A Monday’s Sundry Thoughts

Of assorted items in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

  1. An Op-Ed piece by Mike Solon, former adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, entitled, “Tax Cuts Bust ‘Secular Stagnation’,” in which Mr. Solon asserts that the 4.1% second quarter GDP growth “… should finally discredit three popular claims made by opponents of the president’s policies: that tax cuts would blow a hole in the deficit, that corporate tax cuts would serve only rich investors, and that secular stagnation was a valid excuse for the slow growth of the Obama era.”

That we have had recent and fast economic growth is a fact.  I’m a bit surprised that Mr. Solon is willing to claim lasting vindication for the Republican measures so quickly.  A significant majority of the economists quoted in Journal pieces over the last six months have opined that the tax cut and attendant spending bill have given us a short-term economic boost akin to one’s feeling after downing an expresso … while they fear we will have a similar economic letdown as the burst wears off.  That said, this is an instance where the long term score will be what it is.  I intend to paperclip this piece to my January calendar for each of the next few years to see how Mr. Solon’s assertions bear out over time.

  1. An article entitled, “China Says It Isn’t to Blame for Failure of NXP-Qualcomm Deal,” citing China’s State Administration for Market Regulation’s recent failure to approve Qualcomm’s acquisition of NXP – which the regulator claims was due to its concerns with the deal’s anti-competitive aspects. The piece indicates that the regulator denies that its failure to approve the acquisition was related to the U.S.- China trade friction.  The account included the following:  “[Despite the regulator’s denial,] people with knowledge of the situation have told the Journal that the friction is the main reason for [the regulator’s withholding of approval].”  The article added the following observation by a China economist:  “For Beijing, which is seeking to develop its own semi-conductor industry, blocking the NXP acquisition pays an added dividend:  It hinders the growth of Qualcomm, which has a commanding position in cutting-edge chip technology.”

I can’t fault China for utilizing legal (or at least colorably legal) measures that serve as counter-measures to our retaliatory tariffs and/or slow our advancement in a strategic industry; it’s Foreign Policy 101:  “You make a move, then I make a move.”  As per a post I made a while back, I do question the Trump Administration for literally saving China telecom giant ZTE, whose activities in this country create national security issues for us and better enable China to compete against the U.S. in the race to 5G technology.  The billion dollar fine that the Administration has assessed against ZTE is pittance in the scheme of things.

  1. Yet, I would submit that the most noteworthy item was a story in the middle of the paper entitled, “In Afghanistan, U.S. Sees Signs of Peace.” The piece is not really very long, but manages to state all of the following in neutral terms:  Afghanistan’s “beleaguered” soldiers have failed to recapture significant new ground from the Taliban; civilian deaths have hit historic highs; Afghanistan is struggling to build a reliable air force and expand its elite fighters; the number of Afghan districts controlled by the government has dropped from about a half to a third in the last six months; our troops want the Afghans to close some remote check points because they’re easy targets for the Taliban; a suicide bomber killed at least 20 people at the entrance to an airport a few hours before our Gen. Joseph Votel, who oversees U.S. Afghan war operations, arrived there;  “[i]n western Afghanistan, local officials warned the American commander that the Taliban were making gains with the help of neighboring Iran”; “U.S. officials in southern Afghanistan said they needed more time to prop up an Afghan military capable of securing the country without American help”; and “[NATO] allies in the north warned that internal Afghan political divisions posed as big a risk to stability as the Taliban.”  [My italics].

At the same time, as the account dutifully records the above facts, it reports that American officials “don’t believe that the numbers tell the whole story”; that U.S. and Afghan officials have stated that the Taliban have shown a new willingness to negotiate; and that Gen. Votel indicates that the U.S. forces’ assessment “… has to account for both an objective and subjective evaluation of the situation,” that “[i]f we only focus on objectives aspects, you will miss something,” that “[w]e’re seeing some things that are moving in the right direction,” and that the state of play still leaves him feeling “cautiously optimistic.”

What follows is in no way a criticism of President Trump; I would submit that he inherited an untenable situation created by President George W. Bush that might well have been better handled subsequently by President Obama.  It’s most certainly not intended as a criticism of Gen. Votel or the American command; they’ve been given a mission, and no one ever effectively executed an endeavor by being pessimistic.  However, the juxtaposition of objective facts and American statements in this piece (which I recommend be read by anyone able to access it) sounded for me – and perhaps would for others with longer memories – unnerving echoes of 1960s’ accounts of the Vietnam War.  This is one area in which I suspect that Mr. Trump and I might privately agree:  it’s hard to see how we can achieve stable and durable conditions in Afghanistan enabling us to depart; if we can’t secure the situation, our people are sacrificing to simply postpone the inevitable; like the North Vietnamese, the Taliban and other Afghan factions understand that we’re fighting in their homeland, undoubtedly recognize that we’re weary, and realize that they can win by simply waiting us out; but – unlike the Vietnam conflict, where the North Vietnamese were simply satisfied to have us leave – it’s hard to see how any agreement enabling us to withdraw won’t ultimately facilitate terror’s following us home.  A terrible dilemma; an area in which I have genuine sympathy for the President, and heartache for our people fighting this battle …

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