A few months ago, Mark Brady, over at the Liberty and Power blog, noted that the libertarian Cato Institute had not published or posted anything about the Iraq war since the beginning of the year. Hmmmmm, I thought: an ill wind blows. It wasn’t a good sign for the venerable libertarian thinktank, which opposed Gulf War I, and – despite a few wobbles – stood up against the second Iraq war. However, I knew that a growing neocon contingent within Cato – including longtime apparatchik Tom Palmer, and policy analyst Brink Lindsay – supported the war, with Palmer coming out in a special Cato brochure calling for the military “defeat” of the insurgency, and traveling to Iraq to “advise” the National Assembly and campaign for the “Islam is the law” Iraqi constitution. In this context, the sudden involuntary departure of defense policy director Charles V. Pena, the respected defense policy analyst and staunch anti-interventionist, paints a troubling picture of an institution in the throes of a pro-war purge.
The earlier (voluntary) departure of
According to a source at Cato, Pena was told that the institute needed to cut staff to close a 7-figure budget deficit. Yet only one other person (not a policy director and not someone in the defense and foreign policy department) was let go (at the end of August). Curiously enough, the day after he was RIF’ed (yes, that’s the term they used: “reduction in force”) Cato President Ed Crane announced the promotion of no less than 4 people at Cato (with each presumably receiving a raise) and the hiring of a new director of government affairs. Also, there’s been plenty of talk about adding 3 floors to the building — to accommodate a larger staff.
What’s going on at Cato is not a “reduction in force,” but a betrayal of libertarian principle. Pena, a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, has been a strong advocate of withdrawing from Iraq – a position that Cato is now dropping. This is typical of the Cato crowd: their opportunism has always been beset by bad timing. At the dawn of the Republican-led anti-government revolution, they were telling the world they were “low tax liberals.” Now that the majority of Americans have turned against this war, the Cato bigwigs are lining up with the neoconservatives who want to “stay the course.”
These people, in short, are perpetual losers, who are constantly two steps behind the Zeitgeist and care only about sucking up to Power. They believe that selling out the vitally important principle of a noninterventionist foreign policy is a necessary step on their road to respectability. The reality is that, by aligning themselves with the War Party, which is on the brink of crashing and burning, along with the colonial regime in Iraq, they are consigning themselves to oblivion – and a richly deserved one, at that.
I am reminded of what Murray N. Rothbard said of the Catoites back in the 1980s, when they were trying to pass off libertarianism as “low-tax liberalism”: “They have sold out for a mess of pottage,” he wrote, “without even getting the pottage in return.”
UPDATE: Whoa! The mail is flying in over this one! (Libertarians love gossip.) At least one emailer informs me that I might not have the whole story: while it is true that others were promoted over Pena, it seems that one of them was the heroic Justin Logan, whose blog is a delight (sure, we disagreed about the Yushchenko affair, but now that I’ve been proven right, who cares?). Logan is a hardcore — and very knowledgeable — opponent of interventionism, and he’s a good writer, too.
So, while the neos have a foothold in the biggest bastion of libertarian opposition to the Warfare State in the Imperial City, they haven’t conquered it — yet! In any case, we’re watching them very closely — and you can bet they know it.