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Volume 11, Issue 18: May 4, 2009

  1. Will the G.O.P and the Neo-cons Survive?
  2. Beyond the Cuba Embargo
  3. Assessing Bush, Obama, and Presidential Power
  4. Student Seminars to Explore Liberty and Economics (June 15–19 and August 10–14)
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) Will the G.O.P and the Neo-cons Survive?

The Republican Party is in turmoil—due in no small measure to aggressive foreign policies dreamed up by the neo-conservatives and implemented by the Bush administration. Two questions follow, explains Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty. The first pertains to the G.O.P.’s electoral viability: If it survives, is it destined to become merely a regional party? Unless it drops the “intolerant conservative social views [that] scare most Americans,” the answer is yes, Eland writes in his latest op-ed.

The second question is about the future of the neo-conservatives: Given that their policies helped bleed the Republican Party dry, what will become of them? Eland suggests that the neo-cons may find a home among the party of Woodrow Wilson, who thrust the United States into World War I ostensibly to “make the world safe for democracy.”

“Although the liberal Wilsonians—such as Hillary Clinton, Richard Holbrooke, and Madeleine Albright—are less unilaterialist than the neo-conservatives and are much more in love with international organizations, they share the neo-conservatives’ passion for armed social work and nation building,” writes Eland. “The neo-conservatives will probably eventually realize that the Republican Party is dying, and will seemingly re-infest the Democratic mother ship to preserve themselves. And again, they will probably debilitate their host.”

“Has a Stake Been Driven through Neo-conservative Foreign Policy?” by Ivan Eland (5/3/09) Spanish Translation

Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, by Ivan Eland

Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty, by Ivan Eland

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

Ivan Eland on C-SPAN2. Interview by Rep. Ron Paul.


2) Beyond the Cuba Embargo

Should the U.S. end its trade embargo with Cuba? Public support for the embargo has declined since the end of the cold war, with recent polls showing that most Americans and even most Cuban-Americans now oppose the sanctions. In his latest op-ed, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa discusses his own intellectual migration toward the anti-embargo camp.

Although moral concerns dominate his opposition to sanctions, Vargas Llosa notes that the Cuban embargo has failed, in practical terms, to undermine the repressive policies of the Castro regime. Whereas a leading study found that sanctions “worked” about one third of the time (e.g., they helped topple apartheid in South Africa), they usually fail to alter the behavior of the target government in ways desired by the imposer of the embargo. Sanctions failed in Cuba, for example, due partly to Castro’s ability to extract propaganda value from them and partly to increased investment from Canada, Mexico, and especially Venezuela, since the end of the era of Soviet largess. (Similarly, U.S. sanctions against Saddam Hussein from 1990 to 2003 and North Korea today have also failed, Vargas Llosa notes, as did Soviet sanctions against Yugoslavia in 1948, China in 1969, and Albania in 1961.)

“But these arguments against the U.S. embargo are mostly practical,” writes Vargas Llosa. “Ultimately, the argument against the sanction is a moral one. It is not acceptable for a government to abolish individual choice in matters of trade and travel. The only acceptable form of economic embargo is when citizens, not governments, decide not to do business with a dictatorship, be that of Burma, Zimbabwe or Cuba.”

“Should the Cuban Embargo be Lifted?” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (4/29/09) Spanish Translation

Lessons from the Poor: Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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

The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa


3) Assessing Bush, Obama, and Presidential Power

How will future generations rank the presidency of George W. Bush? What must Barack Obama do to become a great president? These questions were addressed at the Independent Policy Forum, “Assessing the Bush Presidency and the Obama Promises,” held January 7 at the Independent Institute’s Washington, D.C., Conference Center. The transcript and audio file of this event are now available on our website.

Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland began by criticizing the assumption that a president should be judged by the amount of “charisma” he possesses or by the “energy” he displays during a crisis—regardless of whether or not he helped create the crisis. Bush, Eland suggested, was a bad president not because he spoke awkwardly or sometimes seemed disengaged from the details of his policies, but because what he did undermined peace, prosperity, and liberty. Despite Bush’s lapses, however, Bush was not the worst U.S. president, according to Eland. Others, such as James Polk, “started wars for even more questionable reasons or pursued wars that had much greater implications,” he said.

Former presidential candidate Ron Paul then offered his insider’s perspective as an eleventh-term member of Congress. “I guess the most astounding thing about how much power we have given the president,” said Paul, “is the willingness of Congress—the many Congresses we’ve had in the last 100 years or so—to just step back and let the president do whatever he wants.” In addition to giving presidents resolutions allowing them to go to war, something not authorized by the Constitution, Congress has also ceded its constitutional duties to presidents in other ways, such as by allowing them to negotiate trade deals, Paul argued. Paul was not optimistic that Obama and Congress would reverse this trend.

Completing the panel was Richard Shenkman, a history professor and Emmy-winning investigative reporter, who emphasized the difficulty of rating the presidents. Eland’s book, he said, “demonstrates in its fiercely consistent and courageous way how limited our system of categorizing presidents actually is.” In particular, he said, Eland’s work exposes the pretensions of the influential ratings offered by historian Arthur Schlesinger.

“Assessing the Bush Presidency and the Obama Promises,” featuring Ivan Eland, Ron Paul, and Richard Shenkman. Transcript and audio file.

Praise for Ivan Eland’s Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty:

“By focusing on peace, prosperity, and liberty, Recarving Rushmore moves us miles closer to a proper evaluation of America’s presidents—especially those of the 20th century—than the hallowed (but misleading) Schlesinger poll of prominent historians. Eland makes an eloquent and persuasive case, for example, that Harding and Coolidge were better presidents than were FDR and LBJ.”
—Burton W. Folsom, Charles F. Kline Chair in History, Hillsdale College; author, New Deal or Raw Deal? How FDR’s Economic Legacy Has Damaged America

“According to American historians, the best presidents are the ones who get us into the biggest wars, impose the most interventionist economic policies, and trample civil liberties by expanding executive power beyond what the Constitution permits. The more European-style fascism the better seems to be their criterion. That’s why Lincoln and FDR are always at the top of their lists. In Recarving Rushmore Ivan Eland makes a novel proposal: Why not rank presidents according to the traditional American values of peace, prosperity and liberty? Read this important new book and find out why John Tyler may be America’s greatest president!”
—Thomas DiLorenzo, Professor of Economics, Loyola College in Maryland; author of The Real Lincoln and Hamilton’s Curse


4) Student Seminars to Explore Liberty and Economics (June 15–19 and August 10–14)

Few students have the opportunity to explore in the classroom the basic ethical and economic principles of individual liberty, free markets, and free societies. Fortunately, the Challenge of Liberty Summer Seminars do just that.

Held at the Independent Institute’s Conference Center in Oakland, California, our five-day series of lectures, readings, films, multimedia presentations, and small group discussion teaches students what economics is, how it affects their lives, and how understanding it can help them achieve better lives for themselves, their communities, and the world at large.

Seminar Leader Brian Gothberg and Seminar Faculty James Ahiakpor, José Yulo, Fred Foldvary, Anthony Gregory, and Carl Close will address such issues as the ethics of liberty, economic development, immigration, monopolies, inflation and the business cycle, and peace and national security. Informative, inspiring, and fun, these seminars are an ideal way to make summer vacation intellectually rewarding.

Session I: June 15–19
Session II: August 10–14
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tuition: $195 (includes books). Scholarships are available but limited.

Praise from past attendees:

“This is a really great program! I really enjoyed learning about all of the famous economists, their basic philosophies, and their influence on economic reasoning. Overall, an outstanding week!”

“I enjoyed having a small group, making it easier to concentrate on everyone's questions and statements, in a more comfortable atmosphere.”

More information

“The Challenge of Liberty: A Fresh Perspective,” by Katarina Koncokova (Hawaii Reporter, 7/19/2007)


5) This Week in The Beacon

If you haven’t done so yet, please be sure to check out the past week’s offerings from the Independent Institute’s blog, The Beacon.


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless