Hubris Unlimited: Tom Cotton versus Reality

A Tomahawk cruise missile (TLAM) is fired from...
A Tomahawk cruise missile (TLAM) is fired from an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer during the fourth wave of attacks on Iraq in support of Operation Desert Fox (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Freshman Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) wants the United States to pick a fight with Iran. Not an all-out brawl, he says; just an itty-bitty bout along the lines of 1998’s Operation Desert Fox, in which US aircraft carried out four days of airstrikes on Iraq.

Setting aside the fact that there’s just no reason for such an exercise  — P5+1 negotiation theater aside, Iran doesn’t seem to have an active nuclear weapons development program for airstrikes to target — the whole concept of “limited war” is bogus and dangerous.

One big problem with “limited war” is that it seldom produces the results its architects envision and instead becomes a gateway to UN-limited war.

Desert Fox was just one link in a chain of “limited” measures connecting 1991’s Desert Storm to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, followed by seven years of occupation, civil war, and the rise of the Islamic State.

Vietnam started out with US advisors training and accompanying South Vietnamese troops — “limited,” see? It ended with nearly half a million US troops engaged in all-out combat and 60,000 of those troops dead.

A second problem with “limited war” is the naive notion that the United States alone gets to define its wars’ scope, setting, tempo and duration.  The enemy usually has different ideas as to those variables. September 11, 2001, the culmination of a decade of “limited war” against al Qaeda, didn’t feel too terribly “limited,” did it?

US military interventionism in the 21st century sports a sorry record. The twin unwinnable quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, sprinkled with smaller fiascoes like Libya, Syria and Yemen, make it clear that neither “limited” nor “unlimited” war in the Middle East and Central Asia will ever produce good results.

Bringing the same failed doctrine to bear on Iran, a country with three times the population and a far more modern military apparatus than Iraq circa 2003 or Afghanistan circa 2001, is pure folly. It would be a bloody and unprofitable investment in an enterprise doomed to failure.

So, what’s the alternative? Peace, of course.

The United States has incessantly intervened in Iran, covertly and overtly, politically and militarily, for lo on 70 years now, with uniformly negative results.

The first step in getting out of a deep hole is to stop digging. Contra Tom Cotton, it’s time to take war — “limited” or not — off the table.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


The Cato Institute’s Ted Galen Carpenter addresses this same topic in more depth and from some other perspectives in “A Really Bad Idea: A ‘Limited’ War with Iran.” While this piece doesn’t cite or quote Carpenter’s commentary, it was certainly informed by that commentary, so credit/linkage is very much in order.



The Kids Are All Right. It’s the Cops and Bureaucrats Who Need to Chill.

RGBStock Hand in Hand

Growing up in small-town southern Missouri, I never realized how good I had it. After school and all summer, I roamed. Alone or with friends, restrained by little other than parental orders to stay within a reasonably large area and check in occasionally, I enjoyed the freedom of childhood.

These days, government treats unaccompanied pre-teens like re-enactments of the Charles Lindbergh, Jr. kidnapping — and their parents like Bruno Richard Hauptmann, executed in 1936 for that abduction and murder.

Ten-year-old Raffi Meitiv, 10, and his six-year-old sister Dvora, have been abducted off the streets of Silver Springs, Maryland. Twice. Not by Hauptmann-style evil-doers, but by police. They’ve been held by Child Protective Services. Their parents have been deemed guilty of “non-specific neglect” for allowing them to walk to and from a park near their home.

The ransom demand in the second of these abductions? That Raffi and Dvora’s parents sign a “temporary safety plan” agreeing to never, ever, ever let the kids go outside by themselves.

The Meitivs have focused media attention on the issue with their courageous decision to fight the nanny state nonsense instead of just doing as they’re told. Their situation is not at all unusual. Similar idiocy takes place every day, all over.

As Lenore Skenazy, “Free-Range Kids” blogger and host of the “World’s Worst Mom” reality TV show notes at Reason, “we all are beginning to understand just how insane, paranoid, and vindictive the state can be when it comes to respecting human rights — in [the Meitiv’s] case, the right of parents who love their kids to raise them the way they see fit.”

When my youngest son was five, he wanted to walk to the deli a block from our house — accessible via quiet, sidewalked, residential streets — and buy his own sandwich. After strict instructions to stay away from the busier street on which the deli fronted, I let him do his big-boy thing.

The first time, I concealed myself and watched him carefully. Once it became a regular thing, I awaited his return on the front porch, prepared to check on him if he was gone longer than expected. Then one day he arrived home in the back of a police car, and I got a lecture on how dangerous it was to let him walk a block and back by himself.

Nonsense! What’s dangerous is treating kids like babies well into their teens, then expecting them to magically blossom into full-blown responsible adults at 18 on the dot. Responsibility is a product of the freedom to learn and grow. When government gets in the way of that freedom, we’re all worse off for the increasingly infantilized society that results.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.




Security Theater: Fake Bullets Over Broadway

English: FBI Mobile Command Center in Washingt...
FBI Mobile Command Center in Washington DC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrested two New York City women, Noelle Velentzas and  Asia Siddiqui, on April 2. The two were charged with conspiring to build and detonate a bomb in the style of the 2013 Boston Marathon attack. After more than a year of talking about it, they hadn’t actually done anything about it. Reasonable people might conclude they just relished terror trash talk.

On April 10, the FBI arrested Topeka, Kansas resident John T. Booker as he attempted to arm a 1,000 pound bomb outside the US Army base at Fort Riley. The bomb was fake, as was the entire plan for the attack, drummed up and pushed at Booker by undercover federal agents. The FBI knew that Booker was mentally ill. In fact, two of its agents had taken Booker to a local Muslim imam in 2014 to procure counseling for him, telling the imam that Booker suffered from bipolar disorder.

G-Men Thwart Islamist Bomb Plot! Like a TV series that keeps getting renewed despite dismal ratings, some variant of that headline pops up every few days. And like that imaginary TV series — “How I Foiled Your Jihadist?” — the whole thing consists largely of recycled plot lines and cheap special effects.

What we’re watching is not a war on terror. It’s not desperate police work versus very dire, and very real, threats. It’s theater, scripted entirely for public consumption and for the purpose of maintaining the post-9/11 “homeland security” funding bonanza.

As of 2001, the FBI’s annual budget came to $3.3 billion (that’s $4.4 billion in inflated 2015 dollars). Its 2014 budget weighed in at nearly twice the spending: $8.3 billion. Director James Comey’s 2016 budget request would increase that to $8.48 billion. In his March statement to the US Senate committee evaluating that request, his top sales point was that “the terrorist threat against the United States remains persistent and acute.”

But that “terrorist threat” is, to all appearances, largely manufactured by the FBI itself. And as for real terrorist threats, we know how to reduce them: By ending the foreign military adventurism that has, each and every time, preceded and been used as justification for terror attacks on US soil.

The solution to terrorism isn’t to give James Comey more money to spend creating fake terrorists. It’s to give US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter less money to spend creating real ones.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.