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Archive for October 26th, 2010

Erratic Karzai

The specter of Vietnam hangs over our war in Afghanistan. First came the questions:

  • Will we lose another war?
  • Should we escalate this conflict, or get out?
  • Will this war become a quagmire?

Then came some contrasts:

  • The terrain is a lot different.
  • The Cold War is over, so a superpower confrontation isn’t in the background.
  • We haven’t lost as many soldiers in Afghanistan. Moreover, we have an all volunteer force now, and a relatively small number are deployed to the war zone.

In one respect, though, perhaps the most important one, you can see a similarity between the two conflicts that should give us pause. In both wars, our principal aim was not to conquer or occupy foreign territory. Our principal aim in Afghanistan, as in Vietnam, is to quell an insurgency and maintain a strong, stable government friendly to our interests. We failed to accomplish that in Vietnam, and thus lost the war. All the political signs right now indicate that we will fail to accomplish that aim in Afghanistan as well.

We have backed Hamid Karzai’s government in Kabul. The people who live in the region have many reasons to regard the government in Kabul as illegitimate. One important reason is that we back it. It’s a weak government in many respects, but one move on our part would make it more stable and acceptable to Afghans: we could stop backing it.

We back Hamid Karzai because he’s our only option. Never formulate your strategy in a way that limits your options. Do the opposite: formulate a strategy that leaves you multiple paths to your goal. What is our goal in Afghanistan? We want no more attacks on our homeland to originate from that region. Do we have to back Hamid Karzai and his government to accomplish that aim? You tell me.

Hamid Karzai has done everything a human being can reasonably do to tell us he does not want our backing. You have to ask what else he could do to get our attention. What if he were to denounce us in public, saying that our presence in his country is bad for his government and for all Afghanis? He’s done that. What if he were to tell us he’d like us to leave as soon as we can, because our presence in his country just leads to more and more killing? He’s done that. What if he stole an election with vote fraud so blatant that even his own cronies couldn’t defend it, then told us to mind our own business when we asked what’s going on? We all know he’s done that, too.

What’s our explanation for this behavior? We say he’s erratic. That implies that he doesn’t know his own mind. It implies that he can’t form a plan and stick with it. Erratic suggests he’s not reliable, not serious, not credible. I don’t know, but the record of what he has said in public seems pretty consistent to me. He doesn’t want us in his country anymore. Yes, we do protect him from the Taliban, but he doesn’t seem to be so worried about that. From his actions and his words, he appears more worried about the Americans in his country than about the Taliban.

Now we learn that his government receives bags of cash every year from Iran, our arch-enemy in the region. When the New York Times calls him on it, he says, “What’s the big deal? The U. S. government knows about this. I told them myself when I was in Washington.” Wow, that looks good for everybody doesn’t it? The American government knows that Iran funds the government in Kabul to the tune of two million or more a year, and we’re all okay with that?

You can’t fault Iran for wanting to advance its interests in Afghanistan. Moreover, Kabul would be ungracious to refuse a gift like that. Money is short, Kabul has big bills to pay, and Iran isn’t asking much in return. But you gotta wonder, do we really have a clear idea of what we’re doing over there? Honestly. When we leave, Iran’s still going to be there, like a good neighbor. Do we think Karzai will keep taking money from us after we leave because he likes us better?

If our main goals are to make Karzai’s government self-sufficient and friendly to the United States, we need to think of some different goals. If our main strategy to accomplish our goals is to apply military pressure to the Taliban, train the Afghan armed forces, provide security and fund development projects in Afghanistan, we may want to look at the result to see if the strategy is working. If we were to ask Karzai in private if he thinks the strategy is working, I don’t think he’d say yes.

When our client says that he takes money from our enemy and adds that we’ve known about that for quite a while, you have to take another look at both our ends and our means. We already gave Iran a big opportunity to expand its regional might when we attacked Iraq. Now perhaps we can balance things out and give Iran some room to run on the other end of the field. But then, if you have a client who’s erratic, what can you do?

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Grand Rapids Woman Harassed by Fair Housing Do-Gooder

The tax-exempt non-profit Fair Housing Center (FHC) of West Michigan recently filed a housing discrimination charge against a Grand Rapids, Michigan women (let’s call her Victim) who posted an advertisement on her church’s bulletin board looking for a “Christian” roommate.  According to Nancy Haynes of the FHC, because Victim’s ad specifically states she is offering only for a “Christian” individual to apply it is a strict violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.  Truth be told, the only violation in this situation is of Victim’s constitutional rights.

In the first place, the Fair Housing Act is unconstitutional.  I know I sound like a broken record.  Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution does not mention the regulation of housing as an enumerated power of Congress.  Thus, housing falls under the jurisdiction of state power in our system of federalism.  Since the ad in question is not a violation of Michigan state law the actions of the FHC of West Michigan amount to little more than legal harassment of a property owner.

Naturally, that is not the way Ms. Haynes sees it.  She does admit that Victim “…can actually, in practice, not rent to a non-Christian.  But she can’t make the statement.  The statement alone is a violation of the act.  What she can do in practice she can’t make a statement about”.  This is sort of like the “don’t ask, don’t tell” of the rental housing business.  What sense does it make?  It seems the law was only written to make lawyers rich.  What else is new, right?  In essence, the Fair Housing Act is not about anti-discrimination after all – it is solely about political correctness.  This, of course, makes all the politicians who over the decades have proclaimed the law fights discrimination in housing liars.  Surprise, surprise!

Whatever the Fair Housing Act does it is also unconstitutional because it violates the constitutional rights of property owners.  Freedom of speech and the free exercise of one’s religion are bedrock rights held by every American.  Victim is being denied both by the Fair Housing Act.  What’s more, the 5th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution prohibit the deprivation of life, liberty, and property without “due process of law”.  Victim has not been accused of a crime and has not been afforded due process of law.  By placing stipulations on how Victim can use her property the government is essentially depriving her of the full use thereof.

The big question is, how did we get to this point in America?  How is it that a church parishioner who is simply looking for a roommate of the same faith got so entangled in a legal quagmire?  It’s quite simple.  There has been an erosion of property rights in America since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law.  The Act rightly banned government from passing laws which segregated lunch counters, water fountains, and buses, but it went too far when it reclassified certain private property as public property, thus violating the constitutional rights of property owners.  In other words, as repugnant as discrimination is, Congress had no constitutional right to force any business owner to serve anyone they didn’t want to.  The 1964 Act opened the floodgates for violations of property rights like the one experienced by Victim.

In the final analysis, Congress does not have the authority to regulate housing let alone pass laws that violate the constitutional rights of Americans.  But, since at least the 1960s that is precisely what it has done.  Instead of letting the free market and local communities deal with undesirable behavior, Washington uses force to tread upon the constitutional rights of our friend Victim and millions of others.  Until Americans elect property rights representatives to Congress the violations will continue.  So in the meantime be careful about how you use your own property.

Article first published as Grand Rapids Woman Harassed by Fair Housing Do-Gooder on Blogcritics.

Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina

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