Thursday, 3 December 2009

Spurious correlation watch

Andrew Sullivan takes a break from spelunking in Sarah Palin’s reproductive tract to provide us with highly superficial social scientific analysis:

Ezra Klein asks:

Is there any evidence that financing wars brings them to a quicker close? Any papers examining this question?

From Bruce Bartlett’s column last week:

History shows that wars financed heavily by higher taxes, such as the Korean War and the first Gulf War, end quickly, while those financed largely by deficits, such as the Vietnam War and current Middle East conflicts, tend to drag on indefinitely.

How about a more plausible explanation: Korea and Gulf War I were conflicts against state actors that fought using traditional military tactics, while Vietnam and the Middle Eastern conflicts (particularly in Afghanistan) were/are conflicts mostly involving indigenous, non-state resistance movements or terrorist cells with some degree of local popular support (the Viet Cong, Iraqi Shiite and Sunni extremists and al-Qaeda, and the Taliban and al-Qaeda, respectively) that are engaged in unconventional warfare. The mode of funding would seem to have little to do with conflict length. Particularly since World Wars I and II were also funded by massive deficit spending, yet U.S. involvement in both conflicts was comparatively brief (although not on the order of Gulf War I).

Besides, the Johnson-Nixon era’s massive expansion of the deficit-financed American welfare state would be a serious conflating factor in attributing Vietnam’s success or failure to its funding approach, much as the effects of the Bush tax cuts likely dwarfed Iraq and Afghanistan spending as a source of the increased budget deficit over the past eight years and change; the liberal CBPP think-tank attributes the effects of one year (2004) of the Bush tax cuts as being $276 billion in reduced tax revenues (and thus increased debt), far more than the annualized cost to the Treasury of both conflicts combined even based on the most pessimistic estimates.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

The Mussharraf self-coup

Steven Taylor has the latest on Pervez Musharraf’s increasingly authoritarian attempts to hold onto power in Pakistan, which—as Taylor points out—hardly seem to be directed at the Islamist extremists he seems to believe are an existential threat to Pakistani society. Indeed, given the sordid history of support by the Pakistani security forces for Islamist guerrillas fighting Pakistan’s proxy wars in Indian-controlled Kashmir and pre-9/11 Afghanistan, ties that do not seem to have been fully extinguished, continued army control of the government could in the end strengthen the extremist groups.

That said, I’m not exactly sure what Radley Balko is getting at in this post when he claims that events in Pakistan indicate “why ‘spreading democracy’ is such a foolish foreign policy objective.” It is not all clear that a democratic Pakistan would be any less of an effective ally of the United States in its conflict with al Qaeda and the Taliban—while, presumably, the U.S. would have to respect local sensibilities more in terms of military operations in the border regions, it’s not like Musharraf’s regime has been a particularly effective ally in that regard either. A democratic Pakistan that incorporates nonviolent Islamists in the government could actually serve to delegitimize terrorists and their extremist allies and increase popular support for building an effective state in the lawless border regions.

And, if the point is that we wouldn’t be in Afghanistan still if we weren’t committed to “spreading democracy,” I think that’s hogwash. Even if the goals of the Afghan mission were simply confined to obliterating al Qaeda and their Taliban allies, the ineffective Pakistani government would be an obstacle no matter what form of government we decided to impose in Afghanistan. And if we’re in Afghanistan to obliterate the old government anyway, I can’t think of any good reason to go against our national principles to prop up some Cold War-style authoritarian regime that we’d have to support indefinitely as a client state to ensure that the Taliban and their buddies didn’t return to power. Restoring the old order wouldn’t have actually fixed anything.