America’s Victory … or Al Qaeda’s?*

America’s Victory … or Al Qaeda’s?

The April 19, 2020 TLR highlighted America’s mountain of debt …, a substantial portion of which was borrowed to fund America’s War on Terror. Prior to 9/11, America’s national debt stood at $5.7 trillion. U.S. Federal debt now stands at more than $25 trillion. Over the past 19 years America has added State and local debt obligations – they now exceed $100 trillionÔÇö and has outstanding corporate debt of ~$30 trillion, student loan debt of over $1.5 trillion, mortgage debt of over $9 trillion, auto loans of over $1 trillion, and credit card debt of over $1 trillion. That’s an awful lot of borrowed money. Some believe it’s too much, while others believe that America can endlessly print Dollars (see “Will Modern Monetary Theory Work?” in the April 10, 2019 TLR). Many are concerned that it can never be repaid, analogizing America’s indebtedness to that of a profligate individual.

When the cost of servicing debt is more than an individual’s income, he is living beyond his means …, and he may well be on the road to bankruptcy and ruin. Perhaps he has funded his lifestyle with a sizable home mortgage and then borrowed more to build an impregnable security system and a personal security team … and added to his burdens by incurring debt to fund a lavish lifestyle …, much as the U.S. has done post-9/11 by incurring Federal debt to wage wars, enhance homeland security, buy and deploy surveillance systems, enhanced weaponry, cruise missiles, advanced aircraft and troops in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe while at the same time lowering taxes on its citizens. (Such an approach to governance was once known as “guns and butter.”) Evidenced by its debt-to-GDP ratio, perhaps the U.S. since 9/11, like any number of individuals, has been living beyond its means?

Since 9/11, America has been spending more – far more – than it’s been earning. The last time America had a budget surplus was in fiscal 2000 – it’s had a budget deficit in every year since. What America earns annually is called its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The amount of Federal debt today is ~110{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} of America’s GDP (exceeded globally only by the debt percentages of Greece, Italy, Portugal and Japan … not exactly role models for fiscal probity). The gap between America’s debt and its GDP, wide as it is, is now increasing at an accelerated pace because of Covid-19. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Federal government will run a deficit this year of $3.7 trillion, an amount far in excess of the largest budget deficit anywhere at any time … ever. The World Bank has calculated that every percentage point of national debt above a ratio of 77{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} slows economic growth by 1.7{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35}/year.

Why did America amass so much debt?

America dug a major portion of its debt hole in its pursuit of the War on Terror. The costs of America’s invasions and adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq alone cost the Federal government $6.4 trillion …, plus an expected $1 trillion yet to be paid in benefit claims and disability payments. That amount does not include the private sector security reaction to the collapse of the Twin Towers, or the Federal, State and local costs for airport security, surveillance, enhanced personnel and IT, or the loss of wages, business income and worktime caused by America’s obsessive focus on security at every possible level, estimated to add several trillion dollars more – after 9/11, it seemed that virtually every office building had to have its own lobby security, a need that hadn’t existed before. It also omits the economic and political distractions caused by the excessive focus on security or the impact that focus – and its enormous financial investment – had on the subprime crisis, the Great Recession and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Was the War on Terror worth those costs?

Osama bin Laden founded Al Qaeda with the goal of toppling America as global hegemon. Targeting the World Trade Center Towers was an ingenious means of realizing that goal. After all, the Twin Towers stood as a symbol of America’s stature. They were located at the center of America’s financial engine, the capital city of Western civilization. The success of the attack sent a message about America’s vulnerability and financial fragility. In response, America decided to prove that it was neither fragile nor vulnerable by building a security structure intended to be impregnable …, which it largely did. However, in doing so, the U.S. fell into bin Laden’s trap, propelling the U.S. into 19 years of war in which there was no victor, and leading to the creation and spread of terror groups, the disintegration of order, balance and alliances across significant parts of three continents, and the displacement of millions. It resulted in the U.S. waging its War on Terror – on perhaps a few tens of thousands of anti-American terrorists – on multiple fronts, fighting separate wars in Afghanistan and against Al Qaeda, ISIS and other Islamist extremist organizations … and sucking America into a catastrophic war in Iraq. (Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s security adviser, called the Iraq War “unnecessary, self-damaging, demoralizing, delegitimizing, and governed primarily by simplistic military assumptions….”) Furthermore, it led the U.S. to impose a series of “homeland security” systems and intrusive security laws, procedures and mechanisms to “protect” Americans, the value of which has been severely questioned (for example, in a 2016 Atlantic article entitled “Is America any Safer?”). America’s reaction to 9/11, and the consequences of that reaction, have greatly exceeded bin Laden’s wildest hopes and dreams.

America’s security efforts cost it money, a great of money, trillions of dollars.

Al Qaeda has been crushed. Its remnants barely exist. It has had only a minor impact in the U.S. and Europe, and the U.S. has killed or captured the majority of its leaders, including bin Laden, preventing it from expanding its influence outside a narrow Middle Eastern base. But that doesn’t mean that America won its War on Terror … or that it defeated bin Laden or frustrated his goal.

In addition to distracting America from what, in retrospect, many deem to have been its fundamental economic, political and philosophical needs and functions, America’s War on Terror sank America deeply into debt. It’s one of the reasons why America’s brand of capitalism and democracy and imperialism has been brought into question, why its guns and butter policies have spurred income inequality, why it hasn’t allocated sufficient financial resources to infrastructure, why its Social Security and Medicare reserves are almost depleted … and why other proffered governmental programs necessarily have been subsumed to the War Effort.

Al Qaeda has been defeated …, but America has not been victorious. ISIS, Boko Haram and others have picked up terrorism’s banner. America’s economic and global leadership is how threatened by its heavy debt load. The question that historians will debate is whether bin Laden attained his goal by triggering the degradation of America’s financial, economic and moral hegemony, the misallocation of its financial and human resources and the distraction of its government from the business of creating wealth and furthering domestic stability.

Finally (from a good friend)

For those who don’t know:

A dime has 118 ridges around the edge.
A cat has 32 muscles in each ear.
A crocodile cannot stick out its tongue.
A dragonfly has a life span of 24 hours.
A goldfish has a memory span of three seconds.
A “jiffy” is an actual unit of time equaling 1/100th of a second.
A shark is the only fish that can blink with both eyes.
A snail can sleep for three years.
Al Capone’s business card said he was a used furniture dealer.
All 50 states are listed across the top of the Lincoln Memorial on the back of the $5 bill.
Almonds are a member of the peach family.
An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain.
Butterflies taste with their feet.
Cats have over one hundred vocal sounds. Dogs only have about 10.
“Dreamt” is the only English word that ends in the letters “mt.”
February 1865 is the only month in recorded history not to have a full moon.
In the last 4,000 years, no new animals have been domesticated.
If the population of China walked past you, in single file, the line would never end because of the rate of reproduction.
If you are an average American, in your whole life, you will spend an average of 6 months waiting at red lights.
It’s impossible to sneeze with your eyes open.
Leonardo Da Vinci invented the scissors.
Maine is the only state whose name is just one syllable.
No word in the English language rhymes with month, orange, silver, or purple.
Peanuts are one of the ingredients of dynamite.
Rubber bands last longer when refrigerated.
“Stewardesses” is the longest word typed with only the left hand and “lollipop” with the right.
The average person’s left hand does 56{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} of the typing.
The cruise liner, QE2, moves only six inches for each gallon of diesel that it burns.
The microwave was invented after a researcher walked by a radar tube and a chocolate bar melted in his pocket.
The sentence “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” uses every letter of the alphabet.
The winter of 1932 was so cold that Niagara Falls froze completely solid.
The words “racecar,” “kayak” and “level” are the same whether they are read left to right or right to left (palindromes).
There are 293 ways to make change for a dollar.
There are more chickens than people in the world.
There are only four words in the English language that end in “dous”: tremendous, horrendous, stupendous, and hazardous.
There are two words in the English language that have all five vowels in order: “abstemious” and “facetious.”
There’s no Betty Rubble in the Flintstones Chewables Vitamins.
Tigers have striped skin, not just striped fur.
TYPEWRITER is the longest word using the letters only on one row of the keyboard.
Winston Churchill was born in a ladies’ room during a dance.
Women blink nearly twice as much as men.
Your stomach has to produce a new layer of mucus every two weeks, otherwise it will digest itself.

*┬® Copyright 2020 by William Natbony. All rights reserved.

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