President Bush has shown a remarkable persistence
in defending his ongoing Iraq mission. "Our troops know that they're fighting
in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to protect their fellow Americans from a
savage enemy. They know that if we do not
confront these evil men abroad, we will have to
face them one day in our own cities and streets," he intoned in his weekly
radio address Aug. 20, 2005.
Bush apparently is an ardent subscriber to the Roach Motel Theory of Terrorism.
It is simple enough for the smallest intellect to grasp – Iraq is the poison
bait to all worldwide terrorists, and the U.S. military's mission is to hunt,
trap, and kill each and every one of them. Once accomplished, the troops will
If the president were as familiar with economic theory as he is with fable
invention, he could describe Iraq as a gross importer and consumer of a particular
good, in this case labor. Terrorist workers, he might explain, having no potential
employment in their home country, are trekking to Iraq where the industry is
thriving. There, thanks to a U.S.-taxpayer-funded machine deployed to destroy
all competitive threats to the exercise of state power, they will all die –
taking down the industry along with them.
The theory of course ignores some of the most basic tenets of economics. If
a growth industry is appealing enough to a worldwide audience, it tends to establish
itself quickly elsewhere in areas closer to pools of ready labor and targeted
consumers, particularly when the start-up capital for such an industry is minimal.
Industries exempt (legally or not) from compliance with the normal labyrinth
of government regulation enjoy an additional competitive advantage in their
ease of entry into the marketplace. Then too is the issue of product design
and delivery. Anywhere implement or product manufacture is relatively cheap
and simple and its delivery not overly encumbered, industries can take root.
Should any British citizen be surprised at the Leeds phenomenon, when the London
bombers could fund their simple operation from the paternalistic payments of
the British welfare state, produce their lethal devices from local stores, and
hand deliver their final product of death and trauma to their targeted audience
via a subsidized public transportation network?
Of course, if Bush were to frame terrorism in economic rather than allegorical
terms, that might expose another dangerous flaw in his Roach Motel Theory –
the potential value-added component resulting from re-export. This principle
would apply when terrorists survive military engagement and carry on-site job
skills to another operational base. Or, in this global world of information-sharing,
surviving terrorists could merely aid the industry novices by way of instant
electronic tutoring in the standard areas of business expertise – i.e., combating
competitive threats, increasing the labor pool, and developing more sophisticated
tools/products and delivery systems. Most importantly, repeated and diverse
experimentation in Iraq could help focus industry debate on how to maximize
the return on capital in terms of both fundraising and achieving political goals.
However abhorrent or illegitimate, terrorism does not differ significantly
from many emerging global industries or enterprises viewed from a structural
or trade-flow perspective. Unlike mature multinationals that suffer under the
weight of legacy costs and burdensome regulation, it resembles other emerging
industries that have flexible, cheap (or unpaid) labor pools, local supply chains,
creative financing, and product solutions customized to the local area.
Unfortunately, the president will not likely choose an economic lens through
which to view an industry he's been spectacularly successful at stoking. This
is a president who fired his chief economic advisor Larry Lindsey for putting
a conservative $200
billion price tag on the war (his other advisors predicted $60 billion or
even self-financed). His knowledge of economics and finance is seemingly limited
to the world of fundraisers where he speaks and they give – and it works magically
every time. So Bush is trapped in his own Roach Motel. He must continue defending
the disgraceful ongoing slaughter in Iraq with repetitive gibberish, and he
must turn a blind eye to the blowback on Western soil, because the cold hard
truth of what he's spawned can be neither fathomed nor spoken.