Archives: 08/2010

Are Our Goals in Afghanistan ‘Fairly Modest’?

In an interview that aired yesterday on CBS’s Early Show, President Obama said his objective for Afghanistan is “fairly modest.”

On its face, the mission seems modest enough: “don’t allow terrorists to operate from this region; don’t allow them to create big training camps and to plan attacks against the US homeland with impunity.” In reality, such a policy is not modest in the least. A commitment to never allow terrorists to resurface not only serves as a convenient rationale to prolong the mission but also as an open-ended justification to intervene anywhere in the world without hesitation.

Moreover, the president claims that strengthening the capacity of a sovereign Afghan government will enhance America’s security, but the basis of this correlation is never explicitly clarified. It’s also unclear how promoting “a more capable, accountable and effective” Afghan government; cracking down on the cultivation of illegal narcotics; providing economic assistance to a Pakistani government that supports the very insurgents our soldiers are fighting; and enforcing Western rule of law is “fairly modest.” To imagine that we can create a functioning economy and bring major improvements to state institutions through some “government in a box,” social-engineering laboratory underscores the ignorance and arrogance of our government planners.

If indeed our goal is to monitor terrorists and prevent the creation of big training camps, rather than propping up a failed state, U.S. leaders should scale-down to a narrower counterterrorism mission that can assemble quickly and strike effectively and cheaply at “real” enemies.

Lately, it has become popular to endorse peace talks with the Taliban. After nearly a decade at war, any face-saving way out sounds intuitively appealing. But this policy prescription is not the panacea that it is made out be. Indeed, such a power-sharing deal may open a Pandora’s box.

For the U.S. and NATO, the red line to their nation-building endeavor is the Afghan constitution. Not only is this document the foundation of Afghanistan’s democratic political institutions (wobbly and imperfect as they may be), but it also enshrines the legal and political rights of the Afghan people we ostensibly seek to protect. For the U.S. and NATO to scale down its presence in Afghanistan–and because there is no assurance that the Taliban will adhere to these new political and social conditions–peace talks implicitly demand a third-party with the wherewithal to enforce the terms of any power-sharing agreement. Enter: a prolonged U.S.-NATO occupation of Afghanistan.

Unless the Taliban acquiesce to the norms introduced since the 2001 invasion, there is little to stop them from committing actions in flagrant violation of any shared agreement. In this respect, peace talks with the senior Taliban leadership must commit the residual presence of U.S. troops long after our official date of withdrawal.

In short, no agreement, law, treaty, or contract is self-reinforcing. And unless the United States is prepared to enforce the conditions of a power-sharing agreement, it should  renounce its commitment to spread the legal rights articulated in the Afghan constitution.

Matlock’s Medicare Pitch Ruled Out of Order

FactCheck.org says that in an ad purchased with your tax dollars, actor Andy Griffith (a.k.a., the sheriff of Mayberry and Matlock) used a “weasel word” to mislead Medicare enrollees about how ObamaCare will affect them:

Griffith tells his fellow senior citizens, “like always, we’ll have our guaranteed [Medicare] benefits.” But the truth is that the new law is guaranteed to result in benefit cuts for one class of Medicare beneficiaries — those in private Medicare Advantage plans…

[T]he term “guaranteed” is a weasel word — a qualifier that sucks the meaning out of a phrase in the way that weasels supposedly suck the contents out of an egg. It may sound to the casual listener as though this ad is saying that the benefits of all Medicare recipients are guaranteed to stay the same — and that may well be the way the ad’s sponsors wish listeners to hear it. But what the administration is really saying is that only those benefits that are guaranteed in law will remain the same.

FactCheck.org neglects to mention that ObamaCare will weaken the guarantee behind those “guaranteed” benefits, too.  Medicare’s chief actuary Richard Foster notes that ObamaCare ratchets down Medicare’s price controls, which will “possibly jeopardiz[e] access to care for beneficiaries.”  That’s not to say that the old price-control scheme is any better than the new one.  It just means that the Obama administration is being even less honest and more weaselly than FactCheck.org says.

And they’re dragging Matlock down with them.

With Tax Increases Looming, CBO Does About-Face and Frets about Deficits and Debt

Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, the Congressional Budget Office follows a predictable pattern of endorsing policies that result in bigger government. During the debate about the so-called stimulus, for instance, CBO said more spending and higher deficits would be good for the economy. It then followed up that analysis by claiming that the faux stimulus worked even though millions of jobs were lost. Then, during the Obamacare debate, CBO actually claimed that a giant new entitlement program would reduce deficits.

Now that tax increases are the main topic (because of the looming expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax bills), CBO has done a 180-degree turn and has published a document discussing the negative consequences of too much deficits and debt. A snippet:

[P]ersistent deficits and continually mounting debt would have several negative economic consequences for the United States. Some of those consequences would arise gradually: A growing portion of people’s savings would go to purchase government debt rather than toward investments in productive capital goods such as factories and computers; that “crowding out” of investment would lead to lower output and incomes than would otherwise occur.

…[A] growing level of federal debt would also increase the probability of a sudden fiscal crisis, during which investors would lose confidence in the government’s ability to manage its budget, and the government would thereby lose its ability to borrow at affordable rates. …If the United States encountered a fiscal crisis, the abrupt rise in interest rates would reflect investors’ fears that the government would renege on the terms of its existing debt or that it would increase the supply of money to finance its activities or pay creditors and thereby boost inflation.

At some point, even Republicans should be smart enough to figure out that this game is rigged. Then again, the GOP controlled Congress for a dozen years and failed to reform either CBO or its counterpart on the revenue side, the Joint Committee on Taxation (which is infamous for its assumption that tax policy has no impact on overall economic performance).