13 Years Later, How Much Progress Have We Made?

Posted by Brad McMillan, CFA, CAIA, MAI

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This entry was posted on Sep 11, 2014 12:15:42 PM

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9/11 remembranceThirteen years ago, on a bright sunny morning, the world changed. A violent, apocalyptic form of Islam shocked America in a way we hadn’t been shocked since Pearl Harbor. Thousands of deaths, trillions of dollars, and more than a decade later, we remember those who died, both in the 9/11 attacks and in the wars that followed.

Today, the top headline is that the President has authorized expanded military action against an army of extremists terrorizing large parts of the Middle East. ISIS, as it is known, has successfully baited the U.S. back into the tar pit.

Here we go again . . .

For all of the “never again” and “always remember” rhetoric, the progress we’ve made since 2001 doesn’t seem all that great. We went to war in Afghanistan to oust a fundamentalist Islamic regime that sponsored terrorism—just as we’re doing today with ISIS. We went to Iraq to fight a dictatorship that massacred its citizens and to ensure that weapons of mass destruction were not available or used. Today’s focus is Syria, where a tyrannical government has used chemical weapons on its own people in an attempt to maintain power.

What, really, has changed over the years? Has enough been achieved to justify the sacrifice of our troops’ lives, the lives of their families, and trillions of dollars?

On the anniversary of 9/11, what is the best way to remember those who died in the attacks, and those who have died since? Is it really to add more fuel to the fire that burns in the Middle East? 

No incentive for other countries to act

As an economist, I deal in incentives. By and large, people are rational beings, responding to things that promote their interests. I’m not talking here about the fanatics, whose interest lies only in the afterlife, but the very rational actors who run governments in the Middle East. Why is the U.S. taking on a burden better borne by the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Turks, or even the Iranians?

If we commit troops, those countries can step back. If we incur the hatred of the fanatics, they can avoid it. If we step up, they have no incentive to do so. If we instead place the responsibility on them, they will act—and we can help them, if it makes sense.

ISIS and the fanatics are more of a threat to the local countries than they are to the U.S. We may need to intervene at some point, but only when it is necessary. Why is it necessary, right now, to spend more U.S. lives and resources?

What’s in America’s best interest?

There has been far too little thought given, over the past 13 years, to what will serve the interests of the U.S. and its citizens. I understand the need to manage problems and improve situations abroad, but that isn’t what has happened.

The best way to honor the dead is to ensure that their sacrifice wasn’t in vain. Let’s do that by creating a world where fewer are likely to die in the future. Let’s do that by making sure American lives and treasure are sacrificed only for American interests—not for other countries that stand back while we stand up.

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