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Volume 10, Issue 15: April 14, 2008

  1. Self-Inflicted Wounds in the War on Terror
  2. Mugabe’s Barbaric Legacy
  3. The President’s Powers: Then and Now
  4. The Feds vs. the Constitution

1) Self-Inflicted Wounds in the War on Terror

Did the terrorist attacks of 9/11 coax Americans into responding in a way that serves the interests of al-Qaeda? It often seems that way, as Ian S. Lustick explains in the new report, “Our Own Strength Against Us: The War on Terror as a Self-Inflicted Disaster.”

“Terror is a problem, but the War on Terror, because it turns U.S. power against America, is a catastrophe,” writes Lustick, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute.

At home, the War on Terror encourages—in fact virtually compels—every interest group to advance its agenda as crucial for winning the war. Abroad, it has inflamed many in the Islamic world who previously had been unsympathetic to violent jihad. But despite all the hype, U.S. law-enforcement officials have found little evidence of serious terrorist activities inside the country, prompting them to escalate their use of pre-emptive prosecution and entrapment to justify their enormous budgets.

“Our Own Strength Against Us: The War on Terror as a Self-Inflicted Disaster,” by Ian S. Lustick

“Is the ‘War on Terror’ Creating Terrorism?” A panel discussion featuring Ian S. Lustick, Gareth Porter, and Ivan Eland (Washington, D.C., April 15, 2008)

Center on Peace & Liberty


2) Mugabe’s Barbaric Legacy

Robert Mugabe has been a disaster for Zimbabwe, a country he has ruled with cunning and cruelty for three decades. The debits to his moral ledger are large, even when compared to those of other former colonial-era guerrillas who became Africa’s leaders. In his latest syndicated article, “Zimbabwe’s Monster,” Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa takes note of Mugabe’s barbaric legacy—and examines four lessons we can learn from it.

What lessons are most in need of learning? Lesson 1: To a large extent, African anti-colonialism degenerated into something resembling the exploitation it originally sought to abolish; in Mugabe’s case, that meant massacring thousands of the Ndebele tribe and violently expropriating land owned by white landowners who had bought their property in the open market. Lesson 2: Countries seldom take heed of the hard-learned lessons of other countries; for example, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe never learned from Tanzania’s similar mistakes made earlier or from Botswana’s laudable economic and political achievements. Lesson 3: Oppressed Africans cannot count on solidarity from the leaders of other African countries; South Africa, for example, legitimated Mugabe’s atrocities for years. Lesson 4: Relapses into corruption, despotism and economic misery are an unfortunate reality, even for countries that showed promise; two recent examples come from Nigeria and Kenya, which took large leaps backward as the result of rigged elections.

Vargas Llosa concludes by defining the fundamental problem confronting the people of Zimbabwe. “The great challenge, once Mugabe leaves power, will be to break the cycle of tyranny by placing strong limits on the next president,” he writes. “That will entail an act of extreme sacrifice by the next president—reining in his own powers as the new master of a country that has no institutions worthy of that name. In that sense, the real enemy is not Mugabe but a legacy of political barbarism.”

“Zimbabwe’s Monster,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (4/9/08) Spanish Translation

Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

The Che Guevara Myth, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa—the Independent Institute’s Spanish-language website—and blog


3) The President’s Powers: Then and Now

A president with limited, enumerated powers? It’s often hard to imagine, but that’s precisely what America’s Founders sought for the U.S. presidency--even during wartime, when the president’s function as commander-in-chief would come to the fore. On the occasion of the recent release of internal Justice Department memos, written by John Yoo, on torture and detainment, Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty, examines the width of the gulf between what the Founders envisioned for the presidency--and the imperial presidency of the past several decades.

During the Quasi-War with France in the last years of the 1700s, Congress authorized President John Adams to seize armed American ships sailing to French ports. But Adams exceeded the congressional authorization by ordering the seizure of such vessels sailing to or from French ports. “Or from.” A mere two words mattered, so the Supreme Court ruled that Adams had exceeded the authority Congress had delegated to him. President Bush’s power to seize all oceangoing ships without congressional authorization would not have floated for long in the early days of the Republic.

Nor would memos authoring the wartime suspension of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments have withstood Supreme Court scrutiny back in the day. Eland writes: “Yoo’s assertion that Congress has no right to pass laws that impinge on the president’s claim to a broad interpretation of his role as commander-in-chief violates the core of the constitutional system of checks and balances, and for which the United States regularly criticizes depots in foreign countries.”

“Yoo-surping Power for the Executive Branch,” by Ivan Eland (4/7/08)

The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland

Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post–Cold War World, by Ivan Eland


4) The Feds vs. the Constitution

Today all branches of the United States government—legislative, executive, and judicial—disregard the Constitution in order to suit their political objectives and personal preferences, according to Charlotte Twight (Boise State University).

“Most members of Congress now reflexively claim the power to federalize at will almost any aspect of American life, the Constitution notwithstanding,” Twight writes in “Sovereign Impunity,” the cover article in the spring issue of The Independent Review.

Twight begins her analysis by examining four bills passed by Congress—the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, the reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act, the alternative minimum tax, and REAL ID legislation—and argues that each was an unconstitutional expansion of the central government’s power at the expense of individual liberty. She then examines President George W. Bush’s unwillingness to veto unconstitutional bills and his controversial use of signing statements.

Lastly, Twight examines three cases in which a narrow majority of the Supreme Court has undermined the First Amendment (FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life), the Fifth Amendment (Kelo v. City of New London), and the Interstate Commerce Clause (Gonzales v. Raich).

Will the erosion of Constitutional checks on government power subside? Twight is not optimistic. “Most people identify with one of the two dominant political parties, neither of which now upholds the limits on national government power prescribed by the Constitution,” she concludes.

“Sovereign Impunity,” by Charlotte Twight (The Independent Review, Spring 2008)

“Limited Government: Ave Atque Vale,” by Charlotte Twight (The Independent Review, Spring 2006)

More by Charlotte Twight

Spring 2008 issue of our quarterly journal, The Independent Review: A Journal of Political Economy

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