By the purse strings

Since leaving the military, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen has spoken often about what he considers to be the biggest danger to U.S. security: the national debt.

China may be about to give us an object lesson in that assessment:

China added to bond investors’ jitters on Wednesday as traders braced for what they feared could be the end of a three-decade bull market.  Senior government officials in Beijing reviewing the nation’s foreign-exchange holdings have recommended slowing or halting purchases of U.S. Treasuries, according to people familiar with the matter.

China holds the world’s largest foreign-exchange reserves, at $3.1 trillion, and regularly assesses its strategy for investing them. It isn’t clear whether the officials’ recommendations have been adopted. The market for U.S. government bonds is becoming less attractive relative to other assets, and trade tensions with the U.S. may provide a reason to slow or stop buying American debt…

Most Americans who pay attention to government spending habits are happy merely to see the deficit fall.  But even if the deficit were brought to zero (i.e. the government miraculously balanced its budget) the outstanding debt still has to be renegotiated periodically, as old bonds mature and new ones are issued.  When there is less demand for new bonds, the yield (interest) has to rise in order to become more attractive.  Thus, even with a balanced budget, our roll-over debt is a potential time bomb.

For the last decade, the U.S. has been able to take advantage of record low bond yields as the Federal Reserve held interest rates at historic lows in the wake of the mortgage debt crisis in 2008.  This, incidentally, is why your bank pays you next to nothing on your savings any more — the same policy that keeps the government’s borrowing costs low essentially robs individual savers.  Unlike taxes, people don’t immediately recognize this fiscal effect the debt has on them.

If forces beyond the government’s control — say, the largest holder of U.S. debt decided not to roll over its holdings — caused bond yields and interest rates to rise faster than desired, the results would bankrupt the U.S. Treasury overnight:

Given its sheer size, if the interest rate on that debt were to rise by even 1%, the annual federal deficit rises by $200 billion. A 2% increase in interest rate levels would up the federal deficit by $400 billion, and if rates were 5% higher, the annual federal deficit rises by a full $1 trillion per year.

The only way to begin mitigating this risk is to not just balance the budget but to start paying down the debt.  Think that will happen?

Me neither.  The day may be fast approaching when the government, in order to service its creditors, has no choice but to cut many of the programs people have become entirely dependent upon.  It may also impose confiscatory taxation, seizing the property of those who’ve managed to save and invest during these irresponsible years.  In both cases, the social consequences will be enormous.

As the Instapundit likes to say, “things that can’t go on forever, don’t.”  The exponential rise of our national debt can’t go on forever.  It’s simply a question of when an event will occur that undeniably shows the emperor has no clothes.

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A scary situation

Since it’s Halloween, everyone’s focused on spooky things.  Here’s a spooky thought: the U.S. national security strategy is “insolvent:”

Too few resources are chasing too many ongoing operations, forward presence commitments, and potential conflicts. U.S. military leaders have been unanimous in warning that they do not have enough troops, equipment, or funding to execute the national defense strategy. … There aren’t enough available dollars to sustain the current U.S. military strategy, which aims to simultaneously keep American global posture intact, conduct an ongoing military campaign against ISIL, sustain a global counterterrorism effort in its 16th year, and be ready for multiple contingencies against highly capable regional challengers.

Much like Maverick from the movie Top Gun, whose ego was accused of “writing checks your body can’t cash,” the United States after World War Two extended its umbrella of protection across the world, underwriting the security of what became known as the “free world.”  While that may have been appropriate (debatable) at a time when our economy represented nearly half of the world’s Gross Domestic Product, it is untenable now that our government borrows 10 to 20 percent of its annual budget, and rising interest rates make servicing the debt one of the fastest-growing Federal expenditures.

Russia.  China.  Iran.  North Korea.  Islamic terrorism.  Border security.  It’s essential the U.S. prioritize the threats (and in the case of Russia, perhaps take action to live less in conflict with other great powers).  Trump was right on the campaign trail to say that many of our allies (*cough* Europe *cough*) need to shoulder a greater portion of the burden of their own defense.  When we’re playing Twister with our national power to try to cover U.S. interests, it makes no sense to be subsidizing others at the same time.

Our current global posture is in many ways a bluff… and our potential adversaries know it.  That creates both uncertainty and potential adventurism.  It’s time our stated objectives and our commitment to maintaining them were brought back into balance.

But instead of just spending more on the military, maybe we should stop writing so many checks.

“[America} goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.  She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.  She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” – John Quincy Adams. 1821

 

In summary…

Quite a number of headlines over the past few days while I’ve been away, enjoying some time offline.  As I caught up on some of the issues, it seemed appropriate to outline some of the recent developments.

As we all know, Robert Mueller has been appointed to investigate whether the Trump candidacy “colluded” with Russia during the 2016 campaign.  As part of that, Mueller is looking into the circumstances surrounding Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey.  There were already questions about how impartial Mueller could be about the later, given his long personal and professional relationship with Comey.

Now it appears Mueller may have additional conflicts of interest regarding Russia.  You see, Mueller was Comey’s predecessor as head of the FBI.  During his tenure, the FBI had already discovered Russian efforts to influence the U.S.:

Federal agents used a confidential U.S. witness working inside the Russian nuclear industry to gather extensive financial records, make secret recordings and intercept emails as early as 2009 that showed Moscow had compromised an American uranium trucking firm with bribes and kickbacks in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, FBI and court documents show.

They also obtained an eyewitness account — backed by documents — indicating Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow, sources told The Hill.

Despite having this information in 2009, the U.S. government approved in 2010 the purchase of Canada’s Uranium One (which itself controlled 1/5 of the U.S. uranium mining capacity) by Russia’s state-owned Rosatom.  As Investor’s Business Daily points out:

Does it seem strange that an American administration would OK the acquisition of 20% of America’s uranium resources by a hostile nuclear power? How could that be?

It only makes sense if you understand what else was going on, namely Hillary Clinton’s aggressive use of her State Department perch to raise money for the family “charity,” the Clinton Foundation. That Clinton used her office to the foundation’s advantage, there can be little doubt.

The Clinton Foundation took in some $145 million in contributions from Uranium One shareholders, much of it coming at about the time that deal won approval from CFIUS — the investment panel on which both Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder conveniently sat. Is that a coincidence? Or that the Justice Department waited until 2014, the year after Hillary left office, to take any action in the Russian criminal matters? Or that details of the Uranium One deal didn’t come out until 2015, the year Eric Holder left office? Was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “reset” with the Russian government in 2009 just part of a wider plan to enrich her own family foundation with Russian cash?

We’d sure like to know the answers to these and other questions. At the very least, there is a clear prima facie case to be made for an investigation into the pay-for-play behavior in the Obama administration.

So remember: when Democrats run around screaming “Russia, Russia, Russia,” it’s most likely an attempt at projection.  As for the Clinton’s “charitable foundation,” it’s clear there’s only one beneficiary: the Clintons.  They’ve made a career out of literally selling out the U.S.  For all Trump’s shortcomings (and they are many), he at least prevented Her Hillariness from being in a position to do even more damage.  It would be ironic if the investigation meant to hamstring his administration instead revealed many of the sordid details of the swamp Trump promised to drain.

Never forget September 11, 2001

Sixteen years.  That’s how long it’s been since the worst terrorist attack in American history.  A total of 2,996 people dead or never accounted for.  Symbols of American power struck without warning: both World Trade center towers and the Pentagon.  The actions of informed passengers on a fourth plane likely averted a strike on the White House or Congress.

An entire generation had horrifying visions of previously unimaginable events happening in their own nation, with memories firmly etched into their minds.

They say time heals all wounds. And for the families of those lost that day I hope there is some measure of truth in it. But there is a flip side: such events fade in the public consciousness, such that they no longer inform or shape how the nation acts. To quote the opening of the movie “The Fellowship of the Ring,”

“…some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth…” (click “continue reading” below to continue)

Continue reading

Back to Bagram?

It seems the President has been swayed by his military advisors (both in and out of uniform) that it’s time to “surge” in Afghanistan again:

…shortly after my inauguration, I directed Secretary of Defense Mattis and my national security team to undertake a comprehensive review of all strategic options in Afghanistan and South Asia. My original instinct was to pull out. And historically, I like following my instincts.

But all my life I’ve heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office, in other words, when you’re president of the United States. So I studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle. After many meetings, over many months, we held our final meeting last Friday at Camp David with my cabinet and generals to complete our strategy.

I arrived at three fundamental conclusion about America’s core interests in Afghanistan. First, our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives. The men and women who serve our nation in combat deserve a plan for victory. They deserve the tools they need and the trust they have earned to fight and to win.

Second, the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable. 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan because that country was ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists.

A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda, would instantly fill just as happened before Sept. 11. And as we know, in 2011, America hastily and mistakenly withdrew from Iraq. As a result, our hard-won gains slipped back into the hands of terrorist enemies. Our soldiers watched as cities they had fought for and bled to liberate, and won, were occupied by a terrorist group called ISIS. The vacuum we created by leaving too soon gave safe haven for ISIS to spread, to grow, recruit and launch attacks. We cannot repeat in Afghanistan the mistake our leaders made in Iraq.

Third, and finally, I concluded that the security threats we face in Afghanistan and the broader region are immense. Today, 20 U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world.

For its part, Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror. The threat is worse because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations threaten to spiral into conflict….

Surging troops (particularly only 4,000 more) is not a strategy.  Killing individual terrorists is not a strategy.  These are but tactics.   What is the desired end state?  It’s proven to be extremely difficult to build a competent, effective Afghan government and army.  Only when those exist is there any chance of us offloading this burden without creating the vacuum Trump references.  So why isn’t there more emphasis on that?  I’m not just talking about training troops (who have a tendency to run away — even when training in the U.S.!).  I’m talking about identifying real leaders, people Afghans are willing to rally around, that provide another pole of power besides the Taliban.  We may not like the leaders we find; they’re hardly likely to be Jeffersonian types.  But if they are committed to fighting the return of the Taliban and ensure Afghanistan doesn’t return to being a terror sanctuary, that should count most.

I really wish our leaders would pick up a book series I’ve recently been reading.  It’s written by a disaffected former U.S. Army Lt. Colonel who pulls no punches about the flawed premises under which we’ve operated since 9/11.  It’s not easy to read — using a science fiction story as allegory he frequently and graphically lays bare the moral quandaries of this type of war.  But as distasteful as some of his recommended approaches might be, one has to wonder if letting this festering sore drag on for 16 years is far worse.  Respect for U.S. power has waned, even as our forces have worn down from years of constant use.  Maybe it’s time we simply left, and made clear that any nation from which a future attack is launched against will find us, in Kratman’s title quote, making “A Desert Called Peace.”  There are easy ways to do so without “boots on the ground.”  And in the meantime, we should be hardening our borders and entry processes into America immediately.  It’s already long overdue.

Half-measures haven’t gotten us anywhere.  We’re too forceful to be loved, but not forceful enough to be feared.  Sooner or later we’re going to have to choose one or the other.

Being the weak horse

It turns out yet again that at least one of the attackers in Saturday’s killing spree on London Bridge was known to be a radical and associate of a radical imam.  What’s more, in this particular case the attacker was even featured in a British TV documentary called “The Jihadist Next Door!”  ((words — even profane ones – fail me here! — Jemison))

The British authorities confirm he was “under investigation.”  I’m sure that will be a comfort to the grieving families of the deceased and the scores of people who will now live with the terror of that night.

Mao Tse-Tung was something of an authority on insurgency warfare (he conquered China by using it).  One of his maxims was “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.”  Importing large numbers of Muslims to the West has provided that “sea” in which the jihadi “fish” flourish.  I’m not saying all Muslims are guilty of these accelerating atrocities, only that the presence of large numbers of them, complete with cultural infrastructure, gives our enemies considerable support.  Separating the “sheep” from the “goats” is the rub in fighting an insurgency (see: Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan), and it’s never an easy task.  It’s even harder when you continue to import part of the problem (note well that at least one of Saturday’s attackers came to Britain as a young boy when his family filed for asylum).

Right now, jihadism looks like Osama bin Laden’s proverbial “strong horse and Western security agencies look like they’re ready for the glue factory.  In the same way inner city kids look up to drug dealing gangsters because they have no other model of success, the hundreds of thousands of young Pakastani, Somali, Yemeni, Syrian, Afghani and other nationalities flooding the West can be prone to see jihad as “manly defiance” of a Western Civilization they’ve already failed to adopt.

Mao outlined three phases to insurgency warfare: organize and recruit, undermine the legitimacy of government, attack all out when strong enough.  In my view, we’re well into phase two of this insurgency, and our governments look weaker and more ineffective by the day.  So what do we do?  If we’re to succeed, we have to steel ourselves to some distasteful but necessary steps:

Most Muslims are peaceful people who disapprove of terrorism, but many are not. Opinion polls show a large and consistent minority  of 20% to 40% approves of at least some form of terrorism. Support for ISIS generally is low, but much higher for Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist groups. By any reasonable count there are a few hundred million Muslims who in some way approve of terror, although very few of them would take part in terror attacks. But they are the sea in which the sharks can swim unobserved. They may not build bombs, but they will turn a blind eye to terrorists in their midst, especially if those terrorists are relations. They also fear retaliation from the terrorists if they inform.

The way to win the war is to frighten the larger community of Muslims who passively support terror by action or inaction–frighten them so badly that they will inform on family members. Frightening the larger Muslim population in the West does not require a great deal of effort: a few thousand deportations would do. Western intelligence services do not even have to deport the right people; the wrong people know who they are, and so do many of their neighbors. The ensuing conversation is an easy one to have. “I understand that your nephew is due for deportation, Hussein, and I believe you when you tell me that he has done nothing wrong. I might be able to help you. But you have to help me. Give me something I can use–and don’t waste my time by making things up, or I swear that I’ll deport you, too. If you don’t have any information, then find out who does.”

In the end, this is simple: show resolve, close the border and start deporting thousands now, or end up fighting tens of thousands later.  As the organizer of “Sherman’s March” noted in the 1860s, “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”  So, are we in a “War on Terror” or not?  On this day in 1944, thousands of young men stormed ashore at Normandy.  Do we even possess this kind of grim determination anymore?

Trump promised to ‘drain the swamp’ in D.C. Mordor, and the jury is still out on whether he’ll have any success.  Just as necessary is draining the “sea” in which these known human time bombs are ticking.  Given that the UK alone has been hit three times in less than two weeks, one would think this would be the top priority.

That it isn’t tells us all we need to know about “leaders” in the West.

Same pablum, different day

This article is worth your attention, as it encapsulates the feelings of an already large and growing number of people (myself included):

The sad truth, and getting sadder with every attack, is that the political class has little interest in doing what would really be necessary to combat Islamist terrorism, let alone talk about it. They don’t want to talk about how Britain’s (the West’s) lax immigration policies over decades led to hundreds of thousands of immigrants entering the country with varying degrees of willingness to assimilate and adopt Western values. They don’t want to openly criticize the blatant problems with the multiculturalism the UK (West) has pursued for years and the obvious impact it has had on the immigrant population.

Oh no. This would cost them too much. It would shatter the façade of political correctness that’s been constructed over our “civilized” western world, and destroy the illusion, so vital to the political class, that Western values are universal.

The politicians are only willing to give speeches about how united we are and how terrorists cannot tear us apart. But the truth—so clear and obvious—is that with every attack the West becomes more and more divided. We are not united, not by a long shot…

There’s little to no tolerance in polite society for the kind of honesty for which many in the West are hungry…

Our political leaders are basically telling us that this kind of terrorism, random and deadly, is the price we have to pay for their policies of multiculturalism and political correctness. They know that their weak platitudes can’t stop terrorism, and so do the people. They might as well come out and say what they mean: get used to the new normal.  ((slight editing and emphasis by yours truly))

Close the borders.  Send the illegals home.  And stop importing more of the medium — hundreds of thousands of Muslims from broken and radicalized countries — in which this ideology flourishes.