I’ve had several posts recently elaborating on the theme of Tyler Cowen’s new book, “The Complacent Class,” that too many Americans have become complacent about the comfortable life which they now enjoy.
Let’s take a different approach today and consider some of the problems which large numbers of Americans really are concerned about:
The election of Donald Trump as President. Granted, he just barely squeaked through in the Electoral College with 46% of the popular vote. He makes outlandish statements which have little, if any, basis in fact. But he has appointed many capable cabinet secretaries and other assistants and he listens to them. He adjusts his policies when struck down by the courts. In my opinion he has suffered no major mistakes so far.
Increasing income inequality in American society. This is a problem but, as Nicholas Eberstadt has pointed out, the real problem is income insecurity for millions of blue-collar workers. The best solution here is faster economic growth which the Trump Administration and the Republican Congress hope to achieve through tax reform and deregulation.
Global Warming. More and more Americans understand the increasing severity of this problem. There is a fair chance that a revenue neutral carbon tax will be implemented in the near future. This would be a big boost toward controlling carbon emissions in the U.S. and would provide more clout in establishing worldwide emission standards as well.
A chaotic world. Terrorism will not go away but at least ISIS will soon be defeated as an independent state. Other worldwide threats such as China, Russia and Iran can be managed with a strong U.S. military force undergirded by a strong U.S. economy.
Conclusion. The above problems are considered by large numbers of people to be serious and are therefore being addressed in one way or another. But our biggest problem of all, massive debt, is off the radar for much of the political class, including President Trump. It needs to be taken far more seriously than it is before we have another, and much more severe, financial crisis.
“Speak softly and carry a big stick” President Theodore Roosevelt, 1858 – 1919
Donald Trump was elected President because of his strong support from white blue-collar workers who feel left behind in the modern world of globalization and rapid technological change. While the President has to work with Congress to implement new economic and fiscal policies, he has almost free rein in conducting foreign policy.
There are major international issues that President Trump will have to deal with such as:
Rapid Chinese economic growth and assertion of power in Southeast Asia. Also currency manipulation and over-protection of domestic industry against foreign imports.
Russian assertion of power in Eastern Europe and the Middle East make it a dangerous adversary. All the more so since the Russian population is in decline and its economy is stalled under Putin.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions are only temporarily halted under the Iranian nuclear deal of 2015. Iran continues to support terrorism in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The defeat of ISIS and the containment of terrorism all around the world but especially in the Middle East.
Support of our democratic allies in hotspots around the world such as Japan and South Korea in Asia as well as our NATO allies in Europe.
Ever since WWII when the U.S. emerged as the sole superpower, the world has benefitted from overwhelming U.S. economic and military strength. The resulting “Pax Americana” has resulted in a long lasting period of relative peace and stability. But U.S. military strength is not automatic nor does it occur in a vacuum. It depends fundamentally on the underlying strength of the U.S. economy which has been growing at the very slow rate of 2% annually since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009.
Conclusion. If we want continued peace and stability around the world, then we need faster economic growth to better support the U.S. effort to project strength.
Over 1 million refugees entered Europe in 2015 alone. Another 136,000 have arrived so far in 2016. This creates a huge financial burden as well as a cultural challenge for a Europe which is already weakened by huge debt and slow economic growth.
It will bolster those campaigning to take Britain out of the European Union in the upcoming June referendum. A British departure from the EU will dramatically weaken it and might encourage other countries to leave as well.
Islamic State terror plays into the hands of populist demagogues such as presidential candidate Donald Trump and right wing French leader Marine Le Pen.
To allow ISIS to have its own territory, and capital city Raqqa in Syria, is a very high risk strategy. It allows the Islamic State to spread its evil not only around the immediate area but all over the world.
The question raised most urgently by the Brussels attacks, so soon after Paris, is whether and why Raqqa can be tolerated when Al Qaeda’s Tora Bora sanctuary in Afghanistan was not. Today, the West’s ponderous wait-them-out approach looks like capitulation.
The fundamental question is whether or not the U.S. can refrain from immersing itself in the crises of the Middle East and still maintain its status as the world’s indispensable super power. “George Bush will be remembered harshly for what he did in the Middle East. Barack Obama is gambling that he will be judged well for the things he didn’t do.” The stakes are very high indeed for both the United States and our European allies.
The lead story in yesterday’s New York Times, “Experts Explain How Global Powers Can Smash ISIS,” starts out “Much of the world agrees that the Islamic State needs to be crushed. But how can that be accomplished?” Here is the strategy espoused in the NYT article and also by Garry Kasparov, writing in the Wall Street Journal:
Assad must go. “For the U.S. and the West to ally with Iran, Russia and the Assad regime in Syria would be morally repugnant, strategically disastrous and entirely unnecessary.”
The importance of the Sunnis. “To beat ISIS you need the enlistment of the Sunnis and this won’t happen as long as Assad remains in power.” Removing Assad “would immediately have the support of Turkey and Saudi Arabia.” “The 2007 U.S. military surge in Iraq was so successful because it included the protection and recruitment of Sunni tribes to fight Sunni extremists.” “The hasty exit from Iraq left the Sunnis at the mercy of a hostile Shiite government.”
Troops on the ground. “Anything less than a major U.S. and NATO-led ground offensive against ISIS will be a guarantee of continued failure and more terror attacks in the West.”
Long term governance. “For the long term, eradicating the Islamic State and other violent Jihadi groups will require drastic reforms in the nature of Middle East governments. ISIS thrives on their failures.”
After the Paris attacks, the West now realizes that ISIS represents a huge threat to world peace and stability. Hopefully the U.S. is also beginning to realize that only it can provide the leadership to organize an effective response.
I will soon return to talking about the fiscal and economic issues which I usually dwell on. Every once in a while another major issue intervenes and takes precedence.
What happened in Paris could also easily happen in London, New York City or Washington D.C. and soon will if our President does not adequately respond to the threat of terrorism. As the Wall Street Journal declared yesterday, “For seven years Mr. Obama has used the unpopularity of the Iraq war as a shield for his retreat from anti-terror leadership and the Middle East.” The American Enterprise Institute’s Danielle Pletka informs us that:
NATO aircraft scrambled more than 500 times in 2014, with only a few exceptions, in reaction to Russian incursions into NATO member airspace.
In 2014, Japan scrambled aircraft almost 1000 times, with all but a few of these incidents attributed to either Russian or Chinese warplanes.
Russian bombers entered US airspace 10 times in 2014, double the previous average.
Ms. Pletka also suggests how we should respond to four years of carnage in the Middle East:
The first step is to actually have a strategy, rather than a series of reactive tactics and incremental escalations.
The second step is to build a coalition with sub-state and national partners that we trust and that trust us to stick with the job.
The good news is that there is still time to lead a decisive war against ISIS.
There is no need to launch broadsides against all Muslims, the Syrian people and refugees in general. It is Islam extremists who are attacking us, not mainstream Islamists.
The world is a dangerous place and we have many enemies. On this website I am mostly focused on our own fiscal and economic problems which are very serious and need to be dealt with in a timely manner. However the immediate safety and security of our country is the highest priority of all and, on occasion, takes precedence over everything else. Now is a time for such heightened vigilance.