Interesting Reads Week of December 23, 2018

War

I have been quite taken aback by the pushback that President Trump has received on his proposal to remove US troops from Syria.  I get that his motivation for doing so does not match mine but… what is the goal here?  Why is the US there?  What is the end-game?  What does “success” look like? What are the metrics?

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Winter moon, Davis, CA 2018

It bothers me more than a little that in all the years I worked in public health around the world, the US government DEMANDED an evidence-based approach, careful monitoring, and regular reporting on our efforts if we were to obtain funding.  I never see those demands placed on military intervention.  An Atlantic article force us to confront the reality of our endless wars and what they bring. Conor Fredersdorf notes and asks:

Still, many now say that the United States would be betraying our allies if we leave. It’s reasonable to ask, given the positions of Congress, the president, and the public: Who took on that ostensible obligation on the nation’s behalf? What gave them the right to do so?

Andrew Bacevich writing in the American Conservative comes at this whole thing in a different way asking why the Neo-Cons are wringing their hands over inattention to “alliances” when they were so willing to trash such alliances when they were not getting their way.

To drive the point home, Sanger recruits Robert Kagan, who obligingly chides President Donald Trump for treating allies as “freeloaders who can go to hell if they don’t get on board.” 

Treating allies with disrespect is no doubt a terrible thing. Yet not so very long ago it was Kagan and his fellow neoconservatives who were telling allies unwilling to get onboard to go to hell. The moment was the run up to the Iraq war.

To that I would add: What are the true ends the US is trying to achieve there… or in other wars in which people continue to die for reasons that are entirely unclear.  To the question of “ends” Matt Gallagher adds this:

But when questions like “How long?” and “How many?” and “What’s the objective?” get swallowed up by a defense industry that essentially answers with, “We’ll handle it,” it’s no wonder that the American citizenry doesn’t engage with its military much beyond surprise homecomings at football games.

And the lack of clarity about ends must, inevitably lead us right back to… Iraq.  But not the Iraq of the Trump visit.  Another Iraq.

Remember that one?  Ben Taub hasn’t forgotten, and his article on the cycles of revenge that the US military unleashed in that land is almost too hard to read.  Read it anyway.

Economics

Just one here but the title alone–No, Donald Trump Is Not Leaving Us Poorly Prepared for the Next Recession–should entice a read (coming as it does from Dean Baker).  But lest you think Baker has gone too far, check out this pretty classic summary of his views (emphasis added):

The point is that if we want to do a full accounting of the government’s debt then we better add in the increased cost for a wide range of goods and services due to the monopolies the government has granted. My crude calculations put these in the neighborhood of $1 trillion a year, or roughly one quarter of the federal government’s current tax revenue.

Of course our deficit hawks never do this. This can be explained by the fact that they either don’t understand economics, which is a good reason not to listen to them, or they are simple not honest, which is also a good reason not to listen to them.

To be clear, large tax cuts to corporations, so that they could give more money back to wealthy shareholders in the form of buybacks and dividends (yep, giving money to shareholders through dividends is no better than buybacks) is not a good use of resources. It means the rich get to spend more money at a time when we should be focusing resources on green infrastructure and energy conservation.

In this sense, the Trump tax cuts leave us less well-prepared to face the future. But as far as being prepared for the next recession, sorry folks, you don’t have an economics case.

The politics are another matter. We know that the tax cut loving Republicans will all become huge deficit hawks the next time Democrats are in power. We should not be in the business of assisting their efforts to undermine the economy.

Grace

Okay, this is not a typical topical area for these brief posts but perhaps it should be.  In my view (and I speak as someone who, as an elected official, had a front row seat on local civics), we are a graceless society.  So… grace deserves some attention and Peter Wehner provides it:

When I recently asked Jonathan how, as a nonbeliever, he understood grace and why it inspires us when we see it in others, he told me that grace is “some combination of generosity and magnanimity, kindness and forgiveness, and empathy — all above the ordinary call of duty, and bestowed even (or especially?) when not particularly earned.” We see it demonstrated in heroic ways and in small, everyday contexts, he said. “But I guess, regardless of the context, it’s always at least a little unexpected and out of the ordinary.”

Please read this to start your 2019.

 

And I leave you with a quote from Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism by Sheldon Wolin (a post-Iraq-invasion reflection):

Two crucial consequences of the Cold War upon domestic politics contributed major elements to the power imaginary evolving from the conflict.  One was the shrinking place occupied by politics and the enlargement of state power.  The growing dominance of foreign policy and military strategy altered the scope and status of public participation. Public officials, experts, and pundits were quick to declare these to be privileged subjects where partisan politics should defer to national unity and experts should be decide among themselves. The second development was intimately connected with the priority of foreign policy and military preparedness: the emergence and legitimation of elitism, of a political class, “the best and brightest.” (p 39)

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