William Lind warns about the cost of threat inflation

Summary: Trump promised to put America first and scale back our military adventures abroad. But the Deep State needs to be fed, and that requires a fearful America. To keep the money flowing to the military and its allied corporations, threats must be exaggerated. It is the kind of inflation the right-wing loves.

Bold words from our leaders risk new mad wars.

Man on horseback riding into battle - Dreamstime_108256905
ID 108256905 © Ilkin Guliyev | Dreamstime.

The Costs of Threat Inflation

By William S. Lind at Traditional Right, 6 June 2019.
Posted with his generous permission.

In the 1980s I used to give the slide-show briefing of the Congressional Military Reform Caucus to each class at the Air Force’s Squadron Officers’ School. After one of the briefs, an Air Force captain, an intelligence officer, came up to me and asked, “Does military reform mean I can stop inflating the threat?”

Threat inflation has been one of Washington’s most successful growth industries for a long time. The purpose of inflating the threat is to inflate the military budget. The obvious cost is wasting the taxpayers’ money on capabilities we do not need. But that is not the only cost. As the current tensions with Iran illustrate, threat inflation can lead to counter-productive military planning and, sometimes, to war.

For weeks, the Defense Department has been warning that Iran is planning to use allied Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria to attack U.S. forces in those countries. It has cited intelligence intercepts of communications between Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the militias as evidence. I’m sure the intercepts are real. But the interpretation suggests classic threat inflation.

If the U.S. attacks Iran, the obvious Iranian response will be to seize as many U.S. troops in the region as it can to serve as hostages. The Iranians have stated this response openly, saying, “Last time (in 1979), we had hundreds of American hostages. This time, we’ll have thousands.” It is a promising response for the obvious reason that we have no ready countermove. In 1979, we were largely left helpless, especially after we botched a rescue attempt. One would hope President Trump would ask the Pentagon, “Okay, if they do that, what’s our next move?” I doubt he will get a reassuring answer.

So what are the communications we have intercepted about? Preparing that response. We have interpreted them as preparing an attack instead. Why? Because DOD always inflates the threat.

We have also accused Iran of launching small attacks against four oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, attacks that damaged the ships but did not sink them. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a carefully weasel-worded statement said, “It seems like it’s quite possible that Iran was behind them.” That is true. It’s also quite possible other countries in the region that want a war between the U.S. and Iran, including Israel, were behind them. Pointing only to Iran inflates the threat.

Threat inflation in a crisis can easily transmute itself into an escalatory ladder. That may be happening here. Iran signaled de-escalation by removing some “missiles” (probably just rockets) from some small fast boats used by the Revolutionary Guard. The Pentagon did not reciprocate by dialing back our actions. On the contrary, it asked President Trump to send 20,000 more U.S. troops to the region. Wisely, the president chopped that number back to 900.

Editor’s note: this is a standard trick of DoD. Ask for a massive increase in troops, get less. Repeat as needed.

Here we see how threat inflation can lead to actions that are militarily just plain dumb. Iran threatens to take U.S. troops in the region hostage. How do we counter that? By sending more U.S. troops to the region, giving Iran more chances to take hostages. Who in the Pentagon is coming up with this, General Braxton Bragg or General Ben Butler?

Most of the Washington threat inflation industry is focused on inflating the Russian and Chinese “threats”–puffing the dragon is especially fashionable these days–which in turn feeds the bad strategy of turning two countries that should be allies into opponents. That is a failure on the grand strategic level, which is a high price indeed for threat inflation. But threat inflation is so deeply built into our whole system that it warps everything we do. Does military reform mean we can stop inflating the threat? Yes. But until the money runs out, the chance of reform is small.


Editor’s note

Trump’s behavior in this, as in most things, is standard GOP far-right. He has dashed the hopes of Change aroused by his campaign. Pointless foreign wars, involvement in other nation’s civil disorders, and withdrawal from arms control treaties that have served us well – the mad policies that put America on the path to decline. But many of those that voted for him, hoping for change, remain supporters. Expect Trump to repeat his con in 2020.

About the author

William S. Lind is director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation. He has a Master’s Degree in History from Princeton University in 1971. He worked as a legislative aide for armed services for Senator Robert Taft, Jr., of Ohio from 1973 to 1976 and held a similar position with Senator Gary Hart of Colorado from 1977 to 1986. See his bio at Wikipedia.

William Lind

Mr. Lind is author of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook (1985), co-author with Gary Hart of America Can Win: The Case for Military Reform (1986), and co-author with William H. Marshner of Cultural Conservatism: Toward a New National Agenda (1987). Most importantly, he is one of the co-authors of “Into the Fourth Generation“, the October 1989 article in the Marine Corps Gazette describing fourth generation warfare.

He’s perhaps best known for his articles about the long war, now published as On War: The Collected Columns of William S. Lind 2003-2009. See his other articles about a broad range of subjects…

  1. His posts at TraditionalRight.
  2. His articles about geopolitics at The American Conservative.
  3. His articles about transportation at The American Conservative.

For More Information

Ideas! For some shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also see other posts about threat inflation, about our long conflict with Iran, see these posts …

  1. Trump & conservatives hate the treaties that keep us safe.
  2. Fear Iran’s nukes, coming very soon since 1984.
  3. Jessica Mathews: why scuttling the Iran deal is MAD.
  4. Martin van Creveld: An update on Trump’s Saber Rattling in the Middle East.

About Obama’s triumph with Iran, thrown away by Trump

Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy
Available at Amazon.

Losing an Enemy:
Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy

By Trita Parsi (2017).

From the publisher …

“The definitive book on Obama’s historic nuclear deal with Iran from the author of the Foreign Affairs Best Book on the Middle East in 2012.

“This timely book focuses on President Obama’s deeply considered strategy toward Iran’s nuclear program and reveals how the historic agreement of 2015 broke the persistent stalemate in negotiations that had blocked earlier efforts.

“The deal accomplished two major feats in one stroke: it averted the threat of war with Iran and prevented the possibility of an Iranian nuclear bomb. Trita Parsi, a Middle East foreign policy expert who advised the Obama White House throughout the talks and had access to decision-makers and diplomats on the U.S. and Iranian sides alike, examines every facet of a triumph that could become as important and consequential as Nixon’s rapprochement with China. Drawing from more than seventy-five in-depth interviews with key decision-makers, including Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, this is the first authoritative account of President Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement.”

7 thoughts on “William Lind warns about the cost of threat inflation”

  1. Agreed on all counts. Also would not be surprised if Trump managed to personally profit directly from the whole Mexican Tariff situation. Doubt his campaign will do as well in 2020 as it did in 2016 when he was little-known in policy circles and MIGHT have attempted to do what he said he’d do.

    1. Pluto,

      “Also would not be surprised if Trump managed to personally profit directly from the whole Mexican Tariff situation.”

      How? It’s not the kind of accusation you should just make by waving your hands.

      And would this differ in magnitude from other presidents (and other officials) profits during their terms of office (e.g., unusually lavish upgrades to the LBJ Ranch for LBJ and to San Clemente by Nixon, the massive $100 million-plus donations to the Clinton Foundation by non-philanthropic Russian businessmen).

  2. I feel like the media is a big problem. Media was big cheerleader for Iraq war and check out this op-ed by Jonathan Bernstein in Bloomberg where is (implicitly) attacks 2020 candidates with a more non-interventionist foreign policy:


    “But it seems to me fairly obvious which candidates should be excluded – and it looks like they’ll all end up on the debate stage. Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson have never held office and therefore don’t hold conventional qualifications for the presidency, even loosely defined; Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii holds several policy positions that are far from the party mainstream…..Why run the risk that Gabbard, Williamson or Yang might be the one to get a polling surge out of their debate performance?”

  3. Lind nails it again! I also like your note. My whole outlook changed reading him, Chet Richards and you.

    I totally agree and am saddened by the insistence on making enemies of Russia and China. It is absolutely a failure at Grand Strategy.

    Oh, Drudge Report had a headline last week, “Iran is 6 Months from The Bomb!”

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