Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Empire of the Son?

As usual, Virginia Postrel says it better than I ever could:

It's common on the left and even more common among isolationist libertarians to charge that the United States is, or is becoming, an "empire" because of interventions abroad. Hearing it the other day, I was struck by how utterly absurd the term is. If this is an empire, where's the emperor? Where's the territorial control? Where's the tribute flowing from overseas possessions? Saying the word empire is the wrong one doesn't imply that U.S. foreign policy is correct, merely that another term is needed. A 21st-century representative democracy with a large regulatory bureaucracy and many overseas involvements may be problematic. But it isn't an "empire" unless that term just means "a government I don't like."

As for the nonstop blather -- particularly popular among antiwar types -- about the "failure of diplomacy"? About the only failure I can detect may be a miscalculation by the U.S., U.K., et al., that they were negotiating with serious, responsible adults -- and I'm not talking about the Iraqis. Clearly, the French, Germans and Russians have no intention of countenancing military force against Saddam under any circumstances ... unless, say, a team of U.N. inspectors had unearthed a cache of 30 nuclear-tipped warheads or a factory producing VX gas round the clock. The question reporters should be posing to diplomats ought to be targeted to those opposing military action at this point: "If you are incapable of setting any deadline for Iraqi compliance with United Nations resolutions, why did you support Resolution 1441 in the first place?"

I truly hope reports that Saddam is equipping his forces with chemical and bio weapons are wrong. If not, I'll not be surprised if the plumbing fixtures from U.N. Headquarters are for sale on eBay before summer.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Celebrate FOIA, annoy a bureaucrat

Today is National Freedom of Information Day, the 39th anniversary of the signing of the Freedom of Information Act, a law which not only enhances the power of individuals over the government, but also gives citizens a recipe book for exercising their rights. Review-Journal Editor Tom Mitchell celebrates the day in this week's column, also noting how state and federal policy-makers continue in their efforts to circumvent FOIA.

Today is also -- not coincidentally -- the 252nd anniversary of the birth of James Madison (my long-time friend Al Dawson's favorite president/founding father), whose theories of governance are reflected in FOIA.

Speaking of Madison ... The R-J's editorial positions tend to confuse some readers (and confound others), because the paper is, in many ways, one of the few remaining outlets of classical liberalism (very broadly speaking) among daily newspapers in America. The paper pretty consistently defends the individual against the government, which places us apart from contemporary conservatives (we oppose the excesses of the drug war and welfare of all forms, including the corporate variety) and liberals (we're strident opponents of campaign "reform" and other attempts to stifle free expression). Not to toot our own horn, but today's commemoration of FOI day reminded me of an editorial board meeting we had nearly two years ago with the folks from the First Amendment Foundation at Vanderbilt University -- the outfit run by John Siegenthaler Sr. which runs the Newseum in Arlington, Va. The forum not only promotes the freedoms the First Amendment represents, but also serves as a media watchdog of sorts, chronicling instances when the press operates as a lap dog more than a watchdog of government actions.

The editorial board took place because the forum was sponsoring a series of First Amendment rallies in various cities, including Las Vegas. During the meeting, the forum folks paid us a terrific compliment. They said they try to read as many daily editorial pages as they can, and of the hundreds they see, the R-J's may be the most consistent defender of the First Amendment and all five freedoms stated within (can you name them all?) of any newpaper in the nation. Recalling that tribute kinda makes me all gushy inside.