Tag Archives: intervention

US General: Montenegro Entering NATO Will Be a ‘Gamechanger’

At a press conference in DC, General John Nicholson praised the Senate’s vote to admit the Eastern European country of Montenegro into NATO. The current leader of the US war effort in Afghanistan, General Nicholson predicted it would be an “absolute gamechanger” for the global War on Terror.*

The General acknowledged that the 15-year-long War on Terror has “not quite met expectations” and lamented the current stalemate in Afghanistan, which has seen the Taliban rapidly gaining ground in many parts of the country and actually sounds nothing at all like a stalemate.

It is estimated that the US has committed $4.8 trillion dollars to the War on Terror, and hundreds of thousands of troops have been deployed at times to Iraq and Afghanistan. In spite of this, the US has been unable to usher in a sustainable peace in any of the places it has waged war, and the General unhappily conceded that terrorism seems to be spreading “faster than a new Adele single at a college sorority.”

With all that said, the General thinks Montenegro’s entry into NATO could be just the thing we need to “tip the scales” back in the US’s favor. “Montenegro brings an impressive military budget that is nearly 1/7,800th of America’s and their armed forces amount to almost 1/100th of US’s. By bringing them into NATO, we’ll expand our military strength by at least one-hundredth of one percent, maybe even two-hundredths of one percent.”

One reporter present asked if that would be enough to make a difference.

The General’s reply: “Every little bit counts.”

* General Nicholson is a real person and he really is in charge of operations in Afghanistan right now. However, all of the quotes attributed to him above are fictional in nature.

Don’t Forget President Obama’s Scandals

In this election cycle, it’s been difficult to escape fawning pieces over President Obama and his legacy. They range from this lovely gusher from David Brooks from earlier this year, lauding President Obama’s character and leadership, to lamentations that Obama won’t be seeking a third term.
Continue reading Don’t Forget President Obama’s Scandals

Obamacare Meltdown Shows the Importance of Profits

Let me tell you a story.

Ever with good intentions, Congress passes a law to further regulate a market that was already heavily regulated beforehand.

Private businesses try to participate in this market, only to find that they continuously lose money, year after year.

Said private businesses cease participating in this market in order to stop losing money, and focus their efforts elsewhere.

How would a reasonable person describe the behavior of the businesses? Rational, prudent, obvious?

Continue reading Obamacare Meltdown Shows the Importance of Profits

August 5, 2016

Bank of England; Source: The Telegraph

 

Another sign all is not well in the global economy…
Yesterday, the Bank of England announced a cut in interest rates to record lows and a new 70 billion pound batch of quantitative easing (money printing) in an effort to prevent the UK economy from declining further. It comes shortly after central bank of Australia also decided to cut interest rates earlier this week in an effort to stimulate their economy.These are more signs that the global economic system is under severe stress, and central banks are growing increasingly desperate.

Unfortunately, the standard remedy, as applied by the Bank of England, only postpones the inevitable collapse a bit longer. By injecting new money into the economy, directly and indirectly, it can keep stock prices inflated and possibly encourage consumer spending to temporarily prop up GDP. However, it cannot make the underlying companies more profitable, nor make the average customers more financially secure in the long-run. Indeed, it actually makes the underlying problems worse.

Which brings us to…
MetLife, a major financial institution and insurance company based in New York City, reported a massive drop in earnings yesterday. They saw a 48% drop compared to last year, to be exact. Ironically, the primary reason cited for the decline in earnings was–wait for it–low interest rates.

This comes after Deutsche Bank, the second largest bank in the EU, reported even more devastating results this quarter facing many of the same problems. Their earnings declined 98% relative to last year at this time.

In other words, the central banks and governments of the world, in the name of trying to stimulate and stabilize the economy, are wreaking utter havoc on the actual banks (and pensions) in the economy.

Which has us wondering just how stable the economy will be when major banks become bankrupt as a result. I’m sure it will be fine.

DC Transit terror plot involved a $245 donation and… nothing else
Earlier this week, Americans learned that the FBI had captured a terrorism suspect who was a member of the DC Transit Police. Given the nature of the suspect’s position, the story garnered national attention.

The suspect was accused of aiding ISIS in initial reports. The question remained, however, what did the DC terrorist suspect do?

Now we know.

His crime was allegedly sending $245 in telecommunications gift cards to a friend who supposedly lived in ISIS territory. In fact, his “friend” was an informant collaborating with the FBI, not with ISIS.

So as far as we know, the DC transit terrorism suspect planned no violence and had no interaction with ISIS. And now he faces up to 20 years in prison for his crimes.

Who else is psyched that Libertarian Vice Presidential Candidate Bill Weld wants to have 1,000 more FBI agents on the job to pursue serious homegrown terror threats like these? Not this guy.

Read our full write-up for more on this, or check out this piece from The Intercept.

Intervention Begets Intervention: Libya Edition
With the US apparently embarking on an open-ended bombing campaign in Libya, it is more important than ever to be skeptical about claims of success. A new article in The Guardian makes the case quite well. In it, Trevor Timm explains how each intervention paves the way for the next, describing what he calls the “War on Terror Circle of Life”:

It’s yet another episode of the War on Terror Circle of Life, where the US bombs a country and then funnels weapons into the region, which leads to chaos and the opportunity for terrorist organizations, which then leads more US bombing.

A smart and timely piece that’s worth a read if you have the time. It’s available here.

Two Arguments to Dismiss After French Terror Attack

Source: Valery Hache – AFP/Getty

Europe suffered another tragic terrorist attack yesterday, as a white semi-truck deliberately ran over scores of pedestrians in Nice, France. Reports put the death toll at 80 while more than 100 were wounded. The truck driver was also armed and apparently opened fire on civilians before ultimately being killed by police. At this point, authorities believe there was only one attacker.

At the time of this writing, there have been no formal claims of responsibility by ISIS or any other group, but the New York Times reports that ISIS occasionally takes as reports as two days before taking credit. We also know relatively little about the attacker himself, though one report claimed he was Franco-Tunisian.

Given how little information has been publicly released so far, it’s possible that this was simply a random act of extraordinary violence. It is far more likely that it was a politically-motivated terrorist attack like the ones in Paris and Brussels that have also occurred over the past two years. Indeed, French President Hollande’s remarks in the wake of the attack mentioned stepping up military action in Iraq and Syria, so it seems reasonable to assume there’s a plausible connection to radical groups in the Middle East.

As this appears to be yet another terrorist attack, a couple observations are worth making.

The False Trade-off
Typically, the debate following attacks like these proceeds along two dimensions. There is a proposed domestic response designed to reduce the probability of similar attacks taking place in the future. And there is a proposed foreign response to punish the ones responsible–or more realistically, to punish a lot of random people that have the misfortune of living in the general vicinity of wherever the attacker and his friends are from. But I digress.

The domestic discussion takes place along the familiar lines of the liberty vs. security axis. Authorities invariably promise more security if they have more power over individual citizens. Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote is dutifully cited in defense. But a terrified and bewildered population is primed for the security argument, and this side typically wins out.

The problem with the liberty-security debate is that it assumes the trade-off is actually possible. Just as economists used to believe there was a reliable trade-off between inflation and unemployment, security experts of today presume that liberty and security have a straightforward inverse relationship. When economists tried to put their views into practice, the theory quickly broke down. In the US, the stagflation of the 1970s, characterized by simultaneously high inflation and unemployment, showed that the previous assumption did not hold. A dangerous and mistaken paradigm was largely scuttled.

The same thing needs to happen for liberty and security. France may provide the necessary evidence to finally make the case convincing.

Recall that France has been drifting ever further towards the security side of the spectrum ever since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015. And even prior to Charlie Hebdo, the country already had some of the strictest gun laws, far stricter than the ones that apply to Americans. (The guns used in that event were apparently procured on the black market.)

The most extreme shift towards security happened after the Paris Attacks in November of last year, which claimed well over 100 lives. After that tragic event, France declared a state of emergency on terrorism, suspending many civil liberties in the process. While originally intended to be temporary, it remains in effect today and failed to prevent this attack. Additionally, yesterday was Bastille Day, a French national holiday on par with the Fourth of July in the US. If anything, we would expect security to be particularly tight on such an occasion, and yet, the attack still wasn’t prevented.

French security forces may simply be incompetent, but that shouldn’t be our primary explanation of how this occurred. Rather, the mandate of preventing terrorism is an impossible one. The Nice Attack tragically illustrates this point. In this case, most of the damage appears to have been done by a truck, a tool which thousands of people in France no doubt have access to every day in their jobs. If we assume a similar, if scaled down, version of this massacre could have been done with any motor vehicle, then the number of people with access to such a weapon would be in the millions. And they have opportunities to commit some form of atrocity any time they pass a busy city street.

Of course, it’s not just cars and trucks that are the problem. There is virtually no end to the possible vulnerabilities in a free society. In light of this, it is unreasonable to assume the French government could prevent terrorism if it just had a little more power. They cannot, and they will not, regardless of whatever new powers they try to acquire.

This is why the liberty-security debate needs to be dismissed. One side of the argument is taking the impossible as a given fact. No useful policies will come from that exercise.

Fighting Them Over There?
Another standard argument in the terrorism debate is the idea that “we must fight them over there or else we’ll fight them over here”. You’ve no doubt heard this one before. And like the alleged liberty-security trade-off, this concept could seem plausible on its face.

Recent history, however, proves it to be false.

Terrorist attacks are still thankfully rare, but successful high-profile attacks have become more common against Western targets in recent years. One could debate whether this is due to the new interventions unleashed by President Obama, or whether this is just delayed blowback from the belligerence of President George W. Bush. Most likely it’s a combination, but it ultimately does not matter.

The reality is that the current interventions have not had the intended effect. If the goal was to prevent future terrorist attacks, they have failed. And thus, the primary justification for intervention is no longer valid.

If one wishes to continue to promote intervention abroad in spite of this setback, as the French President apparently does, they need a new pretext. It is not making anyone safer. And 15 years into this experiment, no serious person should believe the next intervention is the one that will actually work.

Summary
The problem of terrorism does not have any easy solutions at this point. But some proposed solutions are clearly worse than others. As we enter another round of political grandstanding on this issue, it’s helpful to bear this in mind. Whatever the politicians may say, complete security against terrorism is not possible. No matter how much liberty we are willing to sacrifice domestically and no matter how many innocent bystanders we are willing to see bombed abroad in the name of prosecuting the failed War on Terror, this fact will not change.