Sunday, July 04, 2010

So THAT'S why we're in Afghanistan! It's "military Keynesianism"

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"This is what the American dream has come to? Your founders warned you about this. Warned you that standing armies and unrestrained banks would cost you your freedom. And the sad thing is that most Americans are ok with it." (Ian Welsh, today -- see below)

"Obama has to stay in Afghanistan because war spending is one of the only reliable forms of stimulus he has. The economy is in bad shape, and it needs that stimulus. Since he can’t get a new large stimulus through Congress that means he MUST keep the Afghan war going if he doesn’t want an economic disaster, which would then lead to an electoral disaster."
-- Ian Welsh, in a recent blogpost,

by Ken

If I told you that you could get the wisdom of one of the smartest people I know of, right in your e-mailbox, at absolutely no cost to you, I bet you would say "Surely you jest" or perhaps "You're drunk." But no I don't and no I'm not. Just go to the Ian Welsh website and click the link to subscribe, by either RSS feed or e-mail.

Yesterday Ian was writing about RNC Chair Michael Steele's surprisingly unstupid comments about the president and Afghanistan, which reminded him of "my favorite definition of a gaffe: 'saying the truth in the worst way possible.'"

After making the point that, much as Chairman Michael said, our involvement in Afghanistan is "a war of choice for Obama," even if it had first been a war of George W. Bush's choosing, and noting that "being the RNC chairman, Steele isn’t allowed to say things that make sense and contradict Republican warmongering," Ian proceeds to "a truth that Steele didn't tell."
Obama has to stay in Afghanistan because war spending is one of the only reliable forms of stimulus he has. The economy is in bad shape, and it needs that stimulus. Since he can’t get a new large stimulus through Congress that means he MUST keep the Afghan war going if he doesn’t want an economic disaster, which would then lead to an electoral disaster.

This is the sad truth of America: the only acceptable form of Keynesian spending is military Keynesianism. Instead of hiring tens of thousands of teachers, building a high speed rail network across the country, refitting every building to be energy efficient and doing a massive solar and wind build-out to reduce dependence on oil, well, the US would rather turn Afghans and Pakistanis into a fine red mist.

That fine red mist is what’s keeping the American economy from going under entirely. And so, even if it’s the wrong thing to do, even if it’s the graveyard of America’s Empire, the war will continue.

I should note once again that I'm one of the few people I know who doesn't claim to have implacably opposed the idea of an invasion of Iraq, and who similarly isn't reflexively opposed to the idea of military intervention in Afghanistan. In both cases, though, I do require a believable understanding of purpose: what we hope to accomplish and, at least roughly, how we expect to accomplish it.

The Bush regime tried several substantially different explanations for why we had to invade Iraq, but all of them were so far from credible that it seemed clear the regimistas didn't believe any of them either. (Even with the shoddy job most of the Infotainment News media were doing "reporting" the issues, it was hard not to see that even if you tried to take any of the regime justifications for war seriously, the "evidence" presented was dubious, to put it mildly.) What was clear was that, for reasons we were free to speculate about, the various subspecies of the Far Right that made up the regime were of one mind that an invasion was a splendid idea, and all that remained to determine was how to sell it to, or slip it past, a somewhat cranky American public. It's well to remember that, until the actual invasion, the most persistent objections to the idea came not from the Left but from the Right.

(It surely didn't help that Chimpy the Presidential Candidate had sought so often to score cheap political points by denouncing soft-headed Democrats' inclination to "nation-building." Perhaps in retrospect some of the regime strategists may have appreciated that the essentially isolationist rhetoric of the campaign may not have been the ideal way to prepared the country for a foreign policy that was going to feature unilateral American intervention anywhere and everywhere in the world that the regime felt like.)

In the case of Afghanistan, I believe that the original American intervention made sense and produced some real accomplishments, starting with the removal from power of the Taliban. That those accomplishments were shallower and less durable than they may have appeared at the time is undeniable. Could they have been built on, if the Bush regime had chosen to stay the course in Afghanistan rather than instigate a war in Iraq? I guess we'll never know.

At the same time, that doesn't mean that the case for military involvement now is in any way established. It has seemed increasingly clear that if the Obama administration actually has a defined plan of action for Afghanistan, it is afraid or simply unwilling to share it with the American people. And given the cost to the country in so many ways, if we don't have a reason for being there, we shouldn't be there.

Except that perhaps we can't afford to leave, because our own queasy economic disequilibrium depends on the money the war is pumping into it. As Ian puts it in an addendum to the above post he offered today ("American War Economics 101"):
I recently wrote that Obama has chosen to stay in Afghanistan because war spending is one of the only reliable forms of stimulus he has. I am baffled by many of the responses to that article. What do readers think would happen to the US economy if all that spending stopped and wasn’t replaced by anything?


POSTSCRIPT: FOURTH OF JULY THOUGHTS FROM IAN --
"WHAT WE SEE TODAY IS THE AMERICAN DREAM DYING"


Today Ian has some thoughts -- "American cannot be America at perpetual war" -- as a Canadian on Fourth of July:
I don’t primarily care about the US because of Canadian interests, I care about the US because I care about the American dream.

I sometimes think that many of us who aren’t Americans believe in American ideals more than American citizens do. We imbibe, in other countries, a particularly pure form of the American civil religion. We hear about doing the right thing, about always giving the accused a day in court, about freedom of speech, about division of power and about rights that are rights not because they are given by government to its subjects, but because they are inalienable human rights.

He recognizes that we haven't been terribly assiduous about living up to those lofty ideals, but argues that "both people and countries are defined not just by their failures, but by the ideals they strive towards."
America’s ideals, and its striving towards them, were what gripped the world and gave others hope. If the American experiment in freedom, in rights, could succeed, then perhaps it could succeed in other places.

But what we see today is the American Dream dying. Not just the dream of every generation being better off than the one before, though that’s dying, but the dream of a country where the citizens actually had rights, where they actually were free.

Then he invokes Thomas Jefferson's "prescient" warning "that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies."
I’m not so sure that banks are more dangerous than standing armies, but certainly the two of them together have brought the US to where it is.

The problem with standing armies is simple enough: if you’ve got one, politicians are always tempted to use it. When it’s a professional standing army, so the majority of the population is not effected by its use, that temptation increases. When the army is the most powerful (though not the most effective) in the world, well, that temptation increases even further.

War by necessity concentrates power in the executive, Ian cautions, which leads to the multitude of basic rights tramplings we've talked about so much here.
This is America?

This is what the American dream has come to?

Your founders warned you about this. Warned you that standing armies and unrestrained banks would cost you your freedom.

And the sad thing is that most Americans are ok with it.

Are Americans who don’t believe that everyone is endowed with inalienable rights still Americans worth the name?

That is my question to you on July 4th.

Happy Independence Day.
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8 Comments:

At 8:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ian's quote at the top:

"Obama has to stay in Afghanistan because war spending is one of the only reliable forms of stimulus he has. The economy is in bad shape, and it needs that stimulus. Since he can’t get a new large stimulus through Congress that means he MUST keep the Afghan war going if he doesn’t want an economic disaster, which would then lead to an electoral disaster."

I think this quote has to be parsed a bit. More than a bit. I'm not sure what I will say will make a whole lot of sense, because Ian left out all the subtleties in this, and I am really pissed off.

"Obama has to stay in Afghanistan because war spending is one of the only reliable forms of stimulus he has."

Yeah, right. And, what exactly does "reliable" mean? It means that Obama can't see beyond the war maching and his corporate masters, to actually do something that counts as an alternative stimulus.

"The economy is in bad shape, and it needs that stimulus."

No, the economy does not need the war stimulus. It's Obama's failure of leadership from the get go, the lack of a "stimulus" other than war that is enough to work. He's too timid or too stupid or too much in pay to the banksters or the corps to provide a stimulus other than "war".

"Since he can’t get a new large stimulus through Congress"

Uh, and why is that? See above.

that means he MUST keep the Afghan war going if he doesn’t want an economic disaster,

This is total BS, imho.

"which would then lead to an electoral disaster."

Ah, finally we get around to what Ian didn't spell out. Ian it seems is talking in pragmatic terms, and really obscuring what's what.

I am still confused by his take on this.

"An electoral disaster"? Who says? Frankly, I think Obama and the Dems totally deserve an electoral disaster. Not only on this stupid continuation of the war in Afghanistan, but for their total lack of leadership on what is best for the citizens of the US.

Valley Girl aka VG
(sorry, trouble signing in to blogger)

 
At 10:28 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

VG, I think the key here is to read Ian's own account rather than my plucked-out bits. He has been making a case not unlike yours since this administration took office, if not before (with its appointments). He was adamant as soon as the details of the stim "compromise" were made public that (a) it would fail, both because it wasn't large enough and because so much of the money was wrongly targeted, and (b) it would make it impossible to go back to Congress later to try to rectify the problems.

The necessity of war for Keynesian purposes is, of course, Ian's perception of the president's view of things. He's arguing that this president has no other "reliable" way of pumping stimulus into the economy. Ian has been clear and consistent about what he thinks this president is (and isn't) capable of doing; naturally his argument is based on that. Just as this president and his people were incapable of negotiating a workable stimulus program at the outset, they're no more capable of putting such a program together now than they are of flapping their arms and flying to the moon.

Ken

 
At 8:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been a fan of Ian's writing and analysis since he was blogging on BOPNews back in the day.

I've long wondered why we're slavishly following Bush's failed Afghanistan policies. Perhaps "military Keynesianism" is part of the explanation, but I doubt that's the sum of it.

The official explanations -- from Bush and now Obama -- never passed the laugh test. Although a reasonable case could be made for the invasion post-9/11, once we screwed up the best chance to get bin Laden and proved we couldn't even capture the one-eyed mullah, it was time to think about withdrawal.

Had we done things right from the start, with adequate troops and a real plan to corner bin Laden in Tora Bora, we might have been able to disable al Qaida and their Taliban hosts permanently. Maybe. As it was, we could have settled for what we had -- al Qaida largely driven from Afghanistan, the Taliban licking its wounds, the training camps demolished and the population largely untouched -- and then left to concentrate on more sophisticated ways of containing terrorism through international law enforcement.

The arrant nonsense about freedom and winning hearts and minds was completely discredited back in Vietnam. Does anyone outside of the teabagger cretins actually listen to that stuff?

So why are we determined to spend the next generation destroying ourselves and the Afghans -- aside from military Keynesianism?

Perhaps we're sticking around the neighborhood because Afghanistan is one place where we've been able to build giant permanent military bases next door to Pakistan on one side and Iran on the other. You know -- just in case.

Then, of course, there's always that perennial cause for hanging on to demonstrably failed policies: An executive who refuses to be "the president who lost [fill in the country name]."

 
At 10:42 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Good thoughts, Anon. Thanks!

Ken

 
At 12:13 PM, Blogger Ian Welsh said...

Thanks for the kind words Ken.

Of course, I don't think that's what Obama "ought" to do. But from his perspective, it's all he can do. And honestly, he'd have to be an LBJ level arm-twister now to get through a proper stimulus, and if he was LBJ, well, we wouldn't be here (though we might still be in Afghanistan, LBJ was a warmonger himself, though he apparently at least had the decency to be tormented by the people dying.)

Obama had 1 1/2 chances to do this right. Once at the beginning of his reign, once after the wake up call of losing Kennedy's seat. He could still make a big bet and plunge in the TARP money, not into stimulus, but into a refit of the economy, which is what I would do (hundreds of billions is a LOT of money IF you spend it right.)

The problem is that Obama's policy team are, pardon the language, fucking incompetents. And to the extent they want to do the right thing, he won't listen to them anyway. You can get a lot of bang for 400 billion dollars (remember how much the cash for clunkers did with much less money) but you have to know how to spend money to get results, and Obama and his team don't.

From Obama's point of view, he's got no choice.

And yes, the Iraq war was a major stimulative matter for Bush. Take out all those multi-hundred billion dollar special appropriations and the economy would have crashed out much sooner.

 
At 4:10 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Welcome, Ian! And thanks for the amplification and expansion. It's somehow, um, reassuring (?) to know that there's something Team Obama COULD do but won't.

"Fucking incompetents" isn't the harshest description we've offered of the gaggle of White House geese -- not to mention their congressional counterparts. It's pretty descriptive, though!

Cheers,
Ken

 
At 6:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

VG here (sorry about not having my blogger id at the ready)

Ken, thanks for filling this out in your comment to me.

I really enjoy reading Ian's posts, and I did go back and read what you linked. And, yes, you are correct about Ian's views, which I find great reading, and generally don't differ with. I have great respect for him.

Hi Ian!

For whatever reason, maybe because I've missed a few posts, or because I was reading too literally (and again, I did go read the links you gave) I just didn't get it about the "why" of "Obama has to stay..." I mean, the "agent". Who says so?

Uh, sorry, my misinterpretation is hard to explain. I guess Ian just was too subtle for me! *g*

Oh, and as for me being "pissed off", that was absolutely not directed at you nor at Ian!!!! I am really pissed off with Obama. I see now how easy it is to leave out a few key words, thinking they go as "understood".

And, yes, re: the stimulus, and what Ian said, and has said! Like, reading his columns on the woeful stimulus is one of the reasons I pointed this out! He educated me on this.

 
At 7:57 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

There's a lot of that pissed-off feeling going around, VG. On the economic front, when President Obama put Larry Summers in charge of his economic team, with Timmy "Mr. Crash" Geithner at his side and all those other Wall Street and bankster types in attendance, we had a pretty good idea what we were in for.

Of course some of us allowed ourselves to believe that at some point either they would bend to reality or the president would seek somewhat broader economic advice. Ian never had any use for those illusions.

One of the reasons you have to love those right-wingers is that while they love to pooh-pooh the Keynesian concept of spending to stimulate the economy, whether it's the sainted Ronald Reagan or the littlest George Bush, they always know how to rack up those deficits like nobody's business -- much of the money dumped into wasteful military spending unquestionably moved around.

Sure, it's the worst kind of stimulative spending, from both the social and the economic point of view, but it's the kind they can live with. And as Ian is pointing out, "military Keynesianism" is the kind of stimulus that Obama now can't live without.

Ken

 

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