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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Historical Lessons for the War on Terror

The New York Times today has a couple of background articles on how historical models may or may not fit with the current war on terror.

As we point out in our chapter in economic policy, war bonds helped finance American efforts in the First and Second World Wars.  Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) has proposed selling war bonds to finance the fight in Afghanistan.  He hopes to "tap into the same spirit of patriotism and create a sense of participation in the war effort akin to that shown by the greatest generation."  But the Times observes:  "Economists and others who have studied the war bonds programs say America’s economy has matured in ways that would make such an effort possibly harmful to today’s economy. For decades, Americans have been urged to consume. Encouraging people to set aside money for the war could slow the economic recovery."

In our chapter on bureaucracy, we discuss the complexity of federal organization and the conflicting demands that we sometimes place on it.  As a Times article suggests, intelligence is an example:
Contradictory approaches to intelligence are even more complicated today, when America’s principal adversary is not a rival superpower, but a loose global network of jihadists, and when the question of whether we are at war or at peace isn’t so clear. For example, in the cold war it made sense to enforce strict lines dividing foreign from domestic surveillance — that is, between intelligence collected overseas (by the C.I.A.) to prevent attacks, and information acquired (by the F.B.I.) for use as evidence in court. But this formula is not easily applied in a case like the Fort Hood killings, in which a radical American Muslim is accused of a terrorist act associated with a foreign cause. Neither is it easily applied to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, one reason President Obama will now find it much harder to keep his promise to shut the detention center on Jan. 22.