Most Americans are convinced the nation has gone off the rails. The proofs: a mountain of debt (with much more to come) with no Marshal Plan leaps over normal market evolutions to show for it (and with none coming); our political system devolved into tribal warfare just shy of bloodshed (though we have come perilously close); the collapse of our Afghan war. Actually, incredibly, there has been more than one incoherent war (hint: the other is not on drugs).

Basic military strategy reveals two essential principles betrayed in the Global War on Terror (GWOT): Economy of Force (EOF) and Security of Base (SOB). The disregard of EOF is as self-explanatory as it is apoplexy-inducing. The violation of the principle of SOB needs more examination (and unifies all the other failures).

The main threat to our SOB comes from a loss of systemic trust. We are evolving quickly from a high-trust society into a low-trust one, and the consequences for that will be historically disastrous. The devolution of trust is part of our war foolishness (we had similar political upheavals after Vietnam), but not entirely. Imagine the insults to trust as a Venn diagram, with our useless wars as some (but not all) big overlapping bubbles (the EU area has eroding trust in government, with no wars, for example).

The Left laments lack of trust by pointing out, rightly, dysfunction in containing the pandemic. Vaccine refusal and mask-bucking has become a hallmark of the Right (lockdowns are a different article for another day). Now, we have the far worse Delta variant, which ravages Red parts of the country a year and a half into the most infamous event in world history (with dismayed clinicians shrugging like Atlas). The Left is confirmed in their belief the Right have lost their minds, and are unworthy of trust (or cooperation).

The Right rose up Trump to say the same, just using the right middle finger: “why should we trust you?” What big issue has our government gotten right, in the post 9/11 era? Their exhibits: the basic strategy of the Afghan war (a completely bipartisan endeavor); the invasion of Iraq (bipartisan); ruin in our Libya intervention (bipartisan); failure to predict, much less correctly adapt to, the housing bubble (bipartisan), which created the financial crisis (much less, how the government
s own policies inflated it
). And now the overnight collapse of a 2 trillion dollar project (bipartisan), with the added agony of the botched endgame (we had 20 years to prepare for this, for Chrissake). Most of our leaders of the post 9-11 era, Team Red and Team Blue, are makers, or enablers, in all of this. Which was a hobby horse the Untethered Orange Id rode all the way to the White House, waving his “outsider” banner (Barack Obama was similar this way, ironically).

Both sides are right in their hate, in their own Yin-Yang ways. Poll data is clear: both parties are loathed by the electorate, and have been for more than a generation. But we have very few options to force them to reform, so effectively has incumbency gamed the process. Which means we are not holding decision-makers responsible for their bad decisions, and that means not trusting them is reasonable.

The mess gets worse: 500K-600K middle easterners have been killed, and it’s possible nearly 60 million people were made refugees (!!!) by our response to 9/11. We will need a heightened security apparatus to protect us from these consequences for as far into the future as the eye can see, when EOF could have had us whack the Al Qaeda mole from bases among the Northern Alliance. 2 trillion dollars back to the taxpayers (plus what we spent on the Iraq war) without the disgrace of our whole higher national security apparatus, would have meant a lot of trust never lost (not to mention all those people in the Middle East would still be alive). Our national security apparatus has not been not been disgraced enough, evidently, that anything is being done to hold them accountable either. This should not endear future trust in them.

And: those refugees from our wars, more than were created in World War Two, sow untold discontent in wretched refugee camps all over the most volatile region on the planet. These make up the core of the transnational jihadis who project their cause into places as far away as Mozambique. This will not make political/social reform in the region, our expensive war-goals for two decades, any easier.

The war refugees also created friction in the liberal order throughout Europe and Scandinavia, and became the major factor in their resisting more open immigration, which is the single sticking point affecting their peoples’… (wait for it)… trust in their governments.

We vowed not to let terrorism threaten our way of life, but we were successfully terrorized the moment we allowed the government a blank check to protect us from such an undefinable, outlier threat. More Americans are killed by sugar every year. And now we can’t get the checkbook back. The Global War on Terror was sold by putting it on credit, and now fiscal profligacy threatens our base like nothing we have seen since the Second World War (the terror wars might cost us 6 trillion dollars in interest payments alone). Bankruptcy has often defeated empires. Bin Laden reminded us as much (from his cave).

There is no way this “abstracting” of actual money would have happened if it did not serve both parties: Republicans got wars they were not fiscally accountable for, Democrats get untold “pandemic stimulus” (scare quotes because so little of it has anything to do with the pandemic). The result is a precedence-for-precedence, ratcheting frog-boil of buck passing (and adding) to the people of the future.

Degradation to limited government comes in the frog soup: Team Blue has stretched the Constitution in too many ways to catalog here. Team Red got theirs with extraordinary (yet somehow permanent) war powers. Consider: they led us to the wars that displaced tens of millions, over 3000 deaths at the World Trade center. 3000 Americans die each and every day, over the whole long pandemic long. Yet COVID irrationality has been integrated into Red’s very ideology.

That’s a whole lot of screwing the pooch(es). Lots of reasons to want to restrain the screwers. Of course, we libertarians say this kind of anti-adaptivity is in the very nature of government, and why we need less of it. Libertarians also say that this kind of political warfare is an inevitable result of making all solutions to our society’s problems political, and political warfare is what you will get when you give 51% of the people this much power over the other 49%. I point out: despite the public face of praxis, both sides are remarkably well-served by things as they are (after all, “war is the health of the state“).

But where will the necessary withdrawal of trust take us? Both parties will put it in their pockets as political capital, and use it to rule through the hate of the feared “other” according to their Yin-Yang natures, of course. American politics generates so many hateful figures now because we think in terms of blocking the mistrusted. But we are only distrusting the “other” tribe (that sounds like a successfully terrorized people, too).

We will get no systemic reforms, while Trump waits in the wings for those who want to try to upend the whole thing over again.

The scariest threat to our SOB: trust is built over decades, but lost in a minute. Is it reasonable to believe our system, as it is today, can even begin rebuilding it?

Eugene Darden Nicholas

About Eugene Darden Nicholas

Eugene Darden (Ed) Nicholas is from Flushing Queens, where he grew up sheltered from the hard world, learning the true things after graduating college and becoming a paramedic in Harlem. School continues to inform and entertain in all its true, Shakespearean glory. It's a lot of fun, really. In that career, dozens of people walk the earth now who would not be otherwise. (The number depends on how literally or figuratively you choose to add). He added a beloved wife to his little family, which is healthy. He is also well blessed in friends and colleagues.


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