Fences work both ways

Byline: | Category: Culture, Economy, Ethics, Foreign Policy, Government, Regulations, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Thursday, 22 January 2015

Because we always must heed the law of unintended consequences, Americans–particularly Republicans–probably should be more circumspect in their calls for the government to erect a border fence.

We live in a time when the American economy no longer is a beacon to the world’s entrepreneurs and when members of both parties want to implement laws inhibiting American companies from relocating overseas.

It would be a shame if a border fence, once built, wasn’t necessary to keep foreigners out, but instead became a convenient means of keeping Americans in.

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Let’s not overreact to lone wolf attacks

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Foreign Policy, Iraq, Military | Posted at: Wednesday, 22 October 2014

When I was a planner at U.S. European Command I was part of a group that looked at counter-terrorism planning.  One of the concerns we were addressing was the “lone wolf” attacker.  That was what we called an inspired individual who took it upon himself to, on his own, stage a terrorist attack.  I took the counter-intuitive position that the lone-wolf attacker was not a problem; instead he was an indicator of success.

Terrorism is not how the strong attack their enemies.  Coordinated terrorist attacks originating in the Middle East are themselves a counter-intuitive indicator of success.  That is because the American military (and its Western Allies) are far too strong to attack symetrically.  Al Qaeda never could hope to attack the United States militarily.  They never have had the resources to directly confront America with missiles and tanks.  So they have had to resort to organized terrorist attacks.

Lone wolf attacks like the ones perpetrated against Canada twice in the last two days are indicators that now even organized terrorist attacks often are beyond the abilities of al Qaeda and affiliated groups. Since al Qaeda’s losses suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, they rarely have been able even to conduct organized terrorist attacks.  As horrible as these lone wolf types of attacks are, they amount to little more than murders, not wholesale attacks against the West.

And that was my point to the other planners at EUCOM: lone wolf attacks don’t need a  military solution.  When the enemy’s attacks amount to a few (obviously very tragic) murders that the police can handle, a military response unnecessarily expends more of our resources while it gives our enemies more credit than they deserve.

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Why not barbed wire and guns?

Byline: | Category: Economy, Ethics, Foreign Policy, Government, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Wednesday, 6 August 2014

I remember when I was a young Soldier in Germany and America stood against the idea of countries erecting walls to keep people from leaving.

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Sacco and Tsarnaev

Byline: | Category: 2nd Amendment, Culture, Economy, Foreign Policy, Government, Race | Posted at: Monday, 22 April 2013

Two Boston area immigrants who fell under the spell of a radical ideology that espoused the use of bombs against innocents were allegedly behind the violent April 15 multiple murders.

But it’s not who you think it is.  The year was 1920 and the two men were Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.  Aside from the date and the location, there are other parallels too.  And they speak more about us than they do about either Sacco and Vanzetti or the Tsarnaev Brothers.

The nineteen-teens and twenties was a period of great tumult in the United States.  After the First World War, which was widely viewed as disastrous mistake for having gotten involved, Americans rejected all things associated with the outside world.  The aftermath of the Great War brought upheaval to Europe.  Replacing failing empires and monarchies was Russian communism, German socialism, and varying amounts of anarchy seemingly everywhere else.

Today there is the ongoing collapse of the Euro and the demise of Middle Eastern strongmen, and so we fear radical islamism and economic contagion from Cyprus and Greece.

Eight decades ago the end of the war brought economic troubles too.  High unemployment, which was widely and mistakenly thought of as a normal post-war adjustment to a lack of military demand and a surplus of returning soldiers, was actually just a result of the post-war continuation of the ongoing de-agriculturalization of the world economy.  Regardless of the cause, greater unemployment turned American workers against more recent immigrants who were looking for work too.  In 1917 America passed its first immigration restriction laws barring the entry of “idiots, imbeciles, epileptics, alcoholics . . . ” and Asians.  Just a year before, an influential eugenicist wrote The Passing of the Great Race that became widely popular.  By 1924 America had its first immigration quotas that attempting to freeze in place the country’s racial composition.

Today unemployment is higher than normal as the world deals with the  fallout associated with becoming a post-manufacturing economy.  Pat Buchanan hawks The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization.  Politicians from all sides rail against “illegal” immigration but very often demagogue all immigration.

Both periods were characterized by big fights over petty tangential issues that  many prudes insisted contributed to unrest and crime.  The Volstead Act passed in the wake of the 18th Amendment gave us Prohibition, while today the President and many Democratic leaders want to outlaw guns.  Were those laws to pass, more, not less, crime would be the result, just as more crime was the result of Prohibition too.

Certainly I could carry the parallels further, but let me just conclude with a few questions:

  • Was it really necessary to quarantine an entire city to capture a couple criminals whose bombing victims numbered one-one-thousandth of those killed on 9/11?
  • Does it not speak volumes about the limits of power and the power of people that the police were unsuccessful during their hours of uninhibited manhunt, but as soon as the house arrest was lifted a citizen found the suspect?
  • Is it realistic to expect that among millions of immigrants there won’t be a few criminals, when we have millions of native Americans locked up here at home?
  • Is not labeling violence as “terrorism” or “an act of war” just another form of “hate” crime, which attempts to characterize criminals by their thoughts instead of their acts?
  • If three dead bombing victims is enough to rescind an American citizen’s constitutional rights, is two?  Or one?  Or none?
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Things I’d like to see in 2013

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Economy, Foreign Policy, Government, Media, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled with Obamacare that the federal government is limited in what it can mandate that the states legislate, I’d like to see one or more of the states lower the drinking age back to 18 this year.  If you are old enough to vote and old enough to serve in the military, you should be old enough to buy a drink.

Still on the subject of alcohol, I’d like to to see more states join Washington’s lead and remove the mandatory second tier of alcohol distributors that serve as legally required monopolies that raise prices and reduce the selection available to the  wine-buying public in the other 49 states.

Not that I would like to see continued violence in the Middle East, but since it is a near certainty anyway, I’d like to see it happen in 2013 without any hint that America will get even remotely involved.

I’d like to see no calls this year for any sort of extension to American involvement in Afghanistan.

I’d like to see Congress and the White House continue to be at loggerheads throughout all of 2013.  Since every meaningful compromise in recent decades has resulted in higher taxes, greater spending, bigger debt, and diminished freedom, doing nothing is Washington’s best course of action.

I’d like to see the Department of Defense deal seriously with sequestration by eliminating commands, agencies, directorates, and staffs instead of reducing either the number or effectiveness of ships, wings, and brigades.

I’d also like to see DoD kill a few hideously expensive major weapons programs this year–especially the F-35.

I’d like to continue to see the collapse of the legacy broadcast and print media.  CNN, NBC, Time, and the New York Times each have brands far larger than their real contemporary influence; it only follows that the economics of that untenable situation will catch up to them–hopefully in 2013.

I’d like to see 2013 produce no viral videos that spark any more line-dancing crazes.  The Chicken Dance, the Electric Slide, and the Macarena were each bad enough before Gangnam Style.  Please, let’s not do this again.  Ever.

And since I will have a college student in 2014, I’d like to see the higher education bubble burst in 2013.

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Is it 1979 again?

Byline: | Category: Foreign Policy, Military | Posted at: Thursday, 6 December 2012

Six months ago, I said this about Egypt:

” . . . continuing that level of American support to the military junta that has taken over the country risks an even worse outcome, as a circa-1979 Iranian Shah style backlash becomes increasingly likely. America is already culpable in the eyes of the Egyptian majority. Every passing day that we arm Egypt’s oppressors, we increase the inevitability that an anti-government revolution grows even more anti-Western.”

I’m reminded of that prediction when I see this BBC report about the Egyptian military rolling into the area of protests against the Egyptian president. Look at that video closely. The armored vehicles that you see are American made M60 tanks and American made M113 armored personnel carriers. That Egyptian military is American equipped and American trained, largely at American expense. This has the potential to be 1979 again.

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Why I’m strangely complacent about tonight

Byline: | Category: 2012, Above the Fold, Culture, Economy, Foreign Policy, Government | Posted at: Tuesday, 6 November 2012

As polls begin closing in the Eastern time zone, I am actually rather complacent about the outcome.  Yes, I voted for Mitt Romney, and yes, I want him to win.  But I guess I have a fatalistic view about what happens regardless of which man wins tonight.

Here is what I envision over the next four years: 

The bond yield is going to skyrocket as inflation begins to take hold.  That will push up the deficit because of the increased interest the government will have to pay to its creditors.  The effects of inflation will be horrible.  We’ll do something stupid to forestall this, like feed even more debt to the Fed.  It won’t work.  Inflation will find our door.  But if I’m wrong, and inflation doesn’t come, that is almost as bad, as it means another four years of super low interest rates and a corresponding dearth of interest income and saving.  Four more years of baby boomers retiring with no increase in interest rates is very bad indeed.

Regardless of who is in charge, America will still be held back by the sclerotic state of the nation’s bureaucracy.  As Meghan McArdle pointed out recently, there have been plans for hardening the essential infrastructure of the NY/NJ area for years.  It would have been nice to have last week.  Those plans are still in review.  They will still be in review a decade from now.  This, in a city that saw the Empire State Building go from a hole in the ground to completion in less than 14 months.  Obamacare is just the latest circle of bureaucratic hell through which America’s entrepreneuers must wade, and even if Romney is elected, much of it, I am saddened to report, will remain intact.  At some point our economic engines are like Napoleon’s troops invading Russia: supply lines were so long that there was no room for anything else in the carriage but the fodder for the horses pulling the carts.  There was nothing left to do then but to eat the horse.  I fear that we’re nearing that point.

An even bumpier economic ride is overdue overseas.  China is on the edge of a cliff; its coming catastrophe will either be economic or cultural.  Probably both.  Japan is nearing the end of its free money holiday.  With the highest debt load in the developed world as well as the oldest population, Japan is not just an economic mess, but serves as a warning to others who are quickly tracing the same path.  Even more concerning is that China and Japan are both still very closed societies;  they are unlikely to search earnestly and inwardly for blame or solution.  It is easier to look outside for blame.  And then there’s Europe:  beset by unbridgeable divides, it will collapse with rippling economic, cultural, and perhaps even military effects upon the United States.

Unfortunately our competitors and enemies will not bide their time these next four years.  Our foolishness in the Middle East and in North Africa has placed America in a damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t situation.  But of the two, doesn’t–disengagement–offers the least potential downsides.  Regardless of who is elected, we won’t disengage.  Instead we will continue to reinforce failure overseas just as we have for years.  As for Russia . . . enough said.

We are an nation divided evenly between two irreconciable ideologies.  On the one side is the collectivist progressive who knows that by centralizing control in the hands of leaders empowered by special powers, that America will be a fairer place.  On the other side is the rugged individualist who knows that if he were freed of extraordinary restrictions that he could accomplish extraordinary things and that will make America a stronger place. 

This is not a new conflict.  In fact, it’s the conflict that gave birth to our nation, when we left England and an anointed elite behind.  But we didn’t leave it entirely behind.  And by degree, collectivism has returned.  For decades we have been able to paper over the differences between the two camps through the incredible surplusses that we have amassed.  But those surplusses are soon to come to an end.

We could forestall that day, perhaps even reverse time.  But unfortunately, even if Mitt Romney wins tonight, he will not win with a mandate for real change.  Thus we will toddle down Japan’s path to our own end.  At least that beats sprinting there.

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Egypt: get in line, or get cut off

Byline: | Category: Foreign Policy, Military | Posted at: Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Just as I predicted at the end of last year, Egypt continues to be a mess.  (See #12.)  The latest news  is that the military leadership that stepped in last year “temporarily” in order to stabilize the country in the wake of the violent “Arab Spring” ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, has now effectively voided this weekend’s democratic election of an islamist president, and seized supreme legislative power and veto authority over the new constitution.  At this point there are no good outcomes possible in Egypt; only bad ones and worse ones.

A relatively smooth transition of presidential power to Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood-backed candidate who apparently secured the majority vote on Sunday, would give control of the largest country in the Arab World to an Islamist and anti-Western government that is sympathetic to al-Qaeda and highly belligerent toward Israel.  Considering that Egypt and Israel fought four wars in the 25 years between 1948 and 1973, and that the now-reviled Hosni Mubarak led Egypt for the vast majority of the last 40 years of peace, and all signs coming out of Cairo point to a deteriorating situation with Israel.  Given the already uncomfortable relationship between a nuclear Israel and a nearly nuclear Iran, it is easy to imagine a newly militant Egyptian government being just a hair trigger away from initiating a much wider conflagration. It is also easy to imagine that an al-Qaeda-sympathetic government with access to Egypt’s wealth and military, not to mention control of the Suez Canal, could provide a platform for a renewed worldwide projection of terrorism and terrorist weapons.

And what I just described is probably the best that we can hope for.

Egypt is America’s second largest beneficiary of foreign aid and one of the largest recipients of foreign military sales.  Its military trains at all levels with the US military and it possesses some of our best equipment.  It would be preposterous if America were even to consider to provide that level of support and assistance to a Muslim Brotherhood-led Egyptian government.  On the other hand, continuing that level of American support to the military junta that has taken over the country risks an even worse outcome, as a circa-1979 Iranian Shah style backlash becomes increasingly likely.  America is already culpable in the eyes of the Egyptian majority.  Every passing day that we arm Egypt’s oppressors, we increase the inevitability that an anti-government revolution grows even more anti-Western.  When the rebels take over the country (and they will) the US will get all of the bad outcomes listed above, and on top of that, even more of the blame.  Furthermore, our support for an anti-popular regime complicates US efforts to resolve peacefully an analogous situation in nearby Syria, where Russia, Iran, and perhaps even China support a military dictatorship against a popular uprising.  Hypocrisy will be the charge, and it will have merit.

My prescription will be anathema to career diplomats and also to military leaders who have bought into the idea that engagement and dialogue equate to success.  It is to publicly tell Egypt’s military government that all foreign aid, military assistance, and military training will completely halt effective the end of this month.  And that if after that date, Egypt wishes the resumption of any portion of American assistance, it will be contingent upon being able to demonstrate measurable results in achieving democratic rule, protection of human rights, cooperation with Israel, support of the free flow of trade through the Canal, and the suppression of terrorist activities.  Failure to achieve any one of those objectives will result in no American assistance.

My recommendation is no less than to break a significant portion of the Camp David Accords, so it is not made lightly.  However, the status quo is untenable and increasingly likely to blow up (hopefully only figuratively) in the face of Americans.  When confronted with the choice of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” the best outcome is the one with the least damnation.  And the only thing we have to look forward to as a result of continued engagement with Egypt, is even more damnation.

*These opinions are my own and do not reflect the views of the Department of Defense.

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Europe as we know it

Byline: | Category: Culture, Economy, Foreign Policy, Government, Military | Posted at: Friday, 10 February 2012


I’ve spent most of the last two years in Germany, and in fact, am going back there again this weekend.  So I’ve been exposed to a great deal of press and thought about the European economic situation as it relates to Germany.  If you want to understand the complexity of the problem, this article by Christopher Caldwell is probably the best summary you could read.

I have come of the belief that the EU is a union of intractable problems held together for the time being by the glue of German guilt.  That glue, however, is decaying with the loss of the older generation.  Ultimately the EU must either subordinate centuries of different cultures, languages, and customs to itself, or it must fail. 

This may be hard for Americans to understand, as our perception of regional and cultural differences is colored by our own, which are, by comparison, not that different.  When Americans travel Europe they see it as akin to traveling through New England.  Moving between European nations today is seemingly no different than driving through four or five very similar states on the way from Connecticut to Maine.  The money is the same.  The language is the same. (English is virtually every European’s second language).  And so long as you confine yourself to the usual tourist haunts, even the experience is often the same:  castles, old churches, and gelato.

But European nations are not the same as states.  I was in a multi-national planning meeting a few months back when the discussion turned to the subject of one NATO nation training with its forces in another NATO nation.  Sheepish looks overcame several faces.  Finally, one foreign officer said, “We are all military professionals here, so we understand the necessity of this, but our people might have difficulty . . . ”  Another officer interjected more succinctly, “This is Europe; we have history.  Europe is not North America.”

History in Europe has a way of reasserting itself.  As the older German generation goes away, those historical differences will again come to the fore.  Germany is very different from Italy, and as Caldwell correctly points out, even Italy is very different from itself.  Sicilians and the citizens of Sudtirol might as well be on different planets, and yet they’re are ostensibly both Italian.  One doesn’t even have to travel far from Europe’s capital, Brussels, to see such differences in action.  Belgium, itself a nation cobbled together from three cultures who quarrel with each other, is an ungovernable mess.  And that’s just in one European country not much larger than Massachusetts.

Europe has all the trappings of union: a common currency, a central government, a de facto language.  But its trappings are just that:  traps.  Europeans are confined.  And confinement breeds resentment. 

Last year on a transatlantic trip I watched Life As We Know It.  It is the story of two incompatible people thrown together into the same house to raise the orphaned daughter of their mutual friends who died in a car wreck.  The two had all the trappings of a couple:  house, child, common friends.  Hollywood gave the unlikely plot a happy ending.  But Hollywood is half a world away from Europe.  And in the real world, the European marital union of 27 incompatible countries is confronting increasing resentment.  Ultimately there will be a messy divorce.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Glenn for the link.  While you’re here, please take a look around.  Would love to get your thoughts on the constitutionality of conscientious objection.

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China to EU: back off

Byline: | Category: Economy, Environment, Foreign Policy, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Monday, 6 February 2012

The Chinese government has ordered its international air carriers to refuse to pay a European Union “global warming” tax.  The subtext of this decision is a strong message to an EU on the verge of bankruptcy and oblivion: 

“You need us more than we need you.”

Expect the EU to cave.  Expect also to see more of this as China converts its economic might into geopolitical strength.

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