In 2006, the US Supreme Court ruled that the military commissions established by the executive order of President George W. bush were illegal. As a consequence, Bush approached Congress to have the commissions at Guantanamo Bay reinstated in legislative form.
Congress acquiesced and passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which strips away the right of detainees to rely on the Geneva Conventions and infringes on habeas corpus. The constitutionality of Congress's legislation is presently under consideration by the Supreme Court.
Given these circumstances - and Australia's willingness to accept David Hick's detention and trial in a legally suspect US tribunal - I take the imposition of a control order on Hicks with a grain of salt. What we are witnessing is a gross violation of the rule of law.
Published as a letter to the editor, 'The Australian', Dec 22-23 2007.
David Aaronovitch (The Australian, 3/12/2008) appears to have accepted the pernicious myth that ideology is the key factor driving Muslim terrorists. But the most important cause of terrorism – and suicide terrorism in particular – is foreign occupation.
This has been shown comprehensively by University of Chicago Professor Robert Pape in his book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Pape’s work has been reviewed in leading political science journals in America and has met with much acclaim. Until someone is prepared to demonstrate flaws in Pape’s data, we should consider the possibility that actions do have consequences; that the favourable light in which we perceive our own governments is not how residents of other countries perceive them.
In that sense, much of the terrorism we see today – although perhaps not the Mumbai attack, because Pape’s thesis is restricted to suicide attacks – is indeed the ‘fault’ of the United States and Britain, countries which have a history of occupying other countries. It is imperative that we try and move beyond speculative assertions about the causes of terrorism, and consider the empirical data.
1. Given a world in which states exist, libertarian philosophy holds that a foreign policy of non-interventionism is the best and most sensible way for governments to relate to each other. Non-intervention is essentially the same thing as neutrality. It means to trade with all nations, but to have as little political connection – what Jefferson called ‘entangling alliances’ – with them as possible. Non-intervention requires a state to maintain armed forces sufficient to deter and defeat aggressors, but does not entail stationing troops in regions of the world not directly relevant to defending one’s national borders.
Since non-intervention is a philosophic concept, a dissertation that explores at length the practical realities of neutrality would be extremely useful for the liberty-minded. The external policies of Switzerland, for example, can historically and in the present day be described as non-interventionist. Looking at a country like Switzerland and then asking how ‘successful’ it has been in avoiding expensive wars that diminish civil liberties domestically, or how much of a terrorist target it has been in comparison to aligned states like the US, would yield valuable policy insights. If it could be shown that neutral states tend to be more peaceful and attract fewer enemies, then there may be a case in favour of adopting such a policy. If, on the other hand, neutral states find themselves constantly under threat because they lack geopolitical security alliances with other states or do not extend their military abroad, then we may doubt the efficacy of non-interventionism.
2. The rise of WikiLeaks in recent years has caused tremendous alarm among those who protect state secrets. The Justice Department in the United States has considered criminally prosecuting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for ‘theft of government property’, and federal employees (with a few exceptions) have been instructed by the White House not to look at publicly available documents posted on WikiLeaks.
The leaking of classified information is not a new phenomenon. During the Cold War, American and Russian spies passed on information to the respective sides. Such material sometimes led to arrests or executions. For instance, when CIA informant Dmitri Polyakov was betrayed by mole Aldrich Ames the Soviets proceeded to arrest Polyakov and execute him.
These types of incidents give rise to questions about the ethical status of intelligence leaks. From a Rothbardian standpoint, if the state is a ‘criminal gang writ large’ then the answer might be that there is nothing morally wrong with revealing state secrets, and in fact it may be a positively good thing because it helps expose a criminal entity. Liberty may be enhanced by a more open flow of information, for then the public knows precisely what state ‘criminals’ are doing behind closed doors. A useful dissertation in this area would investigate the rationales given for state secrecy and assess the historical evidence. For example, those opposed to transparency charge that leaks place military personnel and innocent lives at risk. If it is found that leaks do not as a general rule lead to loss of innocent life, then happily there would be fewer reasons to condemn whistle-blowers.
3. Thomas Carothers writes in Foreign Affairs that “One cannot get through a foreign policy debate these days without someone proposing the rule of law as a solution to the world's troubles”. Rarely however, has the rule of law been applied to foreign policy in a systematic way in order to establish timeless principles and apply these principles to facts. An idea for a dissertation is to draw upon the rule of law as formulated by liberals (particularly Hayek and Bruno Leoni) and examine how events such as the assassination without due process of Osama bin Laden by President Obama can be viewed from the perspective of constitutional government.
The big spending promises made by the Liberal-National Coalition and the Labor Party during the recent Australian election campaign show once again that neither party is serious about reining in government spending.
Australia has a public debt of $400 billion. Cutting back on spending is essential if we want to avoid the need to increase taxes on future generations. However, the lack of political will has paralysed any serious effort to take charge of the situation.
Both major parties have wasted political capital going after recipients of Newstart unemployment allowance or grandmothers on aged care payments. For example, the Turnbull government supported a bill to crack down on jobseekers who unreasonably refuse offers of employment. This is not exactly a winning strategy since these welfare constituencies are firmly entrenched and – rightly or wrongly – have strong emotional appeal to voters.
Witness, for instance, the massive public support for Duncan Storrar, an Ausstudy payment recipient, who rightly complained on ABC’s Q & A television show that politicians aren’t raising the tax-free threshold on the lower end of the earnings scale. Storrar received $60,000 in donations after a crowdfunding campaign was launched to help him with living expenses.
The Aussie battler has always had a special place in Australian culture. As a result, it makes little sense to argue for spending cuts that target dole recipients or the disabled. An austerity program premised on making the lower and middle-class give up benefits will face huge resistance.
Instead, slashing politicians’ salaries is likely to have broad populist appeal. So, too, is attacking the privileges enjoyed by lobbyists and special interests. A campaign against wealthy elites who siphon millions of taxpayer dollars under the radar is likely to be more successful.
Both parties have spent lavishly on politicians and bureaucrats and have handed out millions in subsidies to favoured lobby groups. In effect, Labor and the Coalition have worked the system to their advantage at the expense of taxpayers. The Australian Parliament has authorised generous perks for politicians who are among the highest paid in the world. Federal legislators have received subsidies to buy personal investment properties and attend weddings.
Here’s an idea for a campaign: pay politicians no more than the average Australian full-time wage — about $75,000 per year. It is simply disingenuous to argue that politicians must be paid high salaries in order to attract the best and the brightest or that their workload is so intense that they deserve to be paid more. If the state of New Hampshire in America can get by with paying legislators $100 a year, why can’t we?
Another potential campaign: stop shelling out taxpayer dollars for useless things. To name a few examples, the Victorian company Palm Products received $360,000 of taxpayer money to develop a coffee travel cup. The old Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education spent $14,000 to buy a coffee table. Finally, the Australian Institute of Sport spent $500,000 on a new logo?
And why not scrap grants to companies that contribute directly or indirectly to climate change? Aren’t we supposed to be in the midst of a global warming crisis?
All these examples show that cutting spending doesn’t have to be hard. It just requires identifying the areas on which Australians agree. Is there any doubt that voters would respond more favourably to reducing public servant salaries and eliminating corporate welfare than they would to tightening payment eligibility for perceived needy recipients like Storrar?
Anyone concerned with government spending and its potential to lead Australia off a fiscal cliff should realise that cracking down on welfare payments means setting aside taxpayer funds to chase a never-ending stream of fraud. Ensuring compliance with rules isn’t cheap. It also sets dangerous precedents for privacy invasion; for example, when a private company such as eBay is asked to hand over customer data to Centrelink for cross-referencing. This is yet another reason why it makes more sense to go after the elites first.
In the short-term, it may be better to stop wasting time and money chasing after dole recipients and let them keep their benefits. In the long-term, putting in place policies that create attractive jobs will encourage them to shift into the workforce without having to chase them with draconian bureaucracy that invades privacy.
To stimulate job growth, however, taxes must be lowered and unnecessary regulations abolished. Since these free-market policies aren’t easy to get widespread agreement on, why not start small? By picking fights with elites, and obvious rip-offs like a $14,000 coffee table, there is actually a chance of winning. After all, politicians, bureaucrats and politically connected lobby groups are vastly outnumbered by ordinary voters.
Originally published at OnlineOpinion.com.au