larsen B ice shelf broke off Antarctica on January 31. Scientists continued to watch it break apart via satellite photos. It broke into icebergs of various sizes over 35 days. The interior of Antarctica has shown a cooling trend since the mid-1980s, according to the National Science Foundation's Longterm Ecological Research team. Nature magazine reported in January that these scientists found that temperatures in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of east Antarctica have dropped 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1986.

(Gretchen Randall is the director of the John. P. McGovern, MD Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs at the National Center for Public Policy Research.)

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