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Belmont Club

The Shampoo and Conditioner World

December 6th, 2012 - 5:33 pm

Just as on your computer the most important keys to note are the “undo” buttons so in modern life it essential to know how to reverse the effects of our actions. Things go in a cycle. There is no escape from it. We strip the oils from our hair by washing with shampoo and we reintroduce them later by using conditioner.  We take the escalator to the fourth floor gym so that we may have more time to burn off the fat caused by inactivity. And we pay for the privilege every step of the way.

Things are no different in international politics. The Washington Post reports that the Pentagon and the State Department are preparing to invade Mali next year using a proxy African force. “U.S. military planners have begun to help organize a multinational proxy force to intervene next year in Mali, the famine-stricken, coup-wracked African country that has become a magnet for Islamist extremists, U.S. officials said Wednesday.”

The international force would be led on the ground by several thousand Malian and West African troops but would receive extensive support from the Pentagon and the State Department, which would help train, equip and transport the troops, Obama administration officials said. …

Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa, called northern Mali “the largest territory controlled by Islamic extremists in the world.” …

Other U.S. officials said al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate, which for years attracted limited global attention, poses an increasing threat. The group has become well-stocked with weapons smuggled out of Libya after the NATO-led war there last year.

“The largest territory controlled by Islamic extremists in the world.” Al-Qaeda is not doing too badly for a group that has supposedly been destroyed. It may even be doing better than General Motors, a corporation that has supposedly been revived.

But to criticize it would be to misunderstand. To understand the way the world works under the Obama administration, think in cycles. Consider Libya the shampoo to Mali’s conditioner. After you arm up the Jihadis in Libya naturally you’ve got to police up the weapons in Mali. For the weapons have to go somewhere, and the Jihadis have to go somewhere. It’s not as if they’re going to settle down and turn their AK-47s into ploughshares. To do this while maintaining the administration’s pacific image, you use African troops. After all their life is cheap.

The watchword is never to do anything directly. Why send people to Guantanamo when you can ship them off for rendition or maybe ask them a few questions in a Benghazi safe house? Just keep the obvious fingerprints off the operation and no one smart enough to vote for Hope and Change will be any the wiser.

Still something might go wrong. According to RFI (via Google translation) “General Carter Ham and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton believe it is essential that Algeria is involved in the military intervention.” Otherwise it may look like the Obama administration is leading from the front.

However, the same article has quotes a source that has grave doubts about the combat capability of ECOWAS, the African force that is supposed to do the heavy lifting. Nor is the Malian army much of a force. One analyst from the Jamestown foundation said, “the idea of asking the Malian army, a very heterogeneous group of ethnic point of view, to be first in line to the north of Mali is going straight into the wall.”

What happens if ECOWAS and the Malians get into trouble? Or Mali spins out of control? How could that possibly happen given the administration’s sterling track record in Syria? And by the way, where are the guns going into Syria to arm the rebels going to wind up after Assad is toppled?

But never mind. The Jihadis will be booted from Mali. And after the administration has given Mali the treatment there will of course be the need to undo the effects of deed. Doubtless the place will have to be rebuilt, the refugees gathered up, the weapons introduced policed up and the whole cycle begun again. In politics as in personal hygiene, after the Headless Shoulders Shampoo comes the Headless Shoulders Conditioner.

At least that’s a more optimistic way to look at the problem than the alternative: the possibility that the administration’s policies in the Middle East have metastized political Islam and now the military is scrambling to find ways to contain its spread under the resource constraints imposed by the president.

What is truly frightening is the possibility that the president has put the US into an unrecoverable spin, one in which you will need ever larger quantities of conditioner to undo the effects of the shampoo. William Baldwin of Forbes captures the idea in his cheerfully titled article: Do You Live in a Death Spiral State?

Thinking about buying a house? Or a municipal bond? Be careful where you put your capital. Don’t put it in a state at high risk of a fiscal tailspin.

Eleven states make our list of danger spots for investors. They can look forward to a rising tax burden, deteriorating state finances and an exodus of employers. The list includes California, New York, Illinois and Ohio, along with some smaller states like New Mexico and Hawaii.

If your career takes you to Los Angeles or Chicago, don’t buy a house. Rent. …

To lend money to California, Illinois or the other nine states perched on the precipice requires a leap of faith. So does buying a house in those locales. Don’t count on a property tax limit to protect your home’s value. If other taxes are high enough, there won’t be any buyers.

In other words a bad public policy can put you on a trajectory where the undo button doesn’t work any more. If this happens in the Middle East, there may be no alternative but to ride it down to the bottom and to see if anyone walks away.


The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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