WASHINGTON, April 22 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the first of several wrap-ups for April 22. Contents: the United Nations in post-war Iraq; economic foolishness of boycotts.
The Cato Institute
WASHINGTON -- The U.N.'s role in post-war Iraq
By Christopher Preble
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, echoing similar calls from France and Germany, has declared that the United Nations should have a "central role" in post-war Iraq. It is somewhat ironic that Russia, France, and Germany -- three countries that wanted no part in the war -- want to have a "central role" in the post-war reconstruction.
Many Americans have reacted to this proposal with disdain, arguing essentially that, having left the heavy lifting to the United States, these three countries are in no position to demand a place at the peace table.
But while this reaction is understandable, the exclusion of other countries from the rebuilding of Iraq may be counter productive. In planning for the peace, Americans should welcome the involvement of other nations, including those nations that did not contribute troops to the war effort, as a way of sharing the financial burden, and the continued risks, of the post-war occupation.
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., had it right when he declared at a recent Capitol Hill press conference that the United States should share the "opportunity with the rest of the world out of our own naked self-interest."
Unfortunately, the involvement of the United Nations in the rebuilding of Iraq is likely to be a double-edged sword for U.S. policy-makers. On the one hand, the international community at large, and the United Nations in particular, must not be absolved of its responsibility for post-war Iraq. For the 12 years since the first Gulf War, many leaders in the United Nations -- including Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the representatives of France, Germany, and Russia, favored inspections to monitor Saddam Hussein's weapons programs, and punitive economic sanctions to pressure the regime.
We now know that this endeavor was deeply flawed because it was dependent completely upon U.S. military force. Absent the threat of military action, Saddam refused to obey the U.N. mandates. Moral suasion and international opprobrium are meaningless to a man who tortures his own people for sport. But the international community must stop calling on the United States as a global policeman, and the United States must stop answering the call.
The United States has footed the bill for an extensive troop presence in the region since the outbreak of the first Gulf War in 1990. The military buildup to the current war was an additional expense. Some estimates place the costs of keeping American forces in the region at $20 billion a year.
It is unfair that American taxpayers should continue to shoulder these burdens. Other countries could demonstrate their commitment to peace by sending military and police forces to maintain order until elections can be held, and by pledging financial support for the new Iraqi government.
On the other hand, recent experience in Kosovo and Bosnia, where U.N. personnel have been stationed for several years, suggests that U.N. involvement in Iraq is likely to slow the rebuilding process. U.S. policy-makers should avoid any entanglements that would delay the creation of a new Iraqi government, elected by the Iraqi people.
Iraq has a relatively high literacy rate, a functioning middle class, and an infrastructure to support the rebuilding effort. Most importantly, the country's enormous oil wealth will attract private firms willing to contribute to the rebuilding effort. If Iraqis negotiate contracts with these firms, no one can rightly claim that the military campaign against Saddam Hussein was all about enriching American businesses.
The most reasonable compromise is for the United Nations to be involved in ways in which it already has expertise. U.N. humanitarian personnel have begun to distribute basic necessities in the country, and this can and should expand as coalition forces tighten their control and crack down on lawlessness. Similarly, U.N. election monitors have supervised elections around the globe and U.N. supervision of elections in Iraq, along with certification of the election results, would lend legitimacy to a fledgling government that is certain to be criticized -- rightly or wrongly -- as a puppet of the United States.
The Bush administration claimed that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the United States. His regime is destroyed. The threat, therefore, is eliminated. The Bush administration should remain focused on ending the military occupation and on turning the government of Iraq over to the Iraqi people as quickly as possible.
If the member states of the United Nations can help, and if they can do so on our timeline, we should let them. If not, we should tell them to mind their own business.
(Christopher Preble is the director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.)
The Ludwig von Mises Institute
(The LVMI is a research and educational center devoted to classical liberalism -- often known as libertarianism -- and the Austrian School of economics. LVMI seeks a radical shift in the intellectual climate by promoting the market economy, private property, sound money and peaceful international relations, while opposing government intervention.)
AUBURN, Ala.-- The boycott mania
By William L. Anderson
When I click onto the Drudgereport.com site these days, I often am greeted with an advertising bar at the top of the page that declares, "Boycott France." As we have heard ad nauseum, France was against the war, so France is against the United States, so we should not buy French products to punish the insolence of those people.
For the past few decades, the boycott has been a tool of choice by interest groups seeking to spread the impact of their various causes. During the 1980s, we were told to "boycott Nestle" because that company sold infant formula in Third World countries, which supposedly was bad. We are instructed to boycott Nabisco products, since the parent company is R.J. Reynolds, which we all know produces "killer" tobacco.
Boycotts supposedly are a free-market approach to making a point about social issues. After all, they are voluntary and simply permit firms to know that consumers ultimately direct not only the wheres and whys of production, but also the very choices of governance within a firm. Thus, if consumers are unhappy with the wages Nike pays the workers who produce its shoes in Vietnam, while they cannot be in the boardroom in person to force Nike to give those employees a raise, at least they can express their displeasure by refusing to purchase Air Jordans or whatever Nike is selling these days.
Leftists are not the only ones making statements about corporate policies. Take the boycott against Target stores, for example. About 10 years ago, Target's parent company, Dayton-Hudson Corp., notified Planned Parenthood that it would no longer contribute its annual $50,000 to the organization, as it wanted to move away from contributions that could be deemed political.
Planned Parenthood's leaders, which permit no dissent, immediately swung its public relations machine into highest gear and announced it would organize a boycott of Target unless Dayton-Hudson relented and gave Planned Parenthood the 50 grand that was rightfully theirs. The threat was successful and Dayton-Hudson gave in and continued its "donation."
That was hardly the end of the story. Pro-life activists then swung their PR machines into high gear and called for a boycott of Target. To make matters worse, the singer Amy Grant, who started her career in Christian pop music, did endorsements for Target, so it was not long before the anti-abortion groups pointed their big guns at her.
Thus, we saw the "logical" chain of causality: Dayton-Hudson gives $50,000 to Planned Parenthood, Dayton-Hudson must support abortion on demand, Dayton-Hudson owns Target, Target's profits enrich Dayton-Hudson, with some money going to Planned Parenthood, and since Amy Grant does commercials for Target, Amy Grant is wittingly or unwittingly supporting abortion on demand.
Therefore, if pro-lifers refuse to purchase Amy Grant CDs and if Christian radio stations say no to her music, then Grant will back down and pro-lifers supposedly will have won a Great Victory over abortion on demand. And all of this is based upon voluntary choice, so it falls completely within the domain of a free society.
Of course Planned Parenthood and right-to-life groups hardly are the only participants. Jesse Jackson has made a career out of threatening boycotts and lawsuits against firms for ostensibly "racist" practices. These companies, however, can make it all go away in return for a sizable donation to Operation PUSH, Jackson's base of operations. In fact, after he made such threats against beer distributors in the Chicago area several years ago, one of the companies created a lucrative distributorship -- and gave it to one of Jackson's sons.
Like the current French boycotts, all of these examples point to something that ultimately destroys any free society, not to mention a free market. The modern boycotts come about precisely because modern society has been poisoned by politics, and a politicized society is inherently not free.
In such a society, every choice -- and I mean every -- is examined not from the perspective of the individual, but rather from the collectivist viewpoint. To put it another way, when Gloria Steinem three decades ago declared that "the personal is political," she was saying that all choices that individuals make must ultimately be judged by the political impacts they create, or at least the political effects Steinem and her allies believe they are creating.
For example, if one purchases Nike shoes, according to the anti-Nike activists, one is implicitly supporting all of Nike's employment policies, since one chooses to give money to that company. Of course, in a free market, one is not giving money to anything in the process of purchasing a good. Economic exchange is not an act of donation; it simply is the exercise of a choice to give up something in one's possession in order to gain something else.
That a boycott of Nike products means that those poor, "underpaid" workers of the Third World will receive nothing in the wake of loss of demand for shoes means nothing to the activists. In fact, given their support for government policies that prevent workers from freely contracting with employers over things like pay and benefits, the ultimate beneficiaries of such actions are not the workers themselves but the boycotters, who can claim "victory" in their quest for political hegemony.
Boycotters do not wish to target only business firms; they also are trying to influence the political process by directing political campaigns against people and causes that the pressure groups want to marginalize. Take the current anti-French boycott, for example. Not only are private organizations urging Americans not to purchase French products, but politicians are also introducing legislation either to ban or heavily tax goods that happen to have originated from France.
Notice that there is not a peep of dissent from the anti-France groups for this political intrusion into personal choices. Indeed, the politicians are carrying out part of the boycotters' agenda. So much for "voluntary" action.
In a free society, individuals are free to choose (and refuse) whomever they will patronize. If a waiter at a local restaurant gives me surly service and insults my ancestry, I am free to decline to eat at that establishment in the future. However, my choice not to eat there anymore might likely involve the self-imposition of a cost that I will have to bear, but it is my choice and mine alone.
Boycotts, however, do not operate in that manner. First, they usually are politically motivated, which means that individuals are supposed to live their lives based upon politics über alles, something that ultimately threatens free choice. Second, it is rare that boycotters do not enlist the support of politicians to aid them in their righteous causes, thus bringing the ugliness of politics to the fore.
Politics by its very nature is coercive, and is inimical to a free society. Yes, by all means if I do not wish to purchase goods from certain people, I should be free to do so. However, do not disguise a process that ultimately is based upon coercion and tell me that it is all voluntary.
Boycotts, then, are not the product of people who respect the choices of other individuals, but are nothing more than the continual slide of a society into the sewer of politics.
(William Anderson, an adjunct scholar at the Mises Institute, teaches economics at Frostburg State University.)