If Law Schools Managed Our Wars

Ten years after the Iraq invasion, the paper of record is finally catching on.

David Beagle, “Is Foreign Occupation a Losing Game?” The New York Times.

For some reason the link doesn’t work, so I’m just going to quote the article in full. I’m sure the Times won’t mind.

If anyone could teach a course in how to remain calm with sovereign debt, it’s Jack Lew. Managing the finances of a declining superpower with a net public debt-to-GDP ratio of 73 percent, a rent-seeking health care system, low taxes on the rich, high youth unemployment, and endless wars takes equanimity. Lew tells me over a latte, “The trick is to ignore all the naysayers claiming that we’re in a depression and willingly believe in America’s dynamism.” His creditors would foreclose on him, except he didn’t spend the money on a house but on foreign occupations. By all metrics, it’s been a catastrophic investment, except for one: the United States military.

Looking at the statistics that the U.S. military gathers and provides to U.S. News & World Report to publish in its influential rankings, invading foreign countries for any reason or no reason seems like a great investment, with an average of one corner about to be turned every three months since the magazine began tracking “success after invasion” data in 2001.

How can the military paint such a rosy picture to U.S. News?

“It’s an open secret that the American public has no idea what the military is doing in Afghanistan or Iraq,” says U.S. Army Colonel William Hendricks, one of many exasperated officers cajoling the Department of Defense to change how occupation forces are assessed. “We need to come up with a way for armed conflict consumers to know when they’re getting the Army of the Tennessee under Grant and Sherman or the U.S. Army under Westmoreland and Abrams in Vietnam.”

For example, a corner is claimed to about to be turned whenever a Predator drone kills thirty revelers at an Afghan wedding party, which the military then claims were Taliban fighters all along. Corners are also neared for every hundred Afghanis who enlist for training by the U.S. military, but it won’t tell you that they then promptly desert, taking their bonuses with them. Simply sending more soldiers to the country (called “surges”) also helps it approach corner-turning—and gives the military more money.

The lack of any real corners being turned is enraging taxpayers, who are taking their protests to the Internet with blogs titled, But I Done Killed Everything Right!, Rose Colored WMD, Restoring Dignity to the Death Squad, and Killing Them Die Hard. “Stay clear of this disgusting, putrid, shit-pile of filth called the U.S. military if you want economic growth,” writes the author of the blog, THIRD TIER OCCUPATION—in typical scatological tone. “Unless, of course, you think adding $1 trillion dollars to your NON-REPUTIATABLE sovereign debt is worth no greater security and a reduced standard of living for your populace.”

Sadly, there’s no shortage of citizenries willing to fork over trillions of dollars a year even though their economies haven’t produced enough jobs to keep up with population growth.

In February 2013 Congress subpoenaed the top brass to testify before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to hear their views.

“Militaries find it’s more cost-effective to simply pay out a million dollars per soldier per year than recommend Congress reinstitute the draft. The problem with non-volunteers is that they require more training and then frag their commanding officers when ordered to patrol Helmand Province. Occupying countries for no good reason is difficult, and that costs money,” testified recently promoted Brigadier General Irwin Chemicalinsky.

Responding to the beating the U.S. military has received as an investment from antiwar scambloggers, one general, Richard Balthazar said, “There’s this persistent myth out there that armed forces and weapons manufacturers are tricking Americans into invading and occupying other countries. That would make us immoral, unethical, and terrible people, and we’re not. Citizens must do their own due diligence before deciding whether to invest in foreign invasion as well as which military to use. There are plenty of popular security-debunking websites for them to read, so they’re informed by them rather than by our about-to-turn-another-corner numbers from last year. When the Treasury Department auctions those securities, they’ve made their choice.”

When asked by Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) if the military was committing waste, fraud and abuse of government funds, General Balthazar told Congress that the military is overcharging taxpayers for its services, primarily because it’s “grossly inefficient.” “Does the U.S. really need seventeen intelligence agencies, all of which are politicized? Probably not for America’s purposes. Would it be cheaper to send in commandos than fight a robot war in Pakistan? Sure. Do we need a Department of Homeland Security when we already have a Department of Defense? Yeah, that’s probably redundant too. Should soldiers do their own laundry instead of contracting it to KBR for no-bid contracts? I guess that’d be cheaper. But it’s not like the brass has some moral obligation to tell the American public that spending $100 billion per year occupying a Central Asian un-state is a waste of the United States’ non-repudiatable debt dollars. A little caveat emptor here, people.”

Another officer suggested that U.S. military unbundle its services, a “Motel 6” force for humanitarian missions or patrolling the Alaska-Canada border, and a “Ritz-Carlton” military of nuclear submarines and ICBMs for deterring Soviet invasions of West Germany.

Leaders of occupied countries quickly claim that American soldiers simply aren’t ready to forcibly control their territories upon arrival. Said Hamid Karzi, President of Afghanistan, “I don’t care what the rankings say, Americans simply suck at foreign occupation. The guys they’re sending aren’t nearly as good as the Brits were. I mean, they sent motherfuckers like Francis Edward Younghusband to Tibet. Why don’t the Americans have guys like him? He knew how to massacre monks. Hell, even the Soviets were better. Shit, they may not’ve turned any corners either, but have you seen the number of landmines they left in our country? Tons, man. Tons.”

When confronted with its “gross inefficiencies” the Department of Defense claimed that its hands were tied. “If we limit how military forces operate, we open ourselves to antitrust lawsuits,” incoming Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel commented, “Militaries worldwide need to find ways to cut costs, like sharing their aircraft carriers and nuclear arsenals.” He added, “We’re overhauling our military accreditation standards so that every armed force must declare what kind of wars it intends to be useful for, and we’re also going to ask militaries to voluntarily provide us with better about-to-turn-corner data.” In the meantime, Defense officials said they intend to negotiate with U.S. News as to how it ranks militaries. However, the magazine quickly pointed out that it won’t ask for any more corner-turning from the world’s armed forces unless the Defense Department comes up with better metrics first.

Asked about his concerns about his country’s sinking fortunes, Lew moped, “Hey, this is the age of bailouts. I’m sure someone will give us a grant. Or we could just double-down and go to law school.”

LSTB’s editorial: Troops Out Now!



  1. I looked at the back of a Milk Carton, and saw one of those “Have you seen me” pics. It said……..

    Missing: The Anti-War Left.

    Last known whereabouts: Voting for Obama in 2008

  2. Matt,

    I more or less agree with you on this but I want to raise an economic/political/philosophical topic that I think will be mulled over a lot when the autopsy of America 1.0 is performed.

    Basically it is this – how much legitimacy to afford the Keynesian view that in an American economy with vast idled resources (because, say, an Asian nation with over a billion people finally managed to integrate said billion into the world economy – gutting American competitiveness…) it is wasteful/pointless/destructive not to compel the “use” of those idled American resources *somehow*.

    By building pyramids (with politicians’ names on them).

    Or invading potential enemies (and then wandering around in air conditioned aimlessness for the next decade).

    Or trying to restart the burning automobile of American public education by pouring more gas (tax $) into it.

    Or digging the Keynes Memorial Pit and refilling it with the collected works of Paul Krugman.

    Again, and again, and again.

    Again, and again, and again.

    ad infinitum.

    The point isn’t the specifics of how the government has spent/invested/squandered the money, the point is the mentality that government – top down – “had to” do something to stimulate economic activity because the private sector “bottom up” had apparently died – believing that another productive investment could never be made in America again (not with Chinese labor costs being 10 cents on the US dollar).

    I think examining the mentality of the political class (who get to choose – and skim off – the array of “public investments”) is crucial – because the Keynesian “Don’t Just Sit There – Do Something – Anything!” argument is going to be their defense against the responsibly for destroying the economy.

    Basically, DC will argue “the economy was dead anyway – so we can’t be accused of killing it.”

    I don’t agree with this mindset (at all – in fact I think it is not only criminal, but criminally stupid) but it is the mindset that rules (and self-justifies) the political class in DC and elsewhere.

    Liberals will say “Well, just the wrong policy choices were made – guns instead of butter, etc.”

    Conservatives will say “The right choices can not – almost by definition – be made from the top down – self delusion, self dealing, and a certain careless selflessness with others’ resources will always poison said policy choices.

    1. cas127,

      I’ve mulled over your comment, and I don’t think we’re in agreement about what caused the economy to reduce to slag. First of all, I’m incredulous that the developing world stole U.S. jobs and wages. I think most of America’s growing poverty is created by tax shifts from the rentiers and onto the workers. Every time the Fed tries to pump money into the system, they siphon it away in land, patent, and copyright rents. The death of manufacturing is brought on by both mechanization (good!) and the trade deficit (bad!).

      The trade deficit is worsened by our trading partners’ decision to sterilize their dollar inflows. Every time Wal-Mart buys stuff from China in dollars, the Chinese business puts it in a bank and the Bank of China swoops in, takes it, and leaves the depositor with a RMB-denominated bond with a distant maturity date. They call it “sterilization,” and it’s basically forcing the Chinese private sector to save money without its consent, lest workers’ wages increase rapidly and they start demanding “rights” from their government. China et al. will pay dearly because the value of their dollar-denominated bonds will drop with the dollar, and if they try to sell their Treasuries, it’ll trigger inflation and increased net exports for us, which is good for us.

      The wars don’t help the trade deficit because every time the government goes needlessly into debt, it’s to foreign central banks, which strengthens the value of the dollar, reduces our net exports, increases the trade deficit, sends jobs overseas, and lowers domestic interest rates, which then makes it too easy to borrow a second mortgage on a house in the middle of the desert. Worse, the wars aren’t at all like building a school on a bond and financing it by tax-increment financing. Rather, the board of directors for Lockheed Martin loan the government money to buy LM’s drones. The school creates a long-run positive benefit that can be used to repay the bondholders, but since we’re not plundering Iraq (beyond the oil?), it’s going to be American workers who repay the bonds to LM, which gets paid twice: once in direct contracts and once in principal on the loans.

      The Keynesian solution isn’t so bad. It would increase the velocity of money, but in the long run, without serious changes to the tax code, it’ll all get sucked away again by the rentiers.

      When it comes to government, my new motto is, “A dollar wasted is not a dollar destroyed.” The federal government has near-total power over the dollar economy, so it’s a closed system. The money we’ve wasted is still out there somewhere. It just comes down to convincing the people who don’t have any to tax the people who do.

      But good luck with that. Americans love their creditors and hate the idea of bailing out poor people, even if our debts can be paid with unfairly earned incomes. There’s my autopsy.

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