How Hawkish is John Allison?

How Hawkish is John Allison?

So Cato Institute president Ed Crane is taking an "early retirement" and megabucks former BB&T CEO John Allison is set to take his place. It's easy to see why Allison makes sense as a peacemaking Crane replacement. He's a High Church Randian -- indeed, he's on the board of the Ayn Rand Institute -- which puts him in a theological camp apart from the Kochs and most Catoites. Additionally, he's extremely rich and thus unlikely to be too intimidated by the titanic combined Koch fortune. Indeed, I'm told that during his introductory chat with the Cato staff, Allison made of point being a one-percenter who owes nothing to the Kochs. But isn't the fact that Allison sits on the board of ARI more than a little worrying? As my former Cato colleague Jeremy Lott writes:

Many Randians are intensely hawkish and Cato’s foreign policy is, to put it mildly, not hawkish. In his opening remarks to Cato scholars, Allison said that he did not want Cato’s foreign policy to be the Republican Party’s foreign policy. That’s all to the good but this bears watching because the foreign policy work Cato does is important.

Indeed. Actually, to say that the Ayn Rand Institute is "intensely hawkish" puts it mildly. ARI is led by Yaron Brook, a former Israeli army intelligence officer who seems rather more concerned to wipe Iran-as-we-know-it off the map than to spread Ayn Rand's theory of concept-formation. Here's Brook in a recent interview more or less demanding an invasion of Iran:

The 2009-10 protests in Iran offered the possibility of a non-military way of replacing the regime with one that's less- or non-threatening. But the administration squandered that opportunity. I see no real solution without using military force.

But to be clear, what I'm referring to is nothing like what the United States did in Afghanistan or Iraq. Those campaigns were far from the kind of war necessary to eliminate a threat; as Elan and I write in the book [Winning the Unwinnable War], those campaigns are best characterized as essentially "welfare" missions, where the priority in reality was not to eliminate whatever threat the regime posed, but rather to fix up hospitals, clear sewers, and deliver ballot boxes. The kind of military action I believe is necessary in the case of Iran is far, far different. The exclusive goal would be to end the threat—not an open-ended nation- building crusade à la Bush. One consequence of Iraq and Afghanistan is that people can scarcely imagine that military action can actually succeed in delivering peace—as it did, for example, in World War II.

Lately in the foreign-policy establishment some have argued that a nuclear-capable Iran is something we can live with, something we could cope with through "containment." It worked with the USSR, they tell us, because of the fear of Mutually Assured Destruction, so we can count on the same approach tocheckmate the threat of a nuclear Iran. I disagree.

The analogy with the Communists completely breaks down, because the Soviets at least wanted to live on earth; the fear of mutual destruction could deter them. But an essential characteristic of the Islamist regime in Tehran is that its ideology celebrates martyrdom and glorifies the afterlife. Can we trust containment to succeed in the face of that kind of mentality? No. There are other reasons why containment is untenable—among them the risk that neighboring regimes, themselves politically unstable and unfriendly, will immediately seek nuclear capability, too. The bottom line is that Tehran's ideology is the problem—it's the driving force behind Iran's decades of aggression. Ultimately, only changing that regime can eliminate it as a threat. The hope is that there would be enough Iranians who oppose it from within, capable of establishing a successor regime that is at minimum a lesser or non-threat to the United States.

This sort of thing would set Ed Crane's hair on fire, if he had any. Indeed, this is about as far from the Cato foreign policy shop as you can get. Ron Paul's "So what if Iran has nukes?!" position is pretty much where the Cato war wonks are. Yaron Brooks' "Iran must be conquered, and quick, because superstitious Persians fear not death" stance would send the Catoites into conniptions. 

John Allison has been on the ARI board for a good long time, which certainly suggests he's sympathetic with Yaron Brooks' agenda. And Yaron Brooks' agenda is, among other things, war with Iran. During the whole Koch v. Crane hullabaloo, I got an earful from some of my former colleagues about how Cato would be absolutely ruined if its reputation for independence were compromised, and that this would be especially tragic if it led Cato to lose influence in foreign policy, since it is Washington's most visible, principled anti-war institution. So now Cato's about to have a president who does not happen to be, as far as I know, a GOP partisan, but does happen to be an Ayn Rand evangelist who gives time and money to an institution that is actively campaigning for war in Iran. Does this, on the whole, really help Cato's reputation?

How hawkish is Allison, really? I know this question must be of concern to at least some Cato staff. If they know the answer, or have had from Allison some sort of promise that he won't meddle, I hope they'll share. Anyway, it seems to me that either Allison's (a) not remotely as hawkish as one would guess given the nature of ARI's foreign policy output, in which case it would be good to hear him explain why he supports warmongers like Brook, or (b) he is as hawkish as one would guess given the nature of ARI's foreign policy output, in which case you'd think the Crane faction would not have seen him as an acceptable Cato prez. I eagerly await clarification.

A brief history of human dignity

What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.

Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree / AdobeStock
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
  • That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
  • We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
Keep reading Show less

Urban foxes self-evolve, exhibiting Darwin’s domestication syndrome

A new study finds surprising evidence of the self-evolution of urban foxes.

A fox at the door of 10 Downing Street on Janurary 13, 2015.

Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • A study from the University of Glasgow finds urban foxes evolved differently compared to rural foxes.
  • The skulls of the urban foxes are adapted to scavenging for food rather than hunting it.
  • The evolutionary changes correspond to Charles Darwin's "domestication syndrome."

How much can living in the city change you? If you were an urban fox, you could be evolving yourself to a whole new stage and becoming more like a dog, according to a fascinating new study.

Researchers compared skulls from rural foxes around London with foxes who lived inside the city and found important variations. Rural foxes showed adaptation for speed and hunting after quick, small prey, while urban fox skulls exhibited changes that made it easier for them to scavenge, looking through human refuse for food, rather than chasing it. Their snouts were shorter and stronger, making it easier to open packages and chew up leftovers. They also have smaller brains, not meant for hunting but for interacting with stationary food sources, reports Science magazine.

Interestingly, there was much similarity found between the male and female skulls of the urban foxes.

The observed changes correspond to what Charles Darwin called the "domestication syndrome," comprised of traits that go along with an animal's transition from being wild, to tamed, to domesticated.

The study was led by Kevin Parsons, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Glasgow.

"What's really fascinating here is that the foxes are doing this to themselves," Parsons told the BBC. "This is the result of foxes that have decided to live near people, showing these traits that make them look more like domesticated animals."

The researchers are not suggesting you should go out and get a fox as a house-pet just yet. But they are seeing the evolutionary process taking place that's moving the urban foxes along the path towards becoming more like dogs and cats, explained the study's co-author Dr. Andrew Kitchener from National Museums Scotland.

A fox beneath a tree in Greenwich park, south east London

A fox beneath a tree in Greenwich park, south east London on May 14, 2020.

Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP

"Some of the basic environmental aspects that may have occurred during the initial phases of domestication for our current pets, like dogs and cats, were probably similar to the conditions in which our urban foxes and other urban animals are living today," said Kitchener. "So, adapting to life around humans actually primes some animals for domestication."

The specimen came from the National Museum Scotland's collection of around 1,500 fox skulls.

You can read the study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

fox sleeping beneath stadium seats

A fox at the LV County Championship, Division two match between Surrey and Derbyshire at The Brit Oval on April 9, 2010 in London, England.

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

​'The time is now' for cryptocurrencies, PayPal CEO says

Is Bitcoin akin to 'digital gold'?

Technology & Innovation
  • In October, PayPal announced that it would begin allowing users to buy, sell, and hold cryptocurrencies.
  • Other major fintech companies—Square, Fidelity, SoFi—have also recently begun investing heavily in cryptocurrencies.
  • While prices are volatile, many investors believe cryptocurrencies are a relatively safe bet because blockchain technology will prove itself over the long term.
Keep reading Show less

"Clean meat" approved for sale in Singapore

Singapore has approved the sale of a lab-grown meat product in an effort to secure its food supplies against disease and climate change.

Credit: Adobe Stock / Big Think
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Singapore has become the first country to approve the sale of a lab-grown meat product.
  • Eat Just, the company behind the product, will have a small-scale commercial launch of its chicken bites.
  • So-called "clean meats" may reduce our reliance on livestock farming, which kills billions of animals worldwide every year.
  • Keep reading Show less
    Scroll down to load more…