The Washington Post reports that the War on Terror is over. No armistice has been announced. No treaty has been signed. The whole thing is just being dropped quietly, like a burnt-out cigarette. Too bad. It was our favorite war.
In the few words that follow, we explain why. First, the background:
“The history of the world is but the biography of great men,” was Thomas Carlyle’s contribution to the genre. But here at Markets and Money we are more of the ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’ school of history. When something needs doing…there is always finds some clown dim enough to do it. Osama bin Laden was that man.
“Bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy”, was what he was up to, he said in a videotape. He even did the math. “Every dollar spent by al-Qaida in attacking the US has cost Washington $1m (£545,000) in economic fallout and military spending,” said the report.
“We, alongside the mujahideen, bled Russia for 10 years, [in Afghanistan] until it went bankrupt… So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.”
How many generations will still tell of bin Laden’s triumph? He brought down not just one empire, but two. His band of terrorists leeched the Soviets so thoroughly, they fainted. It was no coincidence that the Soviets lost Afghanistan in the same year their empire disintegrated. Then, he delivered a challenge to the America’s ‘amour propre.’
The attack on the World Trade Center incited a death wish. The feds flashed a Red Alert; Americans cowered in their houses and sealed their windows and doors against biological attack. The 9/11 attackers could have been pursued by the usual gendarmes – at negligible cost. Instead, in the general panic, the Bush administration decided to go all out. Thus it was that the greatest stimulus package since WWII began – in haste and in delusion.
The federal budget went from its biggest surpluses to its biggest deficits. Interest rates were cut too – to an emergency rate of 1%. Within 24 months, the bubble in the Nasdaq was replaced by much bigger bubbles – in housing, finance, derivative debt, art, private equity, executive compensation, student loans and other forms of private debt. In effect, bin Laden suckered the fattest man on earth into having another éclair. The thunder coming from the financial markets for the past 18 months is the noise of his midriff exploding.
But we are not writing to complain about Osama bin Laden or the Bush Administration’s reaction. When it comes to war and adultery, make-believe may be better than the real thing. Certainly, it is safer. In the War on Terror, the enemy had no tanks…no aircraft… no ships…no armies…no celebrated strategists…no famous generals…no sophisticated weapons…no military culture…no leather trench coats…no burnished helmets…no battle cries…. The problem was, it was hard to find the enemy at all. The Department of Homeland Security conducted 3 billion airport inspections looking for them. We remember getting patted down so thoroughly we felt we should leave a tip. But how many enemy combatants do you think they nabbed? Not a one.
There are two possibilities. The first is that the security procedures were so fearsome that terrorists dared not try anything funny. The second is that there weren’t really many terrorists at large – at least, not in the United States of America.
But compare it to WWI or WWII…or even a penny ante affair like the Spanish American war. The War on Terror mobilized the whole nation in a Great National Cause…at much expense, much damage to the Constitution, and much inconvenience, but without actually causing much real suffering. Sure, a few hapless Muslims, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, were put on the rack. And yes, the cops in London gunned down a Brazilian electrician. Back in the United States, young couples did not embrace as they had in WWII – that is, as if there would be no tomorrow. Instead, they spent money as if there would be no tomorrow! No doubt, the desperate spending contributed to the bankruptcy of the whole system of bubble finance. But compared to the pain of a shooting war; the War on Terror was a delight. As far as we know, the Department of Homeland Security suffered not a single casualty. Not even any self-inflicted wounds. No executions for treason. And hardly any reported cas es, neither of fleeing in the face of the enemy…nor collaborating…nor sabotage.
What a shame to let such a marvelous war to end without even a victory parade. Some of the agents should at least get medals for courage under fire…or exceptional valor.
Perhaps some special award Such as the special agents who arrested Tamera Jo Freeman. A ‘Black Heart’ medal might be appropriate. The woman was on a flight to Denver when her children got into a squabble. She spanked them both…and then Homeland Security agents put the cuffs on her. Charged with committing an “act of terrorism” she spent three months in jail and lost custody of her children.
And there ought to be some medal for the Pentagon flatfoot who put the long arm of American law all the way across the Atlantic and onto the shoulder of Gary McKinnon. Mr. McKinnon, as the mayor of London informed us on Tuesday, believes in UFOs. And to prove that the U.S. army is hiding information on extraterrestrials, he hacked into the Pentagon’s computer…leaving his email address and a message: “Your security is crap.”
Rather than thank him for this useful observation, the Defense Department no doubt put out a billion dollar consulting contract for someone to tell them their security is crap…and put out a warrant for Mr. McKinnon’s arrest on a terrorism charge. That kind of service above and beyond the call of duty should be recognized.
So form up the battalions of veterans! Assemble the legions of luggage inspectors and metal detector operators…and all the thousands of investigators, worn down by five years of following leads to nowhere! Dress them up in bright, clean uniforms…and give them their moment of glory. Pin medals on their chests. Then have a jolly march down Fifth Avenue. Line the streets. Give them a hearty hoorah as they march by. Throw out the ticker tape. Young girls…fling yourselves at them…and get a kiss! And then, send them home.
Enjoy your weekend,
Markets and Money