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How the American War on Drugs Demolished Guatemala

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Guatemala earlier this week to bestow millions of dollars in new foreign aid on that government. The Biden administration is pretending that giving more US tax dollars to Central American governments will miraculously reduce the surge of illegal immigrants that Biden’s appointees are welcoming in Arizona, Texas, and elsewhere. The purpose of Harris’s trip and the new handouts is not to solve that problem but simply to make the Biden administration appear to give a damn about the issue.

In her official statements during the visit, Harris included no admission of how the U.S. drug war has been a pox on Guatemala. Her silence was no surprise considering Joe Biden’s nearly half century of fanaticism for that pointless crusade.

I learned about the wreckage of U.S. drug policies when I visited Guatemala in 1992. I had been writing articles bashing drug prohibition for almost a decade at that point. But before that trip, I had only vague notions of the ravages being inflicted on hapless foreigners.

I went to Guatemala to give a couple speeches on the follies of protectionist trade policy, spurred by the publication the previous year of my book The Fair Trade Fraud (St. Martin’s Press). I was hosted by the president of Francisco Marroquín University, Manuel Ayau, a genial yet fearless fighter for free markets. I didn’t realize until I arrived that Ayau had recently been the presidential candidate of the “party of organized violence” and was on several left-wing “death lists.” Guatemala had shortages of almost everything except political assassinations. Ayau, a compact dynamo, was hepped up because he’d just gotten a laser sighting attachment for his Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry caliber .44 Magnum. As his chauffeur-bodyguard drove us around the capital city, Ayau trained that red dot on all sorts of targets. I was happy I was sitting behind him.

Guatemala was a struggling Third World nation striving to overcome decades of genocide and civil strife. Unfortunately, it was also increasingly victimized by chemical warfare. To blight any suspected marijuana or poppy plants, the U.S. government was dousing broad swaths of Guatemala with toxins to preemptively destroy anything growing below. The year before I visited, a group of Guatemalan beekeepers sued the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), claiming that the spraying had destroyed half of their industry. Herbicides had contaminated local drinking water and many residents had required hospitalization after exposure to the chemicals. A Guatemalan human rights commission asserted that the spraying had destroyed so many farmers’ corn and bean crops that serious food shortages could result.

U.S. policymakers presumed that the solution was to further militarize the drug war. After farmers began shooting at the planes, the U.S. government sent in Black Hawk helicopter gunships to accompany the crop dusters and suppress peasant revolts. I called the U.S. embassy to ask about the controversy and was told that the complaints came from “illiterate Indians” and were nothing but “drug war disinformation.”

Outside of Guatemala City, I met farmers and small businessmen and pumped them for information on the U.S. drug war. A manager of a large farm in central Guatemala told me that many of his shipments of yucca cane to Europe were rejected because they arrived in Rotterdam and were rotting as a result of DEA’s drug spraying. Another farmer bewailed how his harvests exported to the United States were routinely destroyed during Customs Service searches for illicit drugs (he never received compensation even though no drugs were found). A Guatemalan banker told me that the DEA was involved in shooting down or forcing crash landings of small planes suspected of carrying drugs. A prominent Guatemalan politician told me, “If you criticize the Drug Enforcement Agency, you might lose your visa” and be banned from visiting the U.S. Guatemalans were outraged when the U.S. ambassador revoked the visa of a Guatemalan judge who refused to vigorously prosecute an alleged drug smuggler.

After I returned to Washington, I hounded drug policy activists, human rights groups, and environmentalists to learn more about the U.S. drug war run amok south of the border. A Peace Corps volunteer who had spent eighteen months working with Guatemalan farmers told me that the pilots were spraying much more toxic concentrations than the US embassy admitted. No wonder crops were dying.

I flogged the Guatemalan debacle in a Washington Times op-ed: “U.S. anti-drug activities are wrecking the environment, terrorizing the people, and subverting the market economies that the United States loves to champion.” U.S. antidrug money was pouring into the coffers of a military perennially notorious for committing genocide against the Mayans and other minorities. I observed: “Giving the Guatemalan army more weapons to fight marijuana growers is like giving bazookas to the Mafia to combat jaywalking in New York City.”

The piece also highlighted the imperious behavior of U.S. government agents throughout Central America: “DEA agents have often behaved acted as if the drug war gives them a right to impose martial law on foreign nations. In Bolivia, DEA agents have donned black masks and gone out and destroyed newly paved roads in the jungle in order to prevent drug traffickers from utilizing them. In Mexico, Guatemala, and elsewhere, DEA agents have kidnapped those accused of drug crimes and taken them to the United States.” The article concluded: “Exporting our drug war to Guatemala and other Latin American nations is Yankee Imperialism at its worst.”

My article enraged DEA chief Robert Bonner. “Columnist Sprays Tons of Misinformation over Your Pages” was the headline the Washington Times used for his response to my piece. Bonner claimed that I had done “a great disservice to your readers” and declared: “We certainly are not behaving as if the ‘drug war gives us the right to impose martial law on foreign nations,’ as Mr. Bovard contends.” (Bonner became a top Homeland Security honcho after 9/11.) Bonner insisted that the herbicide the DEA was using—Roundup—was practically harmless unless adults were consuming ten ounces per day. Since that time, Roundup has been recognized as a carcinogen and more than twenty nations have restricted or banned its use.

Bonner’s denials did not deter the DEA from wreaking havoc throughout Central America in the following decades. But U.S. policy “had no impact on the amount of drugs” shipped from Guatemala to the U.S., the General Accounting Office concluded the following year. Guatemala has “become the transshipment point for more than 75 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States,” the Boston Globe reported in 2005. Massive US aid for the Guatemalan military became a propellant for drug smuggling, which became spearheaded by top generals and elite special forces units.

It would be naïve to expect the Biden administration to embrace any solution to a problem that involves decreasing U.S. government power. But giving more money to Central American regimes will do nothing to compensate farmers, businessmen, and others still victimized by the U.S. war on drugs. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans will continue to ignore the carnage that is inflicted abroad in their name.

This article was originally featured at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and is republished with permission.

How the Corporate Press Pushes War

Fifty years ago, the New York Times began publishing excerpts from a massive secret report called the “History of U.S. Decision-Making Process on Vietnam Policy.” Those excerpts, which quickly became known as the “Pentagon Papers,” provided shocking revelations of perennial government deceit and spurred an epic clash over the First Amendment. Unfortunately, many of the media outlets that will celebrate the Pentagon Papers anniversary have long since become lap dogs of perfidious politicians dragging America into new foreign conflicts.

The report that became the Pentagon Papers was a secret study begun in 1967 analyzing where the Vietnam War had gone awry. The 7,000-page tome showed that presidents and military leaders had been conning the American people on Southeast Asia ever since the Truman administration. Like many policy autopsies, the report was classified as secret and completely ignored by the White House and federal agencies that most needed to heed its lessons. New York Times editor Tom Wicker commented in 1971 that “the people who read these documents in the Times were the first to study them.”

Unfortunately, few Washingtonians bothered to read the Pentagon Papers after their disclosure and missed lessons that could have spared the nation fresh debacles. More than 30 years before the Bush administration exploited the 9/11 attacks to invade Iraq, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations dishonestly exploited alleged terrorist attacks to justify boosting U.S. military intervention in Vietnam. After its troops gunned down dozens of people at a Buddhist protest in 1963, the government of South Vietnam falsely claimed it was a Viet Cong terrorist attack. President Lyndon Johnson told Congress on May 18, 1964 that “the Viet Cong guerrillas, under orders from their Communist masters in the North, have intensified terrorist actions against the peaceful people of South Vietnam. This increased terrorism requires increased response.” At that time, the U.S. was carrying out an array of “non-attributable hit-and-run” raids against North Vietnam, including providing American planes that Thai pilots used to bomb and strafe North Vietnamese villages a few months later. But U.S. aggression was kept secret from both Congress and the American people.

Read the rest of this article at The American Conservative

The Cult of Keynes and Its Origins

The British Austrian economist W.H. Hutt was a great critic of Keynes’s economic theories. However, his speculations on why the New Economics revolution happened are even more fascinating. Hutt shows it to be a fundamentally dishonest undertaking. Keynes held a long-standing belief in inflation and public spending. His General Theory was the culmination of his search for an intellectual foundation on which to support his belief. Yet it was an unstable foundation. Had he stated his thesis in clear terms, it would have been seen as noncontroversial in some parts and in the rest untrue. The staggering complexity, deliberate obscurantism and “dialectical tricks” of The General Theory were part of a necessary stratagem of disguise.1

At the time of publication of Keynes’s General Theory, the economy of the United Kingdom was in deep stagnation. Britain had been suffering from chronic levels of mass unemployment. Hutt diagnosed the situation as a pricing problem. Many wages were fixed above market-clearing levels. This came about because a deliberate monetary deflation had been instituted to compensate for the wartime inflation. This was done in order to maintain gold convertibility of the British pound at the prewar gold backing. However, some segments of the labor market had fixed wages at higher nominal levels which perhaps were above market clearance before and were surely much more so after the rollback. Wage rigidity was primarily the doing of labor unions through strike threats and organized coercion. Generous welfare incentive payments, which encouraged the idle to remain unemployed, were a contributing factor.

Depressed conditions made labor less valuable to business firms. Unemployed workers could have worked at some wage. A fair-value offer would be lower in bad times than in good times, but productive labor always has some value to the employer. Yet the price rigidities and disincentives made idleness (perhaps supplemented by off-the-books side hustles) more attractive than regular employment.

Reading between the lines, contemporary British economists were aware that there was no fundamental reason that a free market in labor could not put people back to work. Prices above market clearance result in a surplus. Profit motivation by business firms, and competition in labor markets among workers would push wages down until the labor surplus was no more. Markets can and will clear—at higher quantities and lower prices. Understanding this point did not require an entirely new theory of economics.

British economists were also aware that the main barriers to wages that would clear labor markets were political. The unions were a formidable foe. Hutt described “the belief of some economists that any policy which aims at the removal of man-made barriers … to the pricing of outputs at market-clearing levels, is politically impossible.”2 F.A. Hayek on the same issue wrote that Keynes assumed that “a direct lowering of money wages could be brought about only by a struggle so painful and prolonged that it could not be contemplated.”

The cure for the British disease was, then, a political one. Had economists and politicians attempted to marshal public opinion in favor of full-on confrontation against the institutional barriers preventing the price system from working, then the economy could have recovered. The inflexible wages preventing the full participation of labor in productive activity would have flexed.

Hutt hoped for the emergence of “a really great statesman, with wise and courageous advisers” who would tell the public the truth: that stagnation was caused by the monopolistic behavior of labor unions; that unemployment benefits discouraged production; and that market pricing—even if some prices were lower—would bring better days ahead for all.3 If influencers had told the hard truth, then public opinion might have responded.

Yet it was not so. Those in position to speak out were unwilling to do so, for fear of losing votes and ending careers. And due to a British common law tradition of respect for labor unions, such criticism would not have gone down well. The loss of dole would be equally unwelcome. The cancel culture of the day had its way.

Hutt laid the blame equally on the economics profession for knowing—but not telling—the truth.4 Hutt gives the example of Pigou, whose published work demonstrated that he understood the issue. However, “he still conspicuously refrained from recommending the only remaining non-inflationary solution, that of pricing labour’s inputs lower so that they would be within reach of final consumers’ pockets.”5

Political and economic elites began to look for an easier way out. Having ruled out the truth, “they groped for other diagnoses.”6 The problem was how to avoid the pain of confronting the real issue. The solution was inflation. In proper doses, and if precisely targeted, it was thought, inflation could break the logjam. If consumer goods prices rose against rigid nominal wages, real wages would fall until they reached labor’s marginal product. Businesses could then hire. And labor could hold its head high, and proudly pretend that it had not taken a pay cut. All gain, no pain.

Thus began a subtle shift in elite opinion, which had up to that time considered inflation a shameful thing. While openly advocating monetary debasement was not (quite) yet respectable in British policy circles, “the notion that ‘cheap money’ could bring prosperity and mitigate unemployment without serious contra-effects was growing in industrial and business circles in both continents,” wrote Hutt.7

The notion began to catch on that, if aggregate purchasing power was deficient because aggregate supply was deficient (owing to input prices and output prices having been forced—by trade union or other monopolistic pressures—above full employment levels) this deficiency might be remedied in some manner by the stimulation of aggregate demand.8

The obstacle to this path was Say’s law. This is the name we now give to a truth articulated by Ricardo, Mill, and Say during the general glut debate. This was an eighteenth-century controversy between Malthus and the three classical economists on the proposition that depressions were caused by an oversupply of goods in general. Looked at differently this could be described as a deficiency of demand in general. Ricardo, Mill, and Say observed that the supply of one good constitutes a demand for some other good, supplied by another producer. If every demand constitutes a supply and vice versa, then demand in general and supply in general are identical. They are only different aspects of the same phenomenon. While there can be a glut of a particular good, demand in general can never be excess or deficient relative to supply.

Say’s law and price flexibility formed Hutt’s two-pronged critique of the policy of inflation. Hutt argued that demand in Britain was indeed deficient, but only because supply was deficient. And supply was deficient, because the services of some workers’ labor were not priced for market clearance. Those workers were idle, because employers were not willing or able to raise their bids.

Hutt writes that Keynesianism before Keynes (stimulation of demand through inflation) was “widespread” in Britain and the US. Keynes was known to have drawn inspiration from the monetary cranks—a term applied to a collection of historical thinkers who have advanced schemes for printing the way to prosperity.9 Hayek’s article on Foster and Catchings deals with an American version of Keynes’s paradox of thrift ten years before.

Hutt (citing Keynes’s biographer, Roy Harrod) states that Keynes had spent at least a dozen years prior to the publication of his General Theory fixated on his lifetime goal. He badly wanted to be the advocate of inflation and public spending. He intuitively felt that this was what the country needed. Finding defensible economic reasoning was another thing. A century of sound economic theory stood in his way. And there was that pesky Say’s law. Inflation was still disreputable, even “suicidal.”10 He could not see a clear path forward.

Keynes spent the 1920s and ’30s “searching for arguments to support a conviction.”11 Hutt explains,

His “hunch” throughout was that control of expenditure through monetary and fiscal policy could solve the problems of maladjustment expressed in unemployment. And he seems originally to have believed that this could be done without the disastrous sociological consequences of [inflation]. His intellectual speculations consisted, I think, of a groping around—with great ingenuity—for ways of thinking which appeared to support his “hunch,” selecting and eagerly clutching those which appeared to do so, and inhibiting those which did not. The process was unconscious.12

Because the conclusion was fixed, only the means of reaching it needed to change:

Supremely confident, conscious of his reputation and rhetorical skill, he appears to have been self-critical only when his previous speculations had tended to lead him away from instead of toward conclusions to which he was intuitively attached. When he discarded concepts and apparatus which he had earlier introduced, it was because he had found more convincing ways, although sometimes quite different and inconsistent ways, of stating a case which, in its essence, he had not modified…. while his convictions about policy seem indeed to have been unshakable, he constantly changed the arguments, assumptions, terminology, and formulas which could be used to justify those convictions. In other words, his fundamental ideas were subject to change only in respect of the particular concepts, formulas, or jargon in which he dressed them.13

Proving that markets don’t clear without violating the laws of economics was roughly as difficult as proving 1+1 =3. This task required an extraordinary degree of rhetoric to paper over the flagrant violations of logic. An initial attempt in 1930, Keynes’s A Treatise on Money, failed when Hayek tore it to shreds in a devastating review.14 The goal remained, but a different route was needed.

Where he had failed once, Keynes succeeded with The General Theory. Perhaps the most obscurantist work in the history of economic thought, the book was lipstick on the inflationary pig. Through a rehabilitation of the discarded monetary cranks, a fallacious attempt to refute Say’s law, a policy of spending and inflation, was derived. It was necessary to dress up the conclusion in a model of staggering complexity so as to have plausible deniability that it was, in reality, so simple a thing. Even Keynes supporters acknowledge that the book is poorly written and impenetrable. The impenetrable nature of the writing was a feature, not a bug.

Hutt explained, “an inspired insight enabled the Keynesians to perceive that, if inflation were called by another name, ‘the maintenance of effective demand’ for instance, [it could] become respectable and even respected”15 Hutt’s commentary continues:

But Keynes, perceiving that it would be politically suicidal to mention the unmentionable, saw a way out through the most successful conjuring trick in history which, deceiving an audience that wished to be deceived, led to its being hailed as a great discovery, as revolutionary and important as Einstein’s theory of relativity. I am not accusing Keynes of intellectual dishonesty. He deceived himself with his “conjuring trick.”16

The success of The General Theory came, in Hutt’s view, from three factors. First, it gave academic legitimacy to inflationism, which governments wanted to do anyway. They had only been prevented because it was widely considered to be an unsound policy. Second, it provided an escape hatch from what Hutt described as “the ‘political impossibility’ of persuading any government to protect or facilitate [market pricing of labor].17

The third and final component was as a theoretical bridge to the policies that Keynes had always wanted. Hutt explained Keynes’s joy over the success of The General Theory this way: “That Keynes was exhilarated is understandable. He had found arguments to support policies which he knew were bound to be extraordinarily popular and influential” and “[t]he thesis that underconsumption is the origin of recession is, of course, tailor-made for political acceptability. It meant an enormous advantage for the popularity of ‘the new economics’ against the old.”18

Hayek famously decided not to write a critique of The General Theory. Had he done so, would the revolution have been stopped? Many since have said so, but perhaps not. In his magisterial The Keynesian Episode: A Reassessment, Hutt says that the success was largely a factor of Keynes’s personality, charisma, and immense influence within the academy and in the political sphere. So great was his reach that his opposition could be fatal to a career in public life.

It was almost as if Keynes had something akin to Jedi mind tricks. Hutt was befuddled that eminent economists—men who had demonstrated a sound grasp of the discipline—would inexplicably become brain dead in Keynes’s presence. He could win any argument in person, but when forced to defend his points in writing—giving opponents time to penetrate what Murray N. Rothbard called “a vast network of fallacy”—not so much.19 Hutt documents a “retreat” by Keynes, and by his followers after he left the scene. The major original thesis of the work, unemployment equilibrium, was quickly seen to be a fallacy. From there the major propositions of his work fell one by one, either to friendly fire as his followers tactically retreated, or through hostile attack.

Yet The General Theory created an enduring structure that remains in place with no foundations. Hutt, in 1974, wrote:

Paradoxically [these economists] still seem to leave the impression that, after all, Say’s law does not work—at least not in the manner in which the old general equilibrium analysis suggested that it did; and they suggest that in some way the world must feel grateful to Keynes, not so much for his contributions to economic method as for the beneficial policy consequences of his General Theory up to some unspecified turning-point some years ago.20

Like a tailored suit, the revolution was custom fit to the policy of inflation and debt. It succeeded due to its failures. On reading the book, Hutt though it would “have a quite unparalleled influence by reason of what [he] judged to be its demerits as a contribution to thought.”21 He described the revolution as “a maze [that] gradually led the majority of economists … [in] which many are still lost.”22 Keynes developed the theory to support his lifelong goal, only to see politicians and central bankers use his revolution to support their goals. The financial media and Fed economists seek to promote consumption, Congress is addicted to “stimulus,” and Fed economists believe that by printing money they are supporting production.

Hutt’s speculations go a long way toward answering the question of how we got here. Say’s law is often stated as “Supply creates its own demand.” The Keynesian revolution demonstrates the inverse in the realm of intellectual production: demand for economic fallacies creating its own supply.

  • 1.W.H. Hutt, The Keynesian Episode: A Reassessment (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1980), p. 27.
  • 2.Hutt, The Keynesian Episode, p. 70.
  • 3.Hutt, The Keynesian Episode, pp. 61 (quote), 55, 56.
  • 4.William H. Hutt, “Illustrations of Keynesianism,” in Individual Freedom: Selected Works of WIlliam H Hutt, ed. Svetozar Pejovich and David Klingaman (Greenwood Press, 1975), p. 57.
  • 5.Hutt, The Keynesian Episode, p. ??.
  • 6.Hutt, The Keynesian Episode, p. 71.
  • 7.Hutt, The Keynesian Episode, p. ??.
  • 8.Hutt, “Illustrations of Keynesianism,” p. 56.
  • 9.Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, scholar’s ed. (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute), p. 186.
  • 10.Hutt, The Keynesian Episode, p. 65.
  • 11.Hutt, The Keynesian Episode, p. ??.
  • 12.Hutt, The Keynesian Episode, p. 28.
  • 13.Hutt, The Keynesian Episode, p. ??.
  • 14.F.A. Hayek, “Reflections on the Pure Theory of Money of Mr. J.M. Keynes (1931, 1932),” in Prices and Production and Other Works: F.A. Hayek on Money, the Business Cycle, and the Gold Standard, ed. Joseph T. Salerno (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2008), pp. 423–85.
  • 15.Hutt, “Illustrations of Keynesianism,” p. 61.
  • 16.Hutt, “Illustrations of Keynesianism,” p. 65.
  • 17.Hutt, “Illustrations of Keynesianism,” pp. 64–65.
  • 18.Hutt, The Keynesian Episode, p. 34; and Hutt, “Illustrations of Keynesianism,” p. 60.
  • 19.Murray N. Rothbard, foreword to The Failure of the “New Economics”: An Analysis of the Keynesian Fallacies, by Henry Hazlitt (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2007), pp. xiii–xvi.
  • 20.William H. Hutt, A Rehabilitation of Say’s Law (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1974), p. 8.
  • 21.Hutt, The Keynesian Episode, p. ??.
  • 22.Hutt, The Keynesian Episode, p. 57.

This article was originally featured at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and is republished with permission.

Police Employee in Australia Caught Sexually Assaulting 13 Year Old in Elevator

Glenn Roche, 54, is a vile human being and thanks to surveillance footage from inside an elevator the world will now know just how vile. Also thanks to the surveillance footage from the elevator, this police employee will be going to jail.

On Thursday, Roche was found guilty of indecent assault of a child after frightful footage showed him sexually assault a 13-year-old girl inside an elevator.

Roche, an employee of the New South Wales police force in Sydney, Australia, is seen in the footage trapping the panic-stricken child in the elevator. After he chases her into the elevator, he blocks her exit as the doors close.

This child predator then begins repeatedly groping his victim as she frantically tries to escape his grasp. After a few utterly horrifying moments, the little girl was able to escape her attacker and was reunited with her parents and quickly told them what this monster had done.

Roche was then arrested and during the interview, he attempted to play it off as some game. But to the girl who was molested by this sicko, it was no game.

Roche told officers “my hands have slid up her body, as she slid to the ground.”

“My mind has gone off on a tangent like, this is a challenge, to me, I can get her and give her a kiss on the cheek like her two sisters and mum,” Roche said in the police interview, according to the NZ Herald.

In watching the video, it is clear that this was no game and the 13-year-old girl agrees. She explained to police that she was crying while trying to get away from him but he kept groping and kissing her.

The girl told police that he was squeezing her breasts while trapping her in the corner.

“My hand slid across there,” Roche told police, claiming there was no sexual intent.

“So there would have been some sort of contact without doubt,” he said. “Certainly no sexual gratification on my behalf.”

Roche then went on to blame the victim for the reason he groped her so much, claiming that it was her squirming and attempts to escape which made him do it.

“She contributed to that occurring by releasing her body weight and sliding through my hands,” this monster said.

After the investigation, the court did not believe his excuses and Roche was found guilty by the magistrate. Roche is set to be sentenced for his crimes in August, exactly what his sentence will be remains unclear.

However, he maintains he did nothing wrong in trapping a 13-year-old girl as she cried to escape, groping her, grabbing her breasts and kissing her. He remains on the NSW police department, however, he is currently suspended.

Warning, the video below is extremely disturbing.

Just last month, TFTP reported on a similar incident in which a parent caught a police officer in the act of molesting her daughter. Bristow police officer Bradley Don Goodin, was arrested in 2019 and charged with three counts of lewd molestation and two counts of child sexual abuse after the mother of his 9-year-old victim caught him in the act.

In May, Goodin pleaded guilty to the charges. The 9-year-old girl was one of three victims.

According to the US Attorney’s office for the Northern District of Oklahoma, Goodin, 46, pleaded guilty to abusive sexual contact with a child under 12 in Indian Country. As part of the plea agreement, he agreed to a sentence of 15 years in federal prison. U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell will make the final sentencing determination at a hearing set for Aug. 11, 2021.

This article was originally featured at The Free Thought Project and is republished with permission.

Despite Withdrawal, U.S. Commits Billions to Fund Afghan Military

U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan was meant to mark the end of the war in Afghanistan. As it stands, however, it seems that the administration is going through any hoops possible that might keep the war going and the US deeply invested in it.

The latest sign of the Afghan War to come was envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and a delegation committing the U.S. to $3.3 billion annually in direct funding to the Afghan military. This is just one aspect of all the U.S. aid to Afghanistan still being negotiated.

The U.S. spent decades designing an Afghan military that the country could never afford, and it was assumed the U.S. would be on the hook for some subsidy. The sheer size of the funding, however, points to a U.S. vision that they’re going to keep fighting a war, and doing it on the US dime.

This is a problem more than just for the $3.3 billion annually. U.S. officials, both military and diplomatic, have insisted that they will be supporting the Afghan government in the long run, just in ways that won’t require keeping the U.S. troops on the ground there.

Everything that is going to entail remains to be seen, but the Pentagon is envisioning $8.9 billion in “direct war costs” for Afghanistan in 2022. That’s direct war costs for a war that’s supposed to be over.

The Pentagon has called what’s going to happen an “over-the-horizon capability” involving forces positioned outside Afghanistan. Yet if this is a direct war cost, these forces are clearly going to be doing something direct in the war. The definitely-not-over war.

This article was originally featured at Antiwar.com and is republished with permission.

The Immortality of Lobbyists

Throughout much of human history, a political ruler was often considered to be only as good as his ability to distribute gifts, booty, and other material rewards to his most valuable and loyal servants.

In the “barbarian” days of northern Europe, military men expected their kings to lead them to booty, and to distribute gifts to the best fighters after the battle was won. In later ages, the more powerful kings could dole out titles of nobility, lands to faithful servants, and bureaucratic offices with hefty salaries to trusted advisors.

In exchange for all this largesse, subjects could offer their personal loyalty, but they could also offer military services, special know-how, and help in drumming up additional support for the crown. Those kings who could distribute the most gifts could often expect the most loyalty and assistance from others. After all, here was a king who could make you rich. Offering “help” to the rich and powerful has often come with many potential benefits. Few go to kings anymore for gifts of swords and gold. But the game has not fundamentally changed.

In the modern world, the kings have largely been replaced by faceless bureaucratic regimes composed of countless agencies, commissions, panels, committees, and executive officers. Regime executives can still dole out jobs to loyalists and favored interest groups. Policymakers can rewrite laws and regulations to favor those who can offer the regime something in return.

For ordinary people, who don’t get many favors from the regime, there is a big downside in this game. The riches go to the politically powerful, and not to those who work the hardest or are the most productive. Wealth is continually redistributed through a process of state coercion rather than through the voluntary market process. As a result, wealth flows into industries and firms on the basis of how much they’re valued by policymakers.

Politicians know this is a problem so they try to play both sides. We hear from politicians every election cycle about getting “big money” out of politics. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders both made this notion central to their presidential campaigns.

But what can really be done about it? People like Sanders, not surprisingly, think the answer is in more government regulation. In practice, however, the solution lies only in reducing the power and wealth of the regime.

Why We Have Pressure Groups and Lobbyists

Nowadays, in order to secure wealth and favors from the regime, pressure groups hire lobbyists and public relations consultants. Powerful corporations go to the regime seeking tax breaks, subsidies, and anti-competitive regulations. Today we call this “rent-seeking” (from an old definition of the word “rent” once favored by economists). These rent-seeking firms want access to the treasure trove of wealth hoarded by the regime.

And why shouldn’t these corporate interests and pressure groups seek favors? In the United States, the federal government in 2020 controlled a budget of more than six trillion dollars. Moreover, the same government also has control over countless regulations and statutes that can make or break one’s business or household budget.

It’s easy to figure out where to go if one’s looking to protect or enhance one’s livelihood. Indeed, rent-seeking by pressure groups and corporations is the natural outcome in any polity where the regime controls immense amounts of wealth.

Reducing the Size and Power of the State

The answer to all of this is simple—although certainly not easy to accomplish. First, if we want less rent-seeking, we must reduce the benefits of rent-seeking in the first place. This means stripping the state of much of its ability to dole out rewards to those seeking special favors. It means reducing the size of the state and its coffers overall. It means stripping federal policymakers of their power to regulate the economy for the benefit of some at the expense of others.

Without these powers and funds, the federal government suddenly becomes a much less fruitful target for lobbying, bribes, and other means of obtaining special favors.

There are, of course, many obstacles to reductions in a regime’s size and scope in terms of the wealth it controls. Political scientists have demonstrated this for years with theories like the so-called “iron triangle” which shows how interest groups, legislators, and bureaucrats work together to increase or safeguard the regime’s control over resources. Just as the kings of old increased their own power and influence by controlling the flow of resources to the king’s subjects, today’s policymakers also know they can increase or preserve their power by being able to control who gets what, when, and how.

Decentralization as a Means of Reducing Rent-Seeking

A second strategy for reducing the power of interest groups and corporate cronyism lies in decentralizing the power of regimes.

As noted by Murray Rothbard in his history of economic thought, one of history’s most notable surges in rent-seeking behavior began with the rise of absolutism in Europe. As European regimes centralized political power, they also created a system of “state building, state privilege, and what might be called ‘state monopoly capitalism.’” This was also characterized by a system of “heavy royal expenditure, of high taxes, of …inflation and deficit finance.” In other words it was an era in which the rapidly-centralizing regimes seized unprecedented amounts of control over national economies, and doled out privileges accordingly.

Moreover, as suggested by Baysinger, et al, as regimes become more powerful, it makes more sense to devote more resources to rent seeking. As regimes centralize, “the relative costs of negotiating favored treatment with a state in which authority [is] vested in a central figure” is falling.” If, on the other hand, regimes are decentralized, this raises the cost of rent-seeking and make outcomes more difficult to predict. In other words, rent-seeking declines when “the costs of negotiating and enforcing exclusive rights [is] relatively higher.”

We can see see how this has played out on the United States. Prior to the New Deal, most government spending in America was done at the local level. The federal regulatory state was weak. This meant if one was seeking government favors, there was no easy single target form which immense rewards could be reaped. Large corporations and pressure groups could lobby for benefits state-by-state and city-by-city. But that’s expensive and time consuming. Certainly, many smaller organizations sought favors from state-level legislatures and bureaucrats. But the fractured political system limited the ease and extent to which and single interest group could obtain sizable government benefits. And decentralization certainly made it harder to gain national prominence and influence.

That all changed with the New Deal and throughout the second half of the twentieth century as the federal government began to outspend the state governments and as immense new powers were now held by a well-funded and powerful federal government. It is no coincidence that 9 of the 20 wealthiest counties in America are suburbs of Washington, DC. The symbiotic relationship between pressure groups and the regime is very rewarding.

Today, the political system really is in many ways what H.L. Mencken suggested when he described elections as a sort of “advance auction of stolen goods.” The only answer lies in reducing the number of stolen goods available, or at least making it more costly to get them.

This article was originally featured at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and is republished with permission.

TGIF: What the State Really Is

To better understand the nature of government, one can think of it as an agency that sells or, more precisely, rents power to others. The greater the power and the wider its scope, the more opportunities the state’s agents will have to sell access to it in return for favors. Of course the demand for that power will also be greater. This stands to reason. If the government is allowed to make many important decisions about private activity, people will want to influence or control that decision-making–and they’ll be willing to pay for that influence as long as the price is less than the expected payoff.

In other words, the supply of government power creates its own demand. This answers the concern over the corrupting influence influence of money in politics. If government has nothing to sell, no one will be trying to buy.

This not to say that all that government officials do is rent out power. Many activities can be attributed to their own agendas. Like all people, they are prone to various incentives and foibles that lead them to do things that others who are affected either do not like or approve only because they can’t imagine an alternative.  The motives of state agents can vary: self-regard and paternalism, for two examples. Motives can be tricky to identify: a good deal of self-deception can always be involved, and words often parts ways with the truth.

Nevertheless, much of what state agents do constitutes in effect the renting out of power to well-connected private interests. The renting out of power can also have various motives. Power may be used to benefit special interests as a way to garner political support, financial and otherwise. Campaign finance is the most obvious example, though many more subtle ways also exist. Again, the motive for renting power to special interests could also have paternalist. Politicians could (erroneously) figure that for the good of all, certain people ought to have access to power that no one else has. Motives of course tell you nothing about the morality or effectiveness of any particular action.

Private interests that pay to get their hands on power can have various motives also, but I would guess that most of the time the motive is self-regard.

I should note that I am using the term rent idiosyncratically. Economists use the phrase rent-seeking to label the private pursuit of returns through government favors. By that they mean that private interests seek returns on investment that exceed what they would earn in the market without power being exercised on their behalf. I’m using rent in the colloquial sense in which people pay to use something (in this case) without acquiring ownership.

It’s easy to think of examples of what I’ve been saying here. When business firms lobby for a tariff or an import quota, they are seeking higher prices and profits through the state’s power to burden foreign competitors with taxes and import limits. Likewise, when firms seek licenses, subsidies, and other political favors, they grab for advantages that their competitors don’t have. Similarly, complicated financial regulations that burden smaller and potential upstart competitors are likely to be welcomed (if not written) by large dominant institutions. (When things go bust, uninformed people will readily  blame the private firms without seeing the state’s essential culpability. See my “Wall Street Couldn’t Have Done It Alone.”)

Another source of extra-market advantage is government contracting. Why should a firm take chances in an uncertain marketplace with fickle consumers if it can obtain guarantees by selling things to government agencies? Military contractors come to mind immediately. Billions of dollars of taxpayer money go to such companies every year. Private companies can’t tax anyone, but government contractors in effect can do just that.

The more powerful the state, the more possibilities will exist for favoritism. And notice that favoritism breeds dependence on and support for the state. For obvious reasons military contractors are unlikely to be convinced by arguments for a noninterventionist foreign policy. Likewise, companies that rely on tariffs and import quotas probably won’t find inspiration in the great British free traders Richard Cobden and John Bright.

Understanding the state is the first step toward rethinking the state, which is necessary for changing one’s view about its value. If people think the government is nothing more than a well-intended social-service agency–the organizer of huge and benevolent mutual-aid society–their attitude will be favorable overall, even if they dislike some of what the state does. But if people come to see that the state exists to amass power and private resources in large part to distribute it to special interests, the majority who are victims might begin to object and demand change.

The Danger of ‘Great Power Competition’ with Russia and China

The latest flare-up in the geopolitical standoff over Ukraine is a feature, not a bug, of Washington’s most recent grand narrative of global affairs.

The names of these grand narratives read more like B-list action titles than mass-murder campaigns: From the production team who brought you “The Red MENACE,” the “War on Terror,” and “Counterinsurgency,” the foreign policy establishment is proud to present: “Renewed Power Competition.” 

Admittedly, this installment’s title doesn’t quite have the same boom! to it. But for you action fans out there, never fear, its implications and the policies it attempts to justify are much more—explosive than its predecessors.

The term has its genesis in James Mattis’ 2018 National Defense Strategy, which announced “inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.”

In its summary, Mattis breaks the West’s foes into two categories: “revisionist powers” China and Russia, and “rogue regimes” Iran and North Korea. He accuses these nations of employing “increased efforts short of armed conflict by expanding [their] coercion to new fronts, violating principles of sovereignty, exploiting ambiguity, and deliberately blurring the lines between civil and military goals.”

Of course, the U.S. currently employs all the above tactics, in addition to armed conflict—a fact so far from the mind of the average American, it may as well be fictional.

Mattis laments that the U.S. no longer enjoys “uncontested or dominant superiority in every operating domain,” stating “[t]oday, every domain is contested—air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace.” Clearly, the echoes of Manifest Destiny continued on to reverberate across the globe.

In much the same way that Counterinsurgency lacked a clear definition of victory, it is unclear what exactly Competition means. In fact, there is no officially accepted definition for the term: neither the U.S. military interagency, the Department of Defense, nor partner nations have uniformly defined it.

This is a hallmark of a military without ethical or moral justification. In the only just theory of military action, immediate self-defense, the objective is clear: repel the invaders. Instead, the Joint Chiefs of Staff must grope with something called the “Competition Continuum,” which just sounds like the Tri-Lamb’s strategy for winning the Greek Games in Revenge of the Nerds. 

But the reality of Renewed Power Competition is America’s dead hand grasp at absolute global empire after its decades-long mass murder/suicide against a military tactic.

When Mattis says that “every domain is contested,” he is really saying that Russia may take exception to the presence of U.S. and NATO military installations and forces on its door step.

For instance, in April 2021, Russian News Agency TASS reported NATO’s plans to concentrate “40,000 troops and 15,000 items of armament and military hardware near Russian borders” in the Black Sea and Baltic Regions. This included the deployment of “U.S. force groupings” in Poland and the Baltic states.” Further, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed the NATO alliance “annually holds up to 40 large operational training measures of a clearly anti-Russia bias in Europe.”

Russia accuses US, NATO of moving troops to its border

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu (Photo Credit aa.com.tr)

The largest of such training measures is DefenderEurope, an annual US-led war NATO war game. This year’s iteration began in March and is planned to last until June 2021. Involving at least 31,000 soldiers from 27 nations, it promises to be the largest military exercise since the Cold War, despite continued COVID-19 restrictions. These forces will conduct “nearly simultaneous operations across more than 30 training areas in a dozen countries … over a wider area than what was planned for in 2020.”

The U.S. Army proclaimed the purpose of the war games in a statement that can only be aimed at Russia:

Defender-Europe 21 is evidence of the ironclad U.S. commitment to NATO, is a prime example of our collective capabilities, and demonstrates that NATO allies and partners stand stronger together.

Another such exercise is the intrepidly-titled “Trojan Footprint 21,” which began May 2, 2021. Touted as the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command-Europe’s “premier Special Operations Force exercise,” the operation aims to “train and build interoperability” between the U.S. Army, Air Force, and Naval special operations forces. The war game is taking place across “Romania and Europe” with allied partners to include Bulgaria, Germany, Georgia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Spain, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.” Bridging on self-parody, commanding officer Col. Marc V. LaRoche declared the operation’s intent: to “promote peace and stability throughout Europe.”

As Antiwar.com Contributing Editor Rick Rozoff commented: although the operation’s ostensible purpose is to counter “myriad threats” in the region, there exists only one true enemy: one that has a naval fleet stationed at Sevastopol in Crimea. The Defender-Europe 21 war game comes on the heels of Crystal Arrow 2021, another U.S.-led NATO war game. Rick Rozoff again writes:

As regards the launching of the Crystal Arrow exercise on March 23, the NATO report waxed lively: “U.S. Abrams tanks joined German Leopard tanks to race across the open field marking the start of an eight-day exercise at the Ādaži military training area, Latvia…”

It would have to have been the very archetype of Cold War nightmare themes among Russians in the Soviet Union to see American and German tanks on their border. Now they’re right there. And not alone.

The prospect of an American and German-led invasion of Russia is the apex of Washington’s commitment to Orwellian gaslighting (but we’ve always been at war with Eastasia).

When it comes to aerial dominance, Mattis really means that China, Russia, and Iran prefer US sorties not toe their sovereign airspace.

In September 2020, a Beijing-based think tank claimed the US flew “at least 60 warplanes near China’s coast.” In February, 2021, U.S. a reconnaissance plane flirted with the same airspace as a sortie of Chinese warplanes. More recently, on May 14, 2021, the U.S. Navy announced the deployment of two MQ-4C Triton drones from Guam to Northern Japan, the first such deployment of high-altitude long endurance unmanned aerial vehicles (HALE-UAVs) to Japan. According to the South China Morning Post, these UAVs were first deployed to the Pacific last year, when they were sent to Guam. Since then, they have:

carried out surveillance missions around China, including over the Taiwan Strait and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) bases along the coast, and near to Beijing’s military facilities on artificial islands in the South China Sea, according to open-source aviation monitoring data.

Meanwhile, on May 19, 2021, A Russian SU-27 fighter jet shadowed an American B-52N strategic bomber over the Baltic Sea, preventing what it claimed would otherwise have been an “unauthorized incursion” into Russian airspace. The confrontations are commonplace, occurring in the Arctic, the Black Sea, Northeast Asia, the Baltic Sea, and the Middle East.

As if these confrontations were not harrowing enough, the U.S. chose to honor its war dead by demonstrating its willingness to multiply their numbers. On Memorial Day 2021, US B52H bombers flew over all 30 NATO nations in an ostensible effort to “demonstrate the credibility of [NATO] forces to address a global security environment that is more diverse and uncertain than at any time in our history.” By comedic providence, the aerial farce was deployed from Moron Air Base in Spain.

By sea, Mattis means Iran might not appreciate the US Coast guard patrolling the Strait of Hormuz and firing warning shots at Iranian cutters. Likewise, China may not appreciate U.S. warships’ regular passage through the Taiwan Strait or U.S. Navy missile destroyers shadowing its aircraft carriers in the South China Sea.

Likewise, in eastern Europe, Russia certainly does not enjoy the presence of guided-missile cruisers and destroyers in the Black Sea. This is especially true when their presence runs concurrent with the largest NATO military exercise since the Cold War. Such is the case with the above-mentioned Operation Trojan Footprint.

By space, Mattis is referring to that amorphous area of international commons which the 1967 UN General Assembly declared to be the “province of all mankind.” So much for that.

And of course, by cyberspace–well we just have to take the word of the U.S. “intelligence” community that foreign hackers regularly attack US infrastructure and “democratic” institutions—for instance ignoring the fact that SolarWind’s password was “solarwinds123” and was publicly available online.

In the South China Sea, US officers watch the Liaoning, a Chinese aircraft carrier from the deck of the Mustin (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Arthur Rosen) Additional Credit Antiwar.com

Despite the disharmonic translation of think tank puffery into actual cohesive strategy, the U.S. Empire’s Renewed Power Competition certainly looks like escalation and not deterrence. Thus, it is not surprising that Congress’ foreign policy briefings are crafted within its escalatory framework.

To illustrate: the Congressional Research Service (“CRS”), the body that serves “as a shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress,” has issued a series of reports to guide policy within this narrative. First published in at least August 2018, the report was last updated March 4, 2021, a little over a month before the height of U.S.—Russian tensions over Ukraine.

It is unclear what direct influence this report has garnered amongst military and civilian policy makers, however, the U.S. military is certainly emulating its core directives. And that makes sense—Congressional Research Service “experts assist at every stage of the legislative process–from the early considerations that precede bill drafting though committee hearings and floor debate, to the oversight of enacted laws and various agency activities.” (Emphasis Supplied).

Hinting even further at the Report’s pedigree is the fact that it was picked up by the Council on Foreign Relations and linked on its “Ukraine” quick facts page.

Again, the sterile title—“Renewed Power Competition: Implications for Defense–Issues for Congress,”—obscures the Report’s alarming policy directives. Chief among them is to update America’s nuclear weapons arsenal–part of an ongoing multi-billion-dollar plan to “modernize U.S. strategic nuclear deterrent forces” to stay ahead of Russia and China’s. This effort includes acquiring “a new class of ballistic missile submarines and a next-generation long-range bomber.” This objective should frighten those Americans whose pocketbooks still mourn the Air Force’s ongoing F-35 debacle.

Second is a continuation the Obama administration’s “Pivot to Asia,” a redeployment of the nation’s military forces “so as to place more emphasis on deployments for countering Chinese and, secondarily, Russian military capabilities, and less emphasis on deployments that serve other purposes.” Of course, this includes a writ-large expansion of NATO’s capabilities in Eastern Europe and an expansion of the Navy’s operations in both the Black Sea and the Indo-Pacific.

This pivot has put the U.S. foreign policy establishment in the absurd position of fitting a King-sized bed with a sheet meant for a Twin.

On Sunday, March 23, CENTCOM Commander General Frank McKenzie illustrated just that when he warned the AP that the global influence of Russia and China will grow if the U.S. focuses its military assets solely on their doorsteps–a real Catch-22. How does one maintain the Empire’s outposts abroad whilst confronting the Huns at their own gates?

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, speaks to the media after arriving in Syria to meet with U.S. and allied commanders and troops, Friday, May 21, 2021. The Iraqi government for the first time is expected to bring home about 100 Iraqi families from a sprawling camp in Syria next week, a move that U.S. officials see as a hopeful sign in the long-frustrated effort to repatriate thousands from the camp, known as a breeding ground for young insurgents. On an unannounced visit to Syria, McKenzie expressed optimism that the transfer from the al-Hol camp will happen. (AP Photo/Lolita C. Baldor)

U.S. Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie (AP Photo/Lolita C. Baldor)

Clearly, the only solution is to get a bigger, more flexible bed sheet—that is to increase global U.S. military presence and capabilities indefinitely and infinitely. This is the exact aim of Renewed Power Competition: the self-licking ice cream cone.

In lockstep with this goal, the CRS Report also documents the US military’s emphasis on deploying military assets to the Indo-Pacific. Specifically, the Navy’s deployment of its “most capable ships, aircraft, and personnel to the region,” for “increased operations, exercises, and warfighting experiments.” Its focus will be the development of new weapon systems and technologies. The primary aim being to prepare for “potential future operations in the region.”

Another given example is the Marine Corps’ restructuring plan, entitled “Force Design 2030” which is “driven primarily by a need to better prepare [it] for potential operations against Chinese forces in a conflict in the Western Pacific.” In true Marine esprit de corps, the shift is spun as a triumphant return to the Marine Corps’ original theater of operations and tactics.

The Longer Telegram, a paper published by The Atlantic Council, laid out this renewed vision of the Marine Corps:

… the Marines will be resolutely sea-based and able to sail into the waters of the South China Sea, well inside the island chains China relies on for defense. Once inside, they will use armed drones, offensive cyber capabilities, Marine Raiders — highly capable special forces — anti-air missiles and even ship-killer strike weapons to attack Chinese maritime forces, and perhaps even their land bases of operations. The Chinese militarized artificial islands in the South China Sea would be juicy targets, for example. In essence, this will be guerrilla warfare from the sea.

Returning to the CRS Report, the immediate purpose of  these “New Operational Concepts” is “countering improving Chinese anti-access/area-denial military forces in the Indo-Pacific area.”

What do average Americas care if China has more influence around the South China Sea? It should be self-evident from the above paragraph that China’s military strategy in the Indo-Pacific is to deny American access to its backyard, or at the least charitable, territory in its neighborhood.

Furthermore, Americans could do without one of the most terrifying prongs of a so-called Renewal of Great Power Competition—“High End Conventional Warfare.”

Indeed, the CRS defines this to mean “large-scale, high-intensity, technologically sophisticated conventional warfare against adversaries with similarly sophisticated military capabilities.” This is a perfect illustration of the infamous words of Madeline Albright: “What’s the point in having this sophisticated military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

Aside from the very real threat of nuclear armageddon, perhaps the most alarming aspect of Great Power Competition is the U.S.’s “Mobilization Capabilities for Extended-Length Conflict” against China or Russia. In other words, total war.

Total War: “The Raid” by Photographer Frank Hurley (Source: The Australian)

As articulated in the CRS Report, its prospects are grisly and impersonal:

  • inducting and training additional military personnel to expand the size of the force or replace personnel who are killed or wounded;
  • producing new weapons to replace those expended in the earlier stages of a conflict;
  • repairing battle damage to ships, aircraft, and vehicles;
  • replacing satellites or other support assets that are lost in combat; and
  • manufacturing spare parts and consumable items.

Underlining the establishment’s infatuation with a return to sustained total war are the final prongs of the CRS Report: 1) expediting the speed at which American industry can develop, produce, and deploy new military technologies and 2) how best to defend U.S. supply chains.

Since both sides of this so-called Renewed Power Competition are heavily armed nuclear powers, it is unclear exactly why the foreign policy establishment is so concerned about a sustained war with Russia and China. It is unlikely a hot conflict would last very long before becoming nuclear. Even if humanity survived long enough for the conflict to be considered “sustained,” it is hard to believe the losing side would not eventually resort to the use of nuclear weapons.

Moreover, it is very possible a conflict could ignite without either side necessarily intending so. Aerial confrontations between U.S. and Russian forces often involve dangerous and risky maneuvers that could easily end in bloodshed and spiraling escalation.

Aside from the nuclear brinksmanship, Renewed Power Competition is not effective strategy. Much like its predecessor, The War on Terrorism effectively created more terrorism, Renewed Power Competition elicits more competition from Russia and China who clearly view this escalating policy as aggression against their sovereign territory. The U.S. Army even admits their perspective, yet it continues its aggressive behavior.

If China were sailing warships in the U.S. side of the Gulf of Mexico, amassing soldiers in Canada, conducting war games just across the Rio Grande, or running UAV patrols off the coast of California, the U.S. would also view these actions as aggressive. It would assuredly take every available step to thwart those efforts. It would also call on its allies for assistance. It may even ally with regimes it deems to be problematic as long as they share a mutual interest in confronting Russia and China.

In that vein, the Chinese and Russians have historically shared a complicated relationship. Now, because of U.S. policy, there is evidence the nations are cooperating in their mutual interest. In fact, in October 2020, when asked about a direct Russia-China military alliance, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly stated “[w]e don’t need it, but theoretically it’s quite possible to imagine it.”

Besides the lack of a uniform definition for “competition,” more fundamental questions arise: why compete in the first place? What exactly are we competing over? How does one measure success? There are neither clear, nor compelling answers.

This lack of answers stems from an underlying falsehood: the fixed pie fallacy—the idea that any influence gained by China, Russia, Iran, or North Korea must necessarily come at the expense of the U.S. and its interests.

In fact, the opposite is true: cooperation and voluntary exchange increase the standard of living of everyone. Renewed Power Competition does not serve Americans. It neither serves our safety, our liberty, nor our pocketbooks.

Moreover, the U.S. has nothing to fear from any of these nations. As the late Justin Raimondo wrote, China is a Paper Tiger:

The rise of China as America’s chief rival on the international stage has long been a staple of our foreign policy pundits’ alleged wisdom. The Chinese, simply by virtue of their enormous population, have been deemed the inheritors of the earth. China, we are told, has been in the process of overtaking us in terms of virtually every metric imaginable: demographic, economic, and, most important of all, military. There’s just one problem with this Sinocentric view of the future: it’s based on nonsensical assumptions.

China is staring down the barrel of a monstrous real estate bubble which, when it pops, will destroy the country’s wealth and reveal the longstanding ethnic and political fractures that exist in the country.

Further, Ted Galen Carpenter writes:

The United States spends roughly 2 ½ times as much on the military as Russia and China combined. And although both of those countries are developing cutting-edge weaponry, the United States is doing so as well, and the US military still enjoys superior qualitative capabilities. Moreover, Washington’s military power utterly dwarfs that of North Korea, Iran, or any other potential adversary.

Indeed, neither China, Russia, Iran, nor North Korea could possibly afford an empire. The U.S. has the highest GDP per capita in the world–by far–and we cannot even afford it. Yet, in the words of H.L. Menken:

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

And it works. Human beings process the chaos of the world around them through narrative. The western foreign policy establishment knows this—perhaps only because they themselves are swept up in the web of their own aggrandizement. Nonetheless, it has succeeded in shifting the Overton Window by parading around the specters of this decade’s hobgoblins, Russia, China, and their “rogue” kid brothers, Iran and North Korea. Now, any “serious” discussion of foreign policy presupposes the renewal of Great Power Competition. Ultimately, escalatory prognostication within this framework becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

We stand now in the flowering of this so-called return to Great Power Competition—a fetid bloom which will yield trillions of siphoned tax dollars at best and plumes of corpse flowers at its cataclysmic worst.

It is time for Americans to turn the lights on and behold the emptiness beneath their beds—before it’s too late.

Patrick MacFarlane is a practicing attorney and host of the Liberty Weekly Podcast where he covers libertarian legal theory and Austrian economics. Find his work at http://www.libertyweekly.net.

UPI/Press Association Image / An unidentified newsman stands amid the rubble of Hiroshima a month after the atomic bomb was dropped on the city. Additional Credit forces.net

 

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