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War, Peace, and Bill Clinton


SURVEYING THE HISTORY of England in The Rights of Man, Thomas Paine noted that “a bystander, not blinded by prejudice nor warped by interest, would declare that taxes were not raised to carry on wars, but that wars were raised to carry on taxes.” The United States government has followed faithfully in England’s footsteps. But it has added an innovation to the ancient formula: To carry on taxes, it raises peace as well.

Each time an American president gathers the leaders from Israel and the Arab world in order to advance the “peace process,” the American taxpayer takes a major blow to his pocketbook. But somehow the peace process is never complete.

I call this power that the president takes with him to Camp David or to Wye River the American Taxpayer Express Card. No president leaves home without it.

The risk to American taxpayers is great because presidents are often desperate when they gather Middle- East leaders for a summit. When things weren’t going well between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minster Menachem Begin at Camp David in 1978, President Jimmy Carter was reported to have bellowed, “Are you trying to destroy my presidency?” The rulers signed their peace agreement and were paid handsomely for it with the American Taxpayer Express Card.

No one is more desperate these days than President Bill Clinton. He needs a legacy other than that of being the first elected president to be impeached. Thus he recently huddled at Camp David with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority head Yasser Arafat. According to the Washington Post, whatever deal Clinton was pushing could have cost U.S. taxpayers $15 billion — “and possibly much more — over the next few years.”

Most of the money would pay for Israel’s security as it adjusts to new borders that would result from establishment of a Palestinian state. According to the Post,

Israel would then have to spend billions of dollars to relocate military bases and other “infrastructure” in the West Bank and Gaza, to protect Jewish settlements — some of which likely would remain as suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv — and to establish early- warning stations, Israeli officials say.

The Post went on to quote a Republican source who said that Israel wants the United States to put up substantial cash to help “remake the Israeli military in the U.S. image.”

The American taxpayer would also be forced to assist the Palestinians. Money would fund infrastructure in the new country and provide other “development” assistance. We know from experience and the work of economist Peter Bauer that government-to-government development assistance is the closest thing to throwing money down a rat hole. Development requires secure property and private entrepreneurship. Giving power to government through taxpayer transfers does not create property rights. Quite the contrary.

The Palestinian leaders are also reportedly talking about $40 billion to compensate for the land taken by Israel in the 1948 war. How can the American people compensate Palestinians for this? Are we responsible for everything?

The original Camp David summit has cost the American people $5 billion a year in military and economic aid for Israel and Egypt. The Wye River deal in 1998 cost the taxpayers close to $2 billion. That’s on top of other tax money that flows to the region each year.

While there is some Republican opposition to the levels of aid being mentioned, no one should count on GOP fortitude. Inevitably, a sense of awesome “responsibility” for world peace will overcome them. Witness: “If peace is to be secured, the U.S. is going to have to take major financial responsibility similar to Camp David. The question is simply what will the cost be and over what period of time.” So said Rep. John Edward Porter, a senior Republican on the foreign operations subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

Clinton will lay down the American Taxpayer Express Card. And we’ll see our wallets cleaned out when the bill arrives. But there won’t be a secure peace. That requires the parties’ taking full responsibility for their fates, which they will never do if they are relying on the American taxpayer to bail them out.

The endless war against Iraq

Taxing the American people for an illusory peace process should not blind us to the fact that the U.S. government taxes us for traditional war-fighting as well. Most Americans would be surprised to learn that the Clinton administration is still bombing Iraq on a regular basis and killing civilians there.

In June the Post described the death of a 13-year-old boy from an American missile that hit while he played with a soccer ball in a field near a small Iraqi village. The missile also wounded four shepherds. “What happened four weeks ago at Toq al-Ghazalat, 35 miles south of Najaf in southern Iraq, has become a recurring event in the Iraqi countryside,” wrote the Post. “A week of conversations with wounded Iraqis and families of those killed, around Najaf and in northern Iraq around Mosul, showed that civilian deaths and injuries are a regular part of the little-discussed U.S. and British air operation over Iraq.”

That operation, which by Iraq’s count has killed in 18 months 300 people, mostly civilians, and wounded 800, is the response to Iraqi President Sad-dam Hussein’s vow to use anti-aircraft guns against American and British planes that enforce no-fly zones in the northern and southern parts of the country. Some of those guns are reported to be near residential areas, but that hardly relieves the allies of responsibility for civilian deaths and injuries. After all, nothing compels them to fly planes over Iraq in the first place.

The American people might think the war against Iraq ended in 1991 with the conclusion of Desert Storm. They are wrong. It simply went into low-level-warfare mode and dropped out of the newspapers, except for rare occasions. The Clinton Pentagon does not hold briefings on the continuing war.

The acute death from bombing is the companion to the slow death by starvation that Clinton administers to Iraq through economic sanctions. At last report, Saddam had not missed a meal.

The international war on drugs

As if that weren’t enough war for one administration, Clinton and his Republican allies in Congress are preparing to plunge the United States into the 40-year-old civil war in Colombia. This bit of intervention is justified in the name of stopping cocaine at the source. So the brutal Colombian army will be given $1.3 billion in cash and equipment, along with 300 U.S. “advisors,” to fight “left-wing” guerrillas who protect poor coca growers. The United States will also be spraying a dangerous fungicide to eradicate the coca, along with the other crops it is known to damage. Meanwhile, murderous “right-wing” militias, allied with the army and reported to have ties to wealthy coca growers, hunt down the guerrillas. It’s a nasty business all around, and now the U.S. government is to be a party to it all.

Of course, it won’t make one iota of difference to the availability of cocaine on America’s streets. That’s a cover, and not a very good one.

Let’s not forget the U.S. troops in Kosovo, Bosnia, and the other places that undoubtedly have slipped my mind. I’m really glad the American people elected an anti-war, anti-military president.

We really shouldn’t be surprised by President Clinton’s militarism or his manner of carrying it on. Has he shown respect for freedom or the Constitution in any other area? Why should he respect it regarding the warmaking power? He’s got a reason to like militarism: if the government is fighting wars, it certainly can’t cut or repeal taxes.

The relationship between “progressivism” (that is, government activism) at home and imperialism has always been close. Bill Clinton is merely the latest in a shameful tradition.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.