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The Cato War Budget

By Milton Batiste

Don't get me wrong. I do not think that the Cato Institute is an evil organization. In fact, I often find something of interest in Cato's foreign policy briefings. One recent example is an analysis by Ivan Eland, The Empire Strikes Out: The New Imperialism and Its Fatal Flaws, where the author exposes the Hail Caesar lobby in American politics. Read it, you'll like it.

Unfortunately, Ivan Eland is no longer with Cato. He has moved to the Independent Institute. Or, to be more precise, to the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute. I am sure he will continue to produce interesting stuff there. But Cato has lost a capable foreign policy analyst. Too bad.

The intellectual output from the remaining crowd at Cato is sometimes less than impressive, from a libertarian point of view. As you probably know, the Bush administration has put a $75 billion price tag on the early costs of the war with Iraq. Here is a comment that I found in a Cato Daily Dispatch (March 25, 2003):

"As Congress grapples with finding room for the cost of the war in the federal budget, it might do well to consult the Cato Institute's recently published 'Handbook for the 108th Congress', which lists many programs that Congress could consider cutting in order to finance a $75 billion war."

Budget cuts are fine. I am all for them. But I have a problem with the context here. Cato explicitly proposes cuts in order to finance Gulf War II. Is this what the Cato brand of "libertarianism" is about? If so, I am against it. Cuts should be made to reduce government spending and to make room for abolishing taxation. Not to make room for  Bonapartism.

I guess there is no suprise here. Cato has done it before. Betrayed the cause of liberty and peace, I mean. This is what Roger Pilon, vice president for legal affairs at the Cato Institute and a former Justice Department official, had to say about new guidelines giving greater latitude to FBI agents to monitor Internet sites, libraries, and religious institutions without first having to offer evidence of potential criminal activity:

"As reported in the press, the new FBI surveillance guidelines present no serious problems. Especially under post-September 11 circumstances, law enforcement monitoring of public places is simply good, pro-active police work that violates the rights of no one. The same is true for topical research not directly related to a specific crime, which the new guidelines will permit."

No serious problems? Not for Roger Pilon, perhaps. I suppose he has nothing to fear from Big Brother. Why should Big Brother bother someone who supports government spying?

And then there is Ted Galen Carpenter. He is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. His advice after September 11 and the Afghan War was very simple: Head straight for Pakistan. As he wrote for National Review Online:

"It would be a mistake to allow misplaced gratitude to the Musharraf regime for belatedly abandoning the Taliban to deter us from taking the war against al Qaeda to its next logical stage /.../ Washington should inform Musharraf that we intend to wipe out the al Qaeda sanctuaries in the northwest frontier province, with or without Islamabad's permission."

I guess I am an optimist. I still think that Cato can do some good. But I have my doubts.

March 26, 2003